We have this little farmer’s market here in Arlington that sells the most amazing pickles. Every Saturday husband and I roll out of bed, wipe the sleep from our eyes, and schlep on over to the market just to buy our week's supply of pickled goodness. While everything the pickle guy sells is amazing, we have a soft spot in our hearts for the half sour pickles. Unlike regular dill pickles, half sours are a little fresher, a little crunchier, and a little less salty. Pickle perfection. So if you live near DC, track down Number 1 Sons and go buy yourself some of the best pickles you've ever had. If not, stick with me and I'll show you how to make your own.
Why should you make your own pickles?
Unlike pickles you buy at the grocery store, homemade fermented pickles contain a healthy dose of probiotics that aid in everything from improving digestion to reducing cavities.
Studies also show that fermented foods:
- Strengthen the immune system
- Protect against various cancers
- Promote clear skin
- Balance hormones
- Reduce likelihood of infection
Half Sour Pickles Recipe
1 ½ tbsp Real Salt (or unrefined sea salt)
8 Kirby cucumbers
4 sprigs fresh dill
4 cloves garlic
2 cups spring water
½ tsp cracked peppercorns
- Sanitize jars. Wash jars thoroughly with hot soapy water. Then place jar in large stock pot, and add enough water to completely cover jar. Turn burner to medium-high heat. Once water starts to boil, turn heat to low and allow to simmer until you are ready to use the jar. (**It's important to have really clean jars when fermenting food in order to prevent food-born illness and to keep bad bacteria from overrunning your culture. Too much bad bacteria can cause mold to form in your brine or lead to rotten pickles. Ew.**)
- Prep your cucumbers. Scrub cucumbers with a brush and rinse well. Using your finger nail, scratch off the small round scab from the blossom end of the cucumber (see photo below for an example of what I mean by "blossom end"). It is said that the cucumber blossom can contain bacteria that may prevent your pickles from fermenting properly, thus ruining your batch. To be safe you could always cut blossom end off entirely using a knife, but I simply scratch it off.
- Make your brine. In a 2-cup glass measuring cup, measure 1 cup of spring water. Heat water in the microwave until hot, but not boiling. Add salt to hot water and stir until dissolved. Add 1 cup cold spring water.
- Pack cucumbers in jar. Remove glass jar from simmering water. Allow to cool slightly before tightly packing the cucumbers vertically in the jar. Insert dill springs and garlic cloves around the pickles. Sprinkle peppercorns on top.
- Cover with brine. Add enough saltwater brine to completely cover pickles, leaving about 1 inch airspace at the top of the jar. Make sure the pickles, garlic, and dill are completely submerged in the brine. Cover jar with cheesecloth or a kitchen towel secured with a rubber band. Place entire jar inside a dish to catch any brine that may spillover during the fermentation process.
Allow to ferment for 4 days. Put the jar in a cool, dark place. It is recommended that the temperature remain around 65 degrees. Any warmer and bad bacteria may take hold and ruin your culture (I like to keep my pickles in a small cooler with a single ice pack wrapped in a towel.) Check pickles daily to make sure they stay submerged and that there is no mold growing on your brine. If mold starts to form, discard your batch of pickles and start again. After 4 days have passed, taste a pickle. It should be crunchy, slightly sour and taste of dill and garlic.
What if something goes wrong?
Fermenting foods is tricky business. Everything from contaminants in your water to the cleanliness of your cucumbers can affect how well your pickles turn out. Here are some common complaints and how to fix them.
- The brine gets cloudy. Mild cloudiness is OK, especially when fermenting pickles (as opposed to making refrigerator pickles). Cloudiness can be remedied by avoiding table salt which contains anticaking agents and sticking with pickling salt or pure sea salt. You should also use spring water instead of tap water which contains chlorine, fluoride, and minerals which can affect the balance of bacteria in your brine.
- Pickles become discolored. Avoid using metal containers and cookware when making your pickles. Aluminum, brass, iron, copper, and zinc cookware, containers, and utensils, which can react with the acids developed during fermentation, causing off colors ranging from blue to pink.
- Mold or yeast forms. It's important that you clean cucumbers, jars, and cookware thoroughly before using. During fermentation, keep your cucumbers completely submerged in brine to shield them from outside microbes that may affect the fermentation process. To ensure that the pickles stay submerged, you can weigh them down with a small glass jar filled with water, or use a small weighty object wrapped in plastic. If mold starts to form, throw the batch out and start again.