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Jun 22, 2011 12:47 PM

Pickling recipe--half sour?

A friend of mine has asked me how he might replicate the pickling of various veggies that a local artisan does, the catch being that the pickling process uses no vinegar but instead a brine of some sort.

I've googled a bit and find, for example, that Nathan's sells some "half-sour" refrigerated pickles that use a brine but no vinegar. My guess is that the pickling uses ambient or added yeasts, kind of like a sourdough bread.

Anyway: any clues about a formula, recipe or a process that could allow a home cook to try his luck at such pickling?

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  1. Here are two recipes I have. I don't know where the second recipe is from; I just received it recently from a recipe exchange. I have not used either of these recipes. Hope these help.


    Source: My Mother's Kitchen: Recipes & Reminiscences by Mimi Sheraton (Harper Collins)

    Yield: 24 to 30 pickles

    24 to 30 small, very firm Kirby cucumbers, free of bruises or brown spots
    7 or 8 cloves garlic, unpeeled but lightly crushed
    1 teaspoon coriander seeds
    1 teaspoon mustard seeds
    1 teaspoon black peppercorns
    4 or 5 small, dried hot red peppers, or 1/2 teaspoon crushed, dried hot red Italian peppers
    3 bay leaves
    12 to 14 sprigs dill, preferably with seed heads, well washed
    1 teaspoon dried dill seeds, if the dill has no seed heads
    Heel of sour rye bread with caraway seeds
    3 quarts of water, or as needed
    3/4 cup kosher (coarse) salt, or as needed

    INTRO: "The following is a basic recipe that may be altered to suit varying tastes, and which should be adjusted slightly to the number of pickles being done in a particular size and shape of crock or jar. (I use a crock with a 5-quart capacity, which takes from 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pounds of cucumbers, depending on size.) It is essential that the pickles be covered by the brine.

    To accomplish this, the cucumbers to be pickled should be stood on end close together on the bottom of the crock, so they hold each other firmly in place. Even so, they may loosen and float to the top. To avoid that, place a plate or disk of wood directly in the brine, over the pickles, and weight them down, either with a clean stone or a 10-ounce glass two-thirds full of water. If it is necessary to skim the gray film off the brine's surface, replace the weight each time it is removed. The pickling receptacle should have a wide mouth so a salad or bread-and-butter plate, or similar sized disk of wood, can fit inside it. It should be made of ceramic, glass, or wood, not plastic or metal. Unwaxed Kirby cucumbers are the only type that will work for pickling.

    Because of the yeast it contains, the crust of rye bread will result in a mildly fermented brine, similar to the Russian and Polish Kvass, and will give a subtle, mildly fermented flavor to the pickles.

    In making these pickles, it is important that you do not used mixed pickling spices, because the cinnamon, cloves, and other sweetly aromatic spices in them will detract from the pickles' flavor. Also, it is important that you do not use iodized salt in the process, as that will leave a bitter aftertaste; if you cannot get kosher (coarse) salt, use uniodized table salt, substituting about two-thirds of the amount called for. These are fresh brine pickles, and no vinegar should be used.

    DIRECTIONS: Thoroughly wash a wide-mouthed bean pot, crock or glass jar.
    Carefully wash the cucumbers, rubbing gently with a sponge, a soft brush, or your hands to reomoves all traces of sand. Discard any with bruises.
    Stand the cucumbers on end around the sides and across the bottom of the crock or jar, so that they hold each other in place but not so tightly that they will crush each other. A second upright layer can be added if the jar is tall enough. To the crock add the garlic, all herbs and spices, and bread.

    Mix 3 quarts of water with 3/4 cup coarse salt and stir until the salt dissolves. Pour the salt water into the crock to completely cover the pickles. The brine should overflow so you can be sure no air pockets remain. If it does not, place the crock under the faucet and let water run in slowly until it does overflow. You may wash out a few spices in the process, but that will not be critical.

    Place the jar on a stain-proof surface in a cool place, but not in the refrigerator. A temperature between 65 and 70 degrees is just right. Place a dish or wooden disk directly over the pickles, in the brine, and top with a weight as described [above]. Cover the crock loosely with a dish towl or a double thickness of cheesecloth.

    Check the pickles every 24 hours and remove any white or gray foam that has risen to the surface; this will prevent rotting. Shake the crock slightly to distribute spices and be sure to re-weight. Add salt or other seasonings if the brine seems bland. The pickles will be half sour in about 4 to 5 days, and very sour in about 10 days. When they have reached the degree of sourness you like, they can be stored in the refrigerator in tightly closed jars. Pour some strained brine into the jars to cover the pickles. They will keep for about 5 weeks, assuming they have not been eaten long before.

    Real Pickles

    For real pickles, take 20 small kirby cukes (uwaxed and bumpy) and scrub under cold water. Bring 3/4 cup kosher salt in cold water to a boil, turn off heat, and let cool. This is your brine. Meanwile, smack about 16 garlic cloves with the back of a large knife. Distribute equally into canning jars with cukes. Divide 1 bunch of dill, 6 or so bay leaves, and 4 small hot peppers into jars. Divide 3 TBS pickling spices (mustard seeds, perppercorns, coriander seeds, and dill seeds) into jars. Add brine to totally cover. Put lids on tight and shake. Set in a cool, dark place. Remove the lids once a day and spoon off any foam that might form. Cover and shake. You will have half sour after about 4-5 days, and sour after about a week. Refrigerate -- if any are left. This is what they do at the Second Ave Deli in NYC. You really don't want to refrigerate the pickles for the first few days, because they need to ferment at room temperature to create a true brine. Brine works as a preservative, just as refrigeration does, but they are at cross-purposes when used together. This method actually goes back to ancient Egypt, although I learned it from the owner of the 2nd Ave Deli only recently. Half-sour pickles are merely pickles that do not ferment the full week, but only about 4 days outside the fridge. This is why they are usually greener, a tad sweeter, and crisper. Use a gallon of water to the ratio of kosher salt. You may have to experiment with salt, because it does not come from one source, and the last box of Morton's I bought was actually saltier than the previous I have purchased! Rob

    The pickles are done!! Using your (2nd Street Deli's) ratio of 3/4 cup of kosher salt to water, and adding grape leaves to help keep the liquid clear (and it works!), these pickles are the REAL DEAL! We let them go 9 days in the brine, then "decanted" them into clean containers with strained and boiled brine (that was allowed to cool before pouring over them), and they are just great. We tried a small batch using 1/2 cup of salt to the gallon, and it didn't work...they went bad within 4-5 days in the brine. The 3/4 cup to 1 gallon is perfect. Also, my favorites are the larger cukes for the pickling. But everyone has a preferable size, so we put up several sizes.

    1 Reply
    1. I basically do the same as WTG, I make a salt water brine salt and water, you want it salty, boil then let cool. I just fill up the jar with garlic dill and kirby cukes(make sure they are even in size, not too big) I layer my jar, some garlic,dill and cukes and then more, fill with brine and add a slice of seeded jewish rye bread. Put the top on and put in a cool place. When it gets to the doneness you like, put them in the fridge. They stay indefinitely. I also do this with green tomatoes.

      1. I think the recipes above are pretty much spot on; they’re very close to what I do. I tend to make one very large batch once a year, as fresh cukes aren't available here year round. A few minor tweaks I do:

        I actually do use less salt than called for above, closer to the half cup per gallon that didn't work for wtg. One thing that’s important to remember is that different brands and types of salt have grains of different sizes, so some are “saltier” per volume measure than others, so you must measure by weight, not volume. Diamond is much less salty than Morton’s because it has bigger flakes, and Pickling salt is saltier still because it is fine grained like table salt. So volume measures are very imprecise.

        Many years ago when I was developing my recipe, I was in a cookbook-only store in the Fairfax area (Old Jews) area of L.A. and a woman saw me searching through all the Kosher Jewish cookbooks looking for pickle recipes. She said her grandfather was the original pickle guy in L.A. and had supplied all the delis there with pickles. When I told her my biggest problem was with the strength of my brine, she nodded and wisely said: “11 soup spoons. Rounded. Not heaping. Per gallon” Huh? But exactly how big is a soup spoon? “You know, a soup spoon. 11 per gallon,” she said, and walked away.

        So I commenced to experiment at home until I figured out that the closest I could come was about six ounces by weight per gallon of water. That’s my basic brine.

        I leave out the rye bread and the bay leaves specified above. My spice mix is the same: Mustard seed, coriander, Black Peppercorns. I get a large bunch of fresh Dill Weed – the kind that is about three feet long and about two inches thick and includes the roots and the flowering heads; it’s only available during summer. And I use a three-pound bag of peeled garlic from Costco; I use about half of it.

        This is for a 25 to 30 pound case of cukes. I like smaller cukes so I hand-pick each one going into the case.

        I was having a problem with “bloaters” and also once had a problem with a batch that turned to mush after jarring and refrigerating. I think that was because I re-used a brine and also fermented them in a hot garage; I won’t do that again. But I did some research on how to keep pickles crisp/crunchy and found three things recommended. I don’t know which one, if any, is the most effective; I tried all three at once and have had very successful batches since then, so I’m not willing to drop any of them to find out which is unnecessary. They are

        1. Soak overnight in ice water

        2. Remove blossom ends

        3. Ferment with fresh grape leaves

        So here’s the process. Dump cukes into a large sink and wash thoroughly. Cover with ice and fill sink with water and allow to soak overnight.

        In the morning, get a large clean ten-gallon food grade bucket with matching tight-fitting lid. Into it add one cup each of coriander seeds and mustard seed, about a half cup of peppercorns (or to taste) and about a pound or two of Garlic cloves. You could simply use whole fresh heads sliced in half. Add all the flowering heads and fronds from Dill weed and about eight inches of the stalks, cut into one-inch lengths. Add a fistful, to taste, of dried red chilies.

        If you have Fresh Grape Leaves available, add about 30 to the bucket. They will add no taste but the tannins in them are alleged to help keep the pickles crunchy.

        Prepare about five gallons of brine, using about six ounces of Kosher salt by weight to each gallon of water.

        Trim the blossom ends off the cukes and add to the bucket. You do not need to pack them tightly. The only reason they tell you to do this is so they won’t float. Pour brine over. If there isn't enough to cover the cukes by about four inches, make more brine and add it until there is.

        Cover with a plate to make sure all cukes are well under water, then cover the bucket. Follow all the other directions as above.

        You could easily downsize this recipe by doing it in individual quart Mason jars and just using about a teaspoon each of the spices, and one or two each of the garlic cloves, dill heads and stalk pieces, and chili peppers in each, with as many cukes as will fit, plus the basic brine.

        Mine keep for at least a year, refrigerated. I suggest using the plastic caps for your Mason Jars. When I pack mine into the jars, I always divide up all the spices, garlic, peppers and grape leaves and include those in the jars as well. It breaks my heart to throw the brine away; sometimes I save it for a while but I usually end up throwing it away rather than save it for a year. But I still have a gallon or two in the fridge.

        1 Reply
        1. re: acgold7

          My fermented pickles came out very nice and crunchy and I did trim the blossom end and use fresh grape leaves, but didn't soak overnight in ice water.

        2. Last year, for the first time, we made fermented sour dill pickles using Alton Brown's Dill Pickle recipe.

          They are amazing ! We've cut the red pepper flakes in half since we like the dills with a little zip but no actual heat. After decades of making and loving vinegar dills made from a 90+ year old Uncle's recipe, they are now the back up when the sour dills are gone.

          Anyone else with additional recipes or variations for sour dills willing to share ?

          2 Replies
          1. re: PoppiYYZ

            Alton's recipe is pretty traditional and is quite similar to those above. All will yield pickles pretty close to those I grew up with. It wasn't until much later that I discovered that most of America isn't familiar with this style of pickle and really isn't used to it at all, preferring vinegary style dills or, heaven forbid, sweet pickles. I was in College before I even heard of a Cornichon.

            Different pickles for different applications, I guess. I still can't eat sweet pickles or relish with hot dogs or sandwiches, but I'll eat a Claussen if pressed. But these are still my favorites and what I think of when someone says Pickles.

            1. re: acgold7

              who knew there'd be such an interest in pickles as these threads show there are.

              " I still can't eat sweet pickles or relish with hot dogs or sandwiches"
              how funny, I have eaten an entire little jar [while cooking dinner] of sweet pickles.
              love them.
              love sweet pickle relish on dogs
              love sweet pickle juice in deviled eggs
              love using sweet pickle relish in tuna salad
              love using sweet pickle juice or relish in my potato salad

              funny how different taste buds enjoy different things :)

          2. Sorry for the slight deviation, but I HAD to mention a use for your lovely dills :

            Lidia's Remoulade Sauce:
            1/2C Mayo (light mayo works great)
            1/4C Finely Diced Dills
            2T Ketchup (low carb also works great)
            1T Yellow Mustard (also get fancy with grainy or Dijon)
            2t Red Wine Vinegar (use a good one though)
            1/4t Old Bay Spice

            Crazy good !! Great with anything fried, and also fantastic as a Thousand Island style dressing. Optionally add a little diced white or red onion.