I have obtained two of the necessary “ingredients” for another round of wild-fermented dill pickles this summer. Also, I picked up the ever-important cucumbers today. The Willowtree Farms stand at Mel Lastman Square had good looking cucumbers at five dollars for one those (3L, maybe?) baskets. Two of these (ten dollars worth) yielded 2670 g (almost exactly six pounds) of dark green, pleasingly bumpy cukes. I couldn’t resist tasting a couple and was pleased to find that they have the crunchiness and complex slightly bitter, slightly floral taste that are always absent from the shrink-wrapped green torpedoes sold in grocery stores.
Also, I’ll be using an old fashioned ceramic crock provided by a family friend. This is a truly beautiful specimen that is marked with a blue crown and the number 6. A quick Google search revealed that the crown is the trademark of the pottery company that Robinson Ransbottom (a spectacularly Dickensian name) operated with his brothers in Roseville, Ohio. The “6″ mark is supposed to indicate a six gallon capacity but I measured the interior dimensions (12″ by 17″) and they give a volume of 8.3 gallons or 31.5 litres. Either way if filled to the top with pickles or sauerkraut it could hold a very impressive amount.
I am using the same recipe, taken from Sandor Katz’s excellent book Wild Fermentation and available online here from Google Books, that I did last year. I consider last year’s batch “an early learning experience”. The first mistake I made was thinking that I didn’t have enough cucumbers and then buying some inferior specimens (long and somewhat flimsy with too-thin skins) from the grocery store. Even if this second batch had been high-quality I don’t think it’s a good idea to mix different cucumbers because their size, shape, water content, freshness, and skin thickness will affect how long they take to pickle.
The other error has to do with a feature that this recipe shares in common with sauerkraut. Both call for filling a crock (or other container) with salted vegetables–the cucumbers get a brine while the cabbage exudes its own water to create the brine–and then keeping the vegetables submerged with a weighted plate that just barely fits into the mouth of the crock. I think that I used too much weight on the pickles last year. The problem is that while the cabbage is cut and you want pressure to help the osmotic action of the salt pull water from the cabbage the whole cucumbers need to be left intact. Too much pressure caused them to bruise and become mushy. This year I’ll use a weight more finely calibrated to just keep the plate and cucumbers barely submerged.
As Katz says, “there are, inevitably, fermentation failures. We are dealing with fickle life forces, after all.” I think I have learned from last year’s mistakes and this year’s batch will, hopefully, be much better. Expect another post next shortly with more photos and the full recipe.