There's a lot of love for pickles in this house. Tom and Adam both enjoy making and eating canned pickles all year round, and they've had fun experimenting with different flavor combinations. They make bread and butter pickles, garlic dill pickles, both sweet and sour pickle relish, you name it. Today they opened a jar (from our quickly-dwindling supply) named "Pickle #5." No, I don't know what that means. But they seemed to enjoy them.
I don't love pickles like they do, but I very much like the pickles you get out of the crock from a really good deli. Now in San Francisco or Berkeley you can find a good deli, or a good charcuterie place, on just about every block. Walnut Creek is another matter. So if I want a good deli sour pickle, I have to make them myself.
I've read all kinds of stuff online, and books (hello, Sandor Katz), about fermenting pickles. It seems as if there is a lot of room for experimentation. Basically a fermented pickle sits in a salt-water brine rather than vinegar, and of course you don't can them, but rather keep them in the fridge after you've fermented them to the specific flavor you want. Since you are not canning them at high heat, good bacteria and probiotics will develop and flourish, as in sauerkraut or kimchi. Canned pickles still have plenty of nutrition and flavor, but they don't have the good bacteria.
To the brine you can add any flavorings you like, but garlic and dill are standard. Like your pickles a little spicy? Add some red pepper flakes. Like them very crisp? Add some grape or oak leaves for the tannins. Like your pickles extra sour? Make the brine stronger (more salt). It's really up to you.
Today I picked our first cucumbers, and since I wanted to ferment them whole, I picked them small, at about four inches each. All the cucumbers were roughly the same size. I rinsed them, rubbing off the spines, and cut off both ends to help keep them crunchy (the blossom end has an enzyme that can soften your pickles). Then I put them in a quart mason jar with four smashed cloves of our garlic and some dill seed. To that I added a brine (2 tablespoons salt per quart of water), weighted it all down with a glass fermentation weight, and topped it with our FARMcurious Re-cap lids. These were a gift from my brother and sister-in-law and we use them all the time.
These pickles will sit on the counter for 2-5 days, and then I'll switch out the lid and put them in the fridge. Keep in mind that fermentation happens faster in warm weather and slower in cool weather. Cucumber weather is generally warm weather (and it's exceedingly warm here), so I'll keep an eye on this ferment.
And, that's it! No hot canning jars and steaming water, no slicing and dicing. It's incredibly simple, and the pickles are incredibly good for you, as all fermented things are.