Pickles fermenting on the windowsill next to my friendly yet somehow still aggressive mint plant.

My method for crunchy fermented pickles

Adam Fields

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I hate food waste. I’ve been dabbling with fermentation for the past few years as part of my general interest in food preservation techniques. I’ve made a variety of different fermented foods over the past few years, but my favorite remains the first thing I tried — plain garlic dill pickles.

It’s a common refrain in the fermentation communities I’m in that people seem to have trouble with their pickles going mushy, and I believe I’ve nailed this problem. My pickles are consistently crunchy, and have remained so after many months of storage in the fridge. Here’s what I do:

  1. Start with crunchy cucumbers. Kirbies are the best for making pickles, and really the only kind I’ll use anymore. They can be difficult to find in supermarkets (but increasingly less so), and you want ones that have not been irradiated. Your best bet is to go to a local farmer’s market.
  2. Trim the tips out. I’m told that the stem end can harbor a fungus that can make pickles mushy, even in very fresh pickles, so this should definitely be removed. I’ve found that trimming out both ends helps the brine penetrate better, so I do that. I use a Chef’n Tomato Corer, which makes it very easy to carve out a small wedge from the end.
  3. Pre-soak in ice water and calcium chloride. I do this in the jar I ferment them in, for about 30 minutes. I use 1 tsp of Pickle Crisp for a gallon jar. I’ve never seen this recommendation anywhere else, but I find that including the calcium chloride in this step does make a difference.
  4. Pour off the ice water and add more pickle crisp to the jar (again, 1 tsp per gallon), along with wine tannins, which are made of crushed chestnut shells. That package will last a looong time, I use only 1/4 tsp for a gallon jar. A common suggestion is to use grape, oak leaves, or tea bags to add tannins, but I’ve found this powdered wine tannin to be very convenient and it produces a pleasant product. Tannins do not serve to keep the pickles crunchy, but they do add a nice puckery mouthfeel.
  5. Layer the cucumbers with bunches of garlic and fresh dill. There’s really no right or wrong amount here. This is all about flavor.
  6. Mix a brine of 2.5 tbsp pickling salt to each quart of water. A gallon jar usually needs about 2 quarts of brine. Make sure the brine is above the top of the vegetables but leave a bit of head space. If you have floaters, add a clean glass weight on top. Cover with a fermentation valve cap and sit on the windowsill for three days, then refrigerate for at least a week before eating.

Equipment notes: for such a short ferment, either a water airlock or silicone lid will work nicely. I like these Easy Fermenter lids if you’re using a wide mouth mason jar. However, mason jars top out at two quarts, and I’ve become so addicted to these pickles I’ve started making them by the gallon. I found some gallon glass jars and drilled one of the lids to fit a standard gasket and water airlock. If you want to do a small jar to start with, a 2-quart mason jar will fit around 5–7 kirbies, depending on the size. The gallon ones I have aren’t available anymore, but these look the same. For fermentation, jars and equipment don’t have to be sterilized, but everything should be clean.

A little about me: I cook a lot, mostly dinner at home for my family and friends but sometimes for massive parties of upwards of 200 people. I’ve been doing sous vide cooking since 2010. I run a food blog called Unselling Convenience (also @unsellingconvenience on Instagram if you’d rather follow along there), which is mostly an inspiration board and memory database of things I’ve enjoyed cooking and probably want to cook again. I believe that shortcuts are great, but not at the expense of quality. I administer the Everyday Sous Vide and Instant Pot Love groups on Facebook. If you buy something from one of the links, I probably get a small commission which won’t even come close to defraying the amount of money I’ve spent on these things over the years but which will make me happy anyway.

That’s about it. Enjoy your pickles!

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