We Americans love our pickles; sweet pickles, sour pickles, tiny gherkins, bread and butter pickles, pickle chips and more.
The term pickle is derived from the Dutch word pekel, meaning brine. Every cuisine has its own variation of pickled vegetables. Here in North America, pickles are traditionally made from “brining” cucumbers in a mixture of vinegar, water and salt and allowing the mixture to ferment for a period of time.
Before the industrial food system became the norm, frugal homemakers and farmers would ferment crocks of cucumbers as a way to preserve the harvest and enjoy in the colder winter months. No general store, delicatessen or butcher shop was complete without a crock of pickles on the countertop, selling them to eat at once.
I like to grow cucumbers, and our family has enjoyed many varieties of pickles for years. When Deb Suran, a talented garlic farmer in Deer Isle, gifted me with 10 pounds of pickling cucumbers last summer, I decided to bring back the crock.
To find a recipe took some digging in older cookbooks and journals, as it seems that these old-fashioned pickles were actually made in barrels. My 10 pounds of cucumbers was a mere fraction of a typical barrel that weighs in at around 450 pounds!
The key to a good pickle is the acidity of the brine. Be sure to use vinegar that it is at least 5 percent acidity. White vinegar allows the herbs to be the more dominant flavor; a combination of cider and white vinegar has a more robust flavor.
Salt is another critical ingredient. Don’t use table salt, it has a non-caking agent that makes the brine cloudy. Check the labels carefully. Look for pickling salt, canning salt, kosher salt or sea salt.
As with most recipes, there is plenty of room for the cook’s creativity. Garlic scapes, cilantro tops, and hot peppers all add different flavor dimensions and levels of heat. If you can wait, the pickles are best if the cucumbers brine for at least a month, then taste test.
I’ve kept these pickles for over a year. The last time I served them they were still crisp and finger-lickin’ good.
Cheryl Wixson lives and cooks in Stonington. She welcomes food-related questions and comments at email@example.com.
Old-fashioned Crock Pickles
10 lbs. pickling cucumbers
2 qts. vinegar
2 qts. water
¾ cup (150 grams) pickling salt or Maine sea salt
3-5 heads fresh dill blossoms
6 dried bay leaves
2-3 heads fresh basil blossoms
4 Tbsps. dill seed
10-12 cloves fresh garlic
Scrub the cucumbers and pack into a crock or five-gallon pail. Add the dill and basil blossoms, dill seed, fresh garlic, and bay leaves.
In a saucepan over medium heat, dissolve the salt in the water and vinegar. Pour over the cucumbers, making sure that they are completely covered. Refrigerate for about 1 month, and then taste one for flavor. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. These pickles keep extremely well, for a year or longer.
Nutritional analysis per 80 gram pickle (varies with size): 14 calories, 3 grams carbohydrates, 0 grams protein, 931 mg. sodium, 0 grams fat, 0 grams fiber.