Saturday, February 05, 2011
Brine Cured Dill Pickles
There's something extremely satisfying about food preserving, the laying down of produce. It speaks of earlier times when such kitchen husbandry was a necessity to survive long cold winters, but also coincidentally, a means to use up a glut of a particular fruit or vegetable, especially those given to ripening all at once, which would otherwise rot and go to waste.
These days, with our reliance on the convenience of the supermarket and obligatory use of refrigerators, home preserving has taken a something of a back seat, something rarely taken on by home cooks, beyond the odd dabble at jam making.
Even so, we have never lost our taste for preserves and whole industries have developed to satisfy that yearning, canning anything from the aforementioned jams to the rather dubious Scandinavian delight of surströmming or fermented fish.
But home preserving is surprisingly easy and can usually be done with the equipment in most kitchens, though you do need jars, which can either be bought specially, or simply saved and scrupulously cleaned when their contents are used up. The only real trick to it is following exactly any instructions to the letter, shortcuts have no place here.
One of the easiest preserves to do are brine cured dill pickles, they don't even require vinegar, just some salt, water and a few flavourings. The best cucumbers to use are the ones you've grown yourself as the skin contains the Lactobacillus bacteria responsible for the fermentation, which protects the cucumbers from spoiling.
If you buy them, look out for cucumbers with a rough spiky skin, these are grown especially for pickling or brining, with a thinner skin than salad cucumbers which allows better penetration of the cure and they also retain their crispness much better. If you do buy them, make sure to bottle them the same day, fresher gives the best result.
Besides salt, the other thing you must have are dill fronds or crown dill which gives such a distinctive flavour. After that, there are a few different things you might like to add - garlic is popular as are leaves from cherry, blackcurrant or grapevine; some like some horseradish for extra piquancy.
One thing you will notice, is that after a few days, the brine will start to bubble and turn cloudy. This is a good thing as it means the fermentation is proceeding normally.
Brine Cured Dill Pickles
small pickling cucumbers
for each jar
1/2 clove peeled garlic
few stems dill
2 cherry, blackcurrant or grapevine leaves (optional)
for the brine (as needed)
1 rounded tablespoon cooking salt
boil until the salt is dissolved
Sterilize the jars and lids in a dishwasher or simply boil them for a few minutes. Straight away, loosely stuff the cucumbers in, leaving a 1cm gap at the top. In the gaps, place the 1/2 garlic clove, dill stems and any other flavourings you choose. Pour in the boiling brine and immediately screw the lids on tight.
You can use after 2 weeks and they will keep for up to 1 year.