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Wild Pickles

Two baskets of cucumbers from the Willowtree Farm stand at MLS farmers market

Two baskets of cucumbers from the Willowtree Farm stand at MLS farmers' market

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.

The Ransbottom ceramic crock with the six blue crown trademark

The Ransbottom ceramic crock with the six blue crown trademark

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.

Last years batch of cucumbers soaking; the ones that lack the bumps were the inferior ones

Last year's batch of cucumbers soaking; the ones that lack the bumps were the inferior ones

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.

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Posted in: Fermenting, Pickling.

7 Comments

  1. mochapj says:

    I just got my delivery of a half bushel of cucumbers from our organic grocer last night, and am on day 1 of a 7 day gherkin process that I fell in love with last year. They turned out so well I was requested to make a double batch, so I’ve got 20lbs worth spread out in crocks all over the house.

    What makes the fermenting “wild”?

  2. foodwithlegs says:

    Thanks for the comment, PJ. Gherkins? Nice. Did you land the extra-small cucumbers that gherkins and cornichons are traditionally made from?

    The “wild” comes from Sandor Katz’s book. I guess it refers to the fact that this is a no-vinegar brine where all of the acid that will eventually be in the brine comes from wild yeasts (or maybe it’s bacteria, on second thought) that (I believe) produce lactic acid as a by-product of their digestion.

    I look forward to reading about your gherkin adventure on your site.

  3. [...] problem, discussed in pickle post number one, about how much weight to use to keep the cucumbers submerged was solved.  One plate isn’t [...]

  4. [...] weekend I started another batch of wild pickles so I didn’t feel any qualms about slicing up the first batch’s second-to-last litre of [...]

  5. [...] preferably outdoors, on crackers or toasted baguette with grainy mustard, cornichons, chunks of dill pickle or, best of all, pickled carrots.  The set liquor was immnesely more flavourful and much less [...]

  6. [...] would stand up much better to a hot-water canning process, and therefore shelf-storage than the lacto-fermented pickles.  It seems like a shame to kill the living goodness of a wild pickle by cooking it for [...]

  7. [...] deep-frying pickles and making Jello shooters from the brine (seriously) but in 2009 I also did a background post on my second batch of homemade pickles and then a comparison between mine and similar store-bought [...]

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