I stood at my kitchen table the other day, hot from the Texas sun and just a bit overwhelmed by a pile of garden produce. I do some canning and dehydrating, but my first food preservation love is fermentation. It’s incredibly simple, healthful, and empowering in our journey towards sustainability. Making pickles this way is a snap!
In five minutes I had prepped entirely homegrown ingredients and completed the making of a gallon of pickles. These pickles are alive with probiotics, enzymes, and lots of fun bubbles that my children love. They require no canning on these hot summer days and I can make a couple of quarts here or a few gallons there, depending on how much or how little I harvest.
These particular pickles mimic the Kosher Dill Pickles so many of us grew up on. With all of the flavor and the added bonus of having a living food to serve our family, I make these pickles from various garden vegetables all throughout the year.
I like to mix the ever-prolific summer squash in since some of the more picky eaters among us don’t love them like I do. A few pieces of cucumber pickle and a squash all go nicely on a salad or a sandwich and no one’s the wiser.
Traditionally Fermented Foods
These pickles are made through a process called lactic acid fermentation, a term many of us are becoming more familiar with. I truly believe harnessing this natural food preservation method is a critical tool if we are to move towards sustainable and even regenerative ways of living. I believe this so wholeheartedly that I wrote a book about it.
Understanding the basic biology of fermentation and harnessing it for a sustainable means of food preservation (and production) is what Traditionally Fermented Foods is all about. On our off-grid homestead we use the fermentation of vegetables, grains, dairy, beverages, and condiments as a means to live without refrigeration for these foods. The recipes, inspiration, and information in Traditionally Fermented Foods encompasses how we do that.
Tips for Making Pickles
While you can pickle just about anything, there are a few key things to keep in mind for successful fermentation:
- If you want crunchy pickles, do not skip out on the tannin-containing leaves. If you can’t get any from the list, a teaspoon of black tea per gallon does the trick.
- Vary the amount of salt you use, depending on the temperature. I go in depth on this topic in my book, but generally speaking use a little less if it’s cooler and a little more when it’s warmer.
- A cooler, slower fermentation is always preferred for flavor and texture.
- You must do everything you can to keep the vegetables well below the level of the brine. Employ various homemade or purchased fermentation weights. Fill your jar only 80% full to leave room for excess brine and the weights.
With these brief points in mind, you can pickle just about anything with no fancy equipment – just salt, water, and whatever you are harvesting.
Fermented Cucumber-Squash Dill Pickle Recipe
Note: This recipe makes one gallon but the beauty of fermentation is that you can make any quantity. A good principle is enough veggies to fill your jar 80% full. Add herbs, ~2 Tablespoons of salt per quart of vegetable, and water to cover. When determining how much salt to use, opt for the lower end of the range if you are fermenting below 75 degrees. Use the upper end of the range if you are fermenting in hotter temperatures.
- 2 Yard-Long or 4 average sized cucumbers
- 2-4 summer squash
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled
- 2 large handfuls of fresh dill or 3 Tablespoons dried dill weed
- 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
- a handful of tannin containing leaves like oak, grape, mesquite
- 6-8 Tablespoons sea salt
- Filtered water as needed
- Place half of the garlic, half of the dill, and half of the red pepper flakes in a gallon-sized jar. (A repurposed sun tea jar works well.) You can also divide the ingredients between two half-gallons or four quarts. Chop the cucumbers and squash into large 1″ pieces and add them to the jar(s) until they are half full.
- Layer in the other half of the garlic, dill, and pepper flakes along with the tannin-containing leaves. Fill the jar 80% of the way with the remaining cucumber and squash pieces. Add the salt to the top of the vegetables. Pour in enough water to completely submerge the vegetables by 1/2 – 1 inch.
- Place a fermentation weight on top of the vegetables to weigh them down to below the level of the brine. Heavier is better; these guys float.
- Close the lid tightly onto the jar. Place the jar at cool room temperature to ferment for 1-3 weeks, aiming for a longer, cooler fermentation. During this time you will have to “burp” the jar to release some of the carbon dioxide that builds up as a by-product of fermentation. To do so, simply open the jar quickly but carefully, listen for the sound of pressure releasing, and then tighten it back up swiftly. Any time pressure appears to be building in the lid, repeat burping for the first week. After the first 7-10 days the fermentation process moves on to another stage and the carbon dioxide production tapers.
- After a few days the brine will begin to look cloudy – this is a good sign! You can begin checking the pickles for tang and flavor after one week. If they are tangy enough, move them to cold storage in a cellar, basement, or refrigerator. They will keep for months if left unopened.