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Pickles are my new obsession.  It all started with Smitten Kitchen’s Bread and Butter Pickle post.  I wasn’t craving the pickles so much as the burgers they go on.  I was recovering from knee surgery and got  bored – I sought to entertain myself by trying something new.  I found some pickling cucumbers at the local market.  I made the pickles, I ate the pickles on my burger, I ate the pickles out of the jar and by the end of the meal – almost the entire batch of pickles was gone.  That moment I started down a pickling road from which I will not likely return.  

I decided to grow my own pickling cucumbers to feed this addiction.  At this point it was mid-June in Oregon.   I thought I was too late for planting but managed to find two starts at the local nursery.  I squeezed them in a bed with some onions (despite the protests of my husband – something about mixing metaphors or veggies) and waited.  The cool summer we had this year suited them (unlike my tomato plants – but I don’t want to talk about that).  The next thing I knew it was August and those two plants took over their box and high tailed it down the garden path.  In their wake they created pounds upon pounds of cucumbers. We are now into September and every couple of days I pick between 3-6 pounds and within 4 days I needed to harvest again.  

With this bounty I made more bread and butter pickles, I made traditional dill pickles… but now that I have made them, nothing (and I mean nothing) comes close to old school sour pickles.  Sour pickles are fermented in a brine with spices, dill and pepper.  As you reach your hand into the vat to retrieve the pickle – the brine’s aroma entices you, previewing the flavors that will soon be coming your way. 

Fermentation sounds mysterious – maybe even a little scary.  Things float and bubble – it gets a little murky – it is science in action.  If you start to get nervous keep in mind this little fact – fermentation as a food preservation technique has been used for thousands of years.  Practice good sanitation peppered with common sense and you will be fine. 

Here are a couple of recipe notes.  If you are not familiar with fermenting protocols – read the USDA guidelines.  Make sure that you use a food grade container for the fermentation process.  I used an extra-large glass canning jar which was just barely big enough for a halved recipe.  A traditional fermenting crock is now on my birthday/holiday wish list (hint hint).  Don’t alter the salt to water ratios of a trusted recipe.  Fermentation relies upon the salt to knock down the bad bacteria.  Do not use plastic if you can avoid it – bacteria likes to hide in plastic and it increases the risk of contamination.

Recipe (adapted from Joy of Pickling – Lower East Side Full-Sour Dills):

4 pounds pickling cucumbers

8 garlic cloves sliced

2 dill heads (original recipe called for 4)

2 dried peppers

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

2 tablespoons whole coriander

1 tablespoons whole allspice

Brine consisting of 1/2 cup pickling salt and 3 quarts water

Wash the cucumbers well and remove the blossom ends.*  Place cucumbers and remaining ingredients, except the brine, in a food safe container.  Combine salt and water to make your brine and pour into the container covering the pickles. Put excess brine in a food grade plastic bag and use that as a weight to seal the top.  Cover and leave in a cool dark space.  Fermentation should begin in 2-3 days.  Check daily and skim any white scum.  It should take about one to two weeks to complete the process (depending on temperature).  Pickles are done when they are an olive grey color throughout.  Once fermented, remove the brine bag and refrigerate.

*  I picked my cucumbers just before pickling so they did not need to be pre-chilled.  If yours are not fresh picked soak them in ice water to freshen them up.