When the cucumber matures to a pickle, the white interior flesh turns a waxy and translucent color as the air is forced from the cells. The half-sours usually look mottled: the translucent flesh of the pickle mixes with the fresh white flesh of the cucumber. Full-sours are fully translucent inside.
- 20 pickling-type cucumbers (not waxed)
- 15 cloves garlic
- 1–2 dried red chiles
- 6 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons pickling spice, or 1½ teaspoons mustard seed, 1 teaspoon dill seed (or, better, 2 fresh dill seed heads), and 1 teaspoon coriander seed
- 1 gallon Cucumber Brine (¾ cup unrefined sea salt to 1 gallon unchlorinated water)
- Grape, oak, or horseradish leaves, enough to top the jar or crock (optional)
- Scrub the cucumbers in water. Trim off the stems and scrub off the blossom ends, as they contain an enzyme that will soften the pickles.
- Lightly mash the garlic cloves with the back of a knife, just enough to break them.
- Pack the cucumbers, incorporating the garlic, chiles, bay leaves, and spices as you go, into four wide-mouth quart jars or a 1-gallon jar or crock. Pour in enough brine to cover them. Tuck the grape leaves, if using, or a piece of plastic wrap over the cucumbers. Cover the jar loosely. Store any leftover brine in the fridge (it will keep for a week; discard thereafter and make a new batch, if needed).
- Set aside on a baking sheet to ferment, somewhere nearby, out of direct sunlight, and cool, for 3 to 6 days. During the fermentation period, monitor the brine level and top off with reserved brine, if needed, to cover. You may see scum on top; it’s generally harmless, but consult the appendix if you’re at all concerned.
- The cucumbers begin a vibrant green — the colors look almost larger than life. As the cukes start to ferment, they turn a drab olive, the result of the acids interacting with chlorophyll. The brine will become cloudy as lactic acid is produced. In 3 to 4 days you’ll have half-sours; in about 6 days you’ll have full-sours. Taste until the pickles are as sour as you’d like them to be.
- When the pickles are ready, cover with fresh grape leaves, if you have some, screw on the lids, and store in the refrigerator. These will keep, refrigerated, for 1 year.
Excerpted from Fermented Vegetables, © by Kirsten K. Shockey and Christopher Shockey, used with permission from Storey Publishing.