Fermented (not vinegar'd) pickle recipe
Howard Karten's Real Pickled (fermented) cucumbers
Summary: Kirby ("bumpy") cucumbers are fermented in a flavored brine for a week or so, to make real pickles, i.e. naturally-fermented, with no vinegar.
firm kirby cucumbers
1 quart water
2-4 tablespoons kosher salt (experiment to see what works best for you)
3-4 cloves fresh garlic, smashed with the side of a knife
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon peppercorns
NOTE: The amount of brine you use depends on the number of cucumbers you're pickling. Make enough brine so that the pickles are at least 5" below the surface of the brine. (I.e., start with 2 quarts of brine; add more brine if necessary.)
Wash cucumbers carefully.
Place in a food-grade plastic pail (or a container made of crockery or glass) and place a heavy plate over them to keep them submerged. (You can buy a plastic container at most doughnut shops.) Pour brine into the pail. There should be enough brine to cover the cucumbers with plenty of room to spare.
Cover the top of the pail loosely, e.g. with a paper bag, to keep out foreign objects, flies, etc.
Let the pail sit for a week to 10 days in a place that's not too cold, not too hot. The warmer it is, the sooner the fermentation will be finished. After about 6 days, check the pickles every day to see if they're done enough for you.
When pickles are done enough for you, rinse them off and put them in a glass or plastic container. Fill container with water and a bit of salt and refrigerate.
Note: this is essentially a biological recipe. The brine pulls sugars out of the cucumbers, and yeasts growing in the brine digest the sugars and flavor the cucumbers. Because it's a biological recipe, the length of time needed for fermentation will vary depending on the surrounding temperature, the amount of sugar in the cucumbers, etc.
(c) 2003 Howard A. Karten
I shiould have added: do NOT remove any floating microbial colonies you find in the brine! They protect the pickles--probably an example of "ecological balance" that you find in so many situations. If you find some and remove them, in the next day or 2 you will find a horrible black mess in the brine that spoils the pickles!
IAC, I've only found floating colonies on rare occasions. If they bother you, remove all but one.
I'd sure like to see some comments on this recipe from someone with a strong microbiology or fermentation background.
In my many year pickling career, I had more softening when scum was not removed. I have never had a black mess in the brine. The fermentation continues when it is skimmed.
By the way, I do not think that vinegar negates fermentation. It is a flavoring and a very slight pH adjustment in most recipes that use it.
Any answer I could give would necessarily be incomplete, since I'm not a microbiologist. That's what we really need to put this matter in proper focus. My experience has been that I have sometimes gotten floating colonies--mostly white and blue--and if I remove a good part of it, but leave just a bit, that seems somehow to protect the pickles. This strikes me as very reasonable, from a biological perspective--that floating colony has seemed to protect the pickles. I'd love to know what's going on there.