Pickles have traditionally been made to extend the life of produce. The simplest pickles are made by pouring vinegar over sliced vegetables and refrigerating them. Fermented pickles take a bit more work, but also offer more complex flavor and a bigger nutritional return, as fermentation makes foods more digestible; makes some nutrients more available, particularly vitamin C; and generates additional nutrients, such as B vitamins and probiotic bacteria.
• 1 gallon unchlorinated water
• 1/2 to 3/4 cup unrefined sea salt
• spices (garlic cloves, dill seeds, or pickling spice)
1. To make brine, mix 1 gallon unchlorinated water with 1⁄2 cup unrefined sea salt. If you’re using cucumbers, use 3⁄4 cup salt.
2. Rinse vegetables and chop into slices or chunks, according to recipe or preference.
3. In a bowl, mix vegetables and spices (garlic cloves, dill seeds or pickling spice).
4. Pack vegetables into a jar, and pour in brine to cover completely. This may be quite close to the rim. Leftover brine will keep for a week in the fridge.
5. Loosely cover jar with lid; don’t tighten the band so ferment can release CO2. Cover jar with a clean towel.
6. Set jar on baking sheet (to catch spills) out of direct light in an area between 55 and 75 degrees (the cooler the better).
7. During fermentation, monitor and top with reserved brine, as needed, to cover. You may see scum on top; it’s generally harmless, but if you see mold, scoop it out. Veggies peeking out of the brine will spoil. If you see anything even a bit out of the brine, use a utensil to push it back under or, if it’s soft or pinkish, pluck it out.
8. When vegetables begin to lose their vibrant color and the brine gets cloudy, you can test pickles. They’re ready when:
• They’re pleasingly sour, without the strong acidity of vinegar.
• They’re softer than fresh but still a bit crisp.
• The colors are muted, even dull.
9. When pickles are ready to eat, skim off any scum on top, along with any bits of floating vegetables. Add brine to completely submerge vegetables, then screw on lids and refrigerate.
10. After about 1 day, check that pickles are still submerged, topping with more brine, if necessary.
Find more Winter recipes: Eating in Season for Winter.
Adapted from Fermented Vegetables: Creative Recipes for Fermenting 64 Vegetables & Herbs in Krauts, Kimchis, Brined Pickles, Chutneys, Relishes & Pastes by Kirsten K. Shockey and Christopher Shockey, and published by Storey Publishing, 2014.