Oh how I love the lacto fermented pickle, or as my family calls them – pickles.  These have been THE pickles in the house and on the table of every extended family meal since – forever.  No store-boughts in our house.  My great g-mas made them, my great aunts both made them, my aunt (who is actually my cousin but whatever) makes them up in Canada and I started making them about 6 years ago.   There is such an amazingly different flavor in them that you just can’t get until you try one.  They are sour and garlicy and salty and dilly and EFFERVESCENT all at once.  I have to admit – sometimes do like to have a vinegar pickle – and I am gonna make some vinegar types in the next round – but for now I am super happy to have a batch (9 quarts) of regular old pickles.

So, for those who are really rambunctious and want to try your hand at this ancient practice – I say tally ho!  But be forewarned…the USDA and all them folks aren’t too keen on this type o’ preserving – so if you are a stickler, I suggest you look elsewhere for your canning action.  But if you like your food supplemented with wild yeast and are not afraid to shun the canning pot for this expedition – here’s my family recipe…..

It’s a little on the what-have-you side – but I’ll tell you what I used today

10 pounds of very fresh, small cucumbers

There is a small farm store near me called Pruitt’s Farm that sells fresh picked, teeny cucs in 10 pounds bags.  They even sort them so that you get mostly straight ones that fit in the jars better.  I called ahead and put a bag on hold.

1 bunch of fresh dill stalks with the big seedy flower heads

I usually put two flower heads in each jar – just so you get an idea of what you need.

Lots of garlic

This time around I used lots of garlic – about 4 cloves per jar.  Sometimes I use two.  One jar got like 8 cloves today cause I was feeling kinda kooky.

Pickling salt – 1T per qt jar/1t per pt jar

Red pepper flakes or fresh hot peppers

As much as you like – or none at all.  My family never put peppers in – just me.  Today I used about 1/2T of red pepper flakes per qt jar.

A splash of vinegar for each jar.

This step I find a bit controversial – in my own head.  It is something that has always been done in my family, but when I have read books (this one in particular – which I love) on lacto fermenting there is no vinegar used what-so-ever.  But I know it works so I do it.  Just use a splash – less than a tablespoon for a quart.  Less than that for a pt.

Ok – now for the most important part.  The jars.  This is where a few people may be sent reeling, head over heels, onto a completely different website with a different recipe that doesn’t require special jars for pickles.  But I tell you, if you want these pickles you either have to do them in a crock (which I have never gotten around to trying but would like to) or do them this-a-way.

You need jars with glass lids  – or plastic dome lids that I saw on some site a few years ago but can’t find now.  If anyone know what they are let me know – I thought that was really cool that someone was making those – they were like the Ball metal dome lids only made out of plastic and were reusable.  Anyway – you need the glass cause them metal lids aren’t heavy duty enough to keep the effervescence in.  This stuff bubbles and ferments and all that action will pop the seal on a metal lid.  The jars I use are the old fashioned clamp top jars like in the photo above.  I also have some Gem jars – which is a Canadian brand and the lid is glass and is held on by a very heavy duty metal screw top.  They both have rubber gaskets in between the jar and lid that make the seal.  You can also use those hinged glass lid jars that are sold for storing grains and whatnot.  They have the rubber gasket and the clamp that will keep every thing all nice and safe.   There are also European jars available now that are really cool – like these Weck jars.  I bought some of the half pint (well, they are prob not called that, but that’s what american size they resemble) jars a few years ago at Sur la Table – but I’m sure there are more places to buy them now – esp since people are getting more into canning these days.  I also have these cool German jars with white one piece lids – but I don’t remember the name.  They kind of remind me of the jars that I saw some people use when I lived in Romania.  Some people canned with just plastic wrap as the lid, but some people used these skinny jars with white one piece lids that just sealed on when you put them in a canner.  Anyway – enough babbling.

Wash jars and lids.  Put all of the pieces in a 200-210 degree oven.  Some folks use a dishwasher and I tried that last year – but I wasn’t super thrilled with the results.  The oven keeps all the jars you aren’t using very hot until you need them – which is important for the seal.

Put all the rubber rings you will need in a pot of water and get it boiling – but not till your cucs are cleaned.  If you do not know where to buy rubber rings you can find them online – this is one place.   I found some at a farm store in outer Portland.  The place is called The Barn.  It’s a really cool place that has tons of produce and – as far as they know they are the only ones in Portland that sell them.  Yay for them.

Wash the cucumbers and cut both ends off.  I usually taste the end that I cut off to see if it’s bitter – esp on the stem end.  If it is bitter I cut off a bit more.  These cucs that I bought at Pruitt’s were all fabulously sweet and not bitter at all.  Yay!  

Peel the garlic.

Get out the pickling salt and vinegar (and peppers) and set them close by.

Boil a large pot of water and keep it boiling.  This will be the water you will fill your jars with.  It’s best to use non-chlorinated water, but I have used tap water every time and I think the boiling gets rid of the chlorine cause I’ve never had a prob with the fermenting not happening.   Top it off if you need to.

You will also need:

A ladle
tongs
a jar grabber dealiethis is what they look like – you can get them at pretty much any store these days.
a measuring spoon set
a pot holder
towels

Ok – clean jars in oven, cucs cleaned, water boiling on stove….let’s go!

Grab a jar out of the oven with the tongs.  Put 1T of salt in each quart jar and 1t of salt in each pint.  Put in red pepper now if you want – 1/2T for a qt.  Throw in a couple cloves of garlic and a flowering dill thing – you know what I’m talking about.  Then try to stack the first layer of cucs on end so that they, in a very distant way, resemble an arial view of a can of vienna sausage.

Then just squeeze cucumbers in any way they will fit.  Feel free to sort of shove – but be careful cause the jar is HOT.  Ok – so when you get to about an inch from the top of the jar stop with the cucs and add some more garlic and another head of dill.
Another thing I forgot to do this year but usually do is top it all off with a grape leaf.  This helps to keep the pickles crisp.  I guess I’ll do that next time and compare.  Honestly my family never did this.  I just read about it and started doing it.  
Now you ladle the hot, boiling water into the jar till it come up to about 1/4 inch from the top and then add the splash of vinegar.  You need to do all this somewhat quickly so that the jar stays hot.  
Now the tricky part is getting that damn rubber ring on.  This is where the pot holder comes in handy.  The jar is hot, the liquid is hot, the lid is hot – sheesh!   If you are using the old fashioned clamp top jars these are a pain in the butt.  You have to stretch the ring around the edge of the jar and it’s a tight fit.  If you are using those hinged jars they are way easier to get on there.  The Canadian Gem jars are pretty easy too.  The ring goes on the lid and is then placed onto the jar.  Then seal up with whatever way your jar works and set on a towel.  I like to do them one at a time so everything stays really hot.  
Now, after you get all the jars done you need to keep them in a fairly warm place for a few days until they start to form milky white stuff at the bottom of the jar.  This is the fermentation in action!  If you don’t get this going they might not ferment (and actually this is a type of pickle that is called a half sour – not all the way fermented).  Then they get put in a cooler place for storage (out of the sunlight and heat) for a couple months – till you start to eat them and can’t stop!  
I have read that, now-a-days, one should never use these glass lid jars cause you can’t tell if they sealed properly or not.  Well, my family has a really easy way of finding that out!  The day after you make them and they are sitting on the towels you turn them upside down.  That way if they leak you can tell and then you reseal that jar (which is a pain in the butt – but you do what you gotta do).  So now you can all thumb your noses at the USDA when they try to take all those lovely glass lid jars away from you!  
Just to be on the safe side – don’t eat any of them if they smell weird, are slimy or slippery, or are soft.  Usually, when I open the jar, there are some over the water level and I don’t eat those.  The jar is supposed to seal, so if yours doesn’t you may want to dump them – that is up to you. 
So there you go.  It’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it – and you develop your own system.  It took me 4 hours to do the whole process today and get the 9 quarts.  
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