Monday, December 31, 2007

CSA week five - crock pickles

As I wrote I might in my initial post a week ago, I decided to try making crock pickles with this week's cucumbers. Crock pickles, unlike refrigerator pickles, use no vinegar. Instead they rely on the environmental bacteria to ferment the cucumbers, creating acid and the sour flavor.

The process is simple: make a salt water brine with dill, garlic, black and red pepper for flavor. Put the cucumbers in, cover loosely with a weight to hold the cucumbers under the surface and wait a week or so.

Here's the result. It didn't work out so great. From my reading, two things went wrong. First, these are the wrong sort of cucumbers. The traditional pickling varieties are more solid and they're picked young before the seed region gets watery. That watery part tends to dissolve completely in the brine; I made this a bit worse by cutting the bigger cucumbers to fit and giving the bacteria direct access.

Second, too high a salt level lets yeasts grow that produce carbon dioxide. This creates "bloaters" swelled hollowed out pickles with a somewhat off flavor. (Not nearly as bad, I read, as the cheesy flavor of pickles in an under-salted brine, though.) I suppose it's some comfort that the problem I had is common enough that there's a word for it. Must mean I got it nearly right.

Despite all that, the smaller and more solid cucumbers turned out OK. It's been so long since I've had a proper deli cucumber that I'm not sure how close these come in flavor. I presume I'd have a Proustian burst of memory when I took a bite if I hit it dead on so I'm pretty sure I didn't. But, like I said, they're OK. More tangy than than sour with plenty of salt and hints of dill and garlic.

On the whole, I think I'll stick with refrigerator pickles at least until I get my hands on some proper Kirbys and a real crock.

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