Sunday, September 7, 2008

New and improved, with pickles.

My blog has returned! The Blogosphere is heaving a collective sigh of relief right now, I'm sure. My house was robbed back in February, and my crappy digital camera was stolen. And I realize that food blogs without pictures of food are a complete waste of time, so I didn't bother posting anything. Also, I'm a lazy bum who didn't feel like typing for 6+ months. But now I have a new camera, I've had my afternoon nap, my fingers are limber, and all is right with the world - so I'm giving blogging another chance.

Ever summer for the past 4 years I try making pickles, with varying degrees of failure. The first couple of years I did fresh pack pickles, which turned out edible but each batch always seemed a little "off" to me. The pickles were too soft, or too sour, or overwhelmingly strong. Then last year my dad gave me (after a lengthy begging period) my grandfather's old pickling/beer making crock - an 8 gallon ceramic goliath that I fell in love with on sight.

So, this amazing acquisition is what led me to abandon the fresh-pack method and try brining pickles instead. After my 10 pounds of cucumbers were submerged in their salt and water bath for a couple of weeks, the crock started to smell awful. Every time I uncovered the crock, I felt like I was transported to an episode of CSI - one where they had just discovered a body that had spent 3 months decomposing in a drainage ditch. The pickles looked ok, but the fermenting/death smell was just too much - and I couldn't bring myself to take a bite of even a single pickle. After a long period of intentional neglect, the smell of fermentation turned to something akin to zombie BO and the cucumbers started to disintegrate in the brine. I dumped the crock into the trash and declared I would give up on brining foods forever (after an equally smelly attempt at making sauerkraut.)

Fast-forward to the present. Honestly, the whole failed stinky-pickle experiment had been nagging at me. I decided to try again, on a smaller scale. I'd also determined that part of my problem was I was letting the pickles sit in the bring for too long. So, I put 3 pounds of pickling cucumbers in a smaller crock and combined a few different recipes. After 5 days, I put the pickles in the fridge to stop the fermentation and voila! Delicious, crispy pickles! Adding a little vinegar at the start seems to speed up the process enough that the pickles never got stinky.
Homemade Kosher Pickles

3 lbs pickling cucumbers, washed with the blossom end removed.
1 gallon cold water
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup pickling salt
4-6 peeled garlic cloves
1/4 cup pickling spices
1 or 2 dried chiles or a pinch of chili flakes, depending on how spicy you like your pickles
2 Tb mustard seeds
Grape leaves (optional)

Put a layer of grape leaves in the bottom of a large glass jar or a ceramic crock. Add the cucumbers, spices and garlic cloves to the container. Combine water, salt and vinegar, stir until salt is dissolved and then pour over cucumbers until completely covered. Use a plate or zip lock bag filled with water to keep them submerged.

Let the pickles sit in a room between 65-75 degrees. Start sampling the pickles after day 3. As soon as the flavor seems "pickle-y" enough, put the pickles in a glass jar and cover with the strained brine (top it up with more white vinegar, if needed.) Refrigerate.

These should last months in the fridge.

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