Happy summer solstice! Celebrate the solar max-out by starting an easy fermentation project today. Dill pickles are one of the few fermented foods that survive in the Standard American Diet (SAD). And one of the few that most children will eat! Now is the time to scoop up a bunch of cucumbers from your local farmers' market and make a batch yourself. Impress your friends at your next BBQ. Since the news about keeping your gut microbiome happy has gone mainstream (check out Michael Pollan's recent article) in the New York Times, fermentation is getting its due as not just a culinary technique but a health-promoting practice more widely. Plus pickles enhance the highlight of summer dining: picnics! Why is it any food that you eat outside is so much more delicious?
Wild Half Sour Dills
Based on a recipe by Vanessa Barrington, author of a fave book of mine, DIY Delicious, who says: “These taste like a classic deli dill, not too sour with a fresh, cucumber taste…These pickles will keep only a couple of weeks, so be generous with your guests.”
Makes 1 quart
¾ to 1 lb pickling or Persian cucumbers
2 garlic cloves
8 whole coriander seeds
1 small, dried red pepper
3-4 sprigs of fresh dill
1-2 grape leaves or other source of tannin*
2-2 ½ cups water
2 tablespoons fine sea salt or 2 tablespoons whey and 1 tablespoon salt
Put the spices into a 1 qt Mason jar. Wash the cucumbers well, cut a very thin slice off the blossom end of each, and pack them vertically into a clean, wide-mouthed Mason jar. If the cucumbers are large, cut them into spears before packing into the jar. Dissolve the salt in the water and pour it over the pickles. Place a small ramekin, bottle or pickle weight over the mouth of the jar, to weight down the pickles and make sure they stay submerged in brine.
Let the jar sit at room temperature 2-5 days. Skim off any scum that might form and make sure the pickles stay submerged. The pickles are done when they are a bit tart but still crisp, according to your taste. When the pickles taste good to you, fasten the lid and refrigerate.
*Adding something with tannins will help the cucumbers stay crisp, but it’s not infallible. Sandor Katz, in his epic Art of Fermentation, suggests “grape leaves, oak leaves, cherry leaves, horseradish leaves or other tannin-rich plant materials (even a tea bag or green banana peel)” p.123, added to cucumber pickles to keep things crispy.