How hard can it be to make dill pickles?

2018-07-02 20.28.42The cucumbers did amazingly well this year. Last year we planted them amongst the tomatoes and they got swamped.  I think we had a very few and so the question of preserving them never came up.  But this year we ran the propagator and grew nearly everything from seed, under lights in the kitchen. For several months the whole flat looked like an overfurnished greenhouse but it resulted in many more young plants than we’ve ever grown before. In the end we gave many of them away but we still planted out half a dozen plants and they generated a surplus that just cried out to be preserved in some way.

I blitzed the internet and did a good deal of research, only some of which was reassuring sice the word ‘botulism’ cropped up alarmingly often – especially in the American sources.  In the end we bought three books to guide our first attempts.  They were:

  • Sandor Katz – The Art of Fermentation
  • Diana Henry – Salt Sugar Smoke
  • Pam Corbin – Preserves (River Cottage Handbook)

I’d recommend any of them, especially since what we’re talking about here is a kind of controlled rotting which demands a good deal of reassurance when it comes to tasting the results!

2018-08-20 18.51.25Stella was dead against me even tasting the first (Sandor Katz) batch because they had grown a thick layer of green mould. But I was determined to try them before I discarded them and so I dredged off the mouldy bit and pulled out all the cucumbers. It was obvious at the outset that the larger cucumbers had hollowed out in the ferment, so where there had been a juicy cavity of seeds everything seemed to have dissolved into the liquor leaving large cavities. The smaller ones had fared much better and looked more natural. I gingerly cut a few slices off them and tasted. First impressions were that they were far too salty for my taste, and that the garlic had left a rather rubbery dried garlic flavour. It didn’t take more than one thin slice to decide that this first batch should be called a failed experiment and so they all went into the bin.

2018-08-20 20.18.16And so to a second batch to a recipe called “half sour’” by Diana Henry – as the photo shows they’re in the sterilized fermenting jar. I abandoned the wholly inadequate airlock and went for a two layer musiln screen tied on with string.  The Henry recipe includes a slice of sourdough rye bread resting on the top of the liquor. Katz thinks it’s unnecessary Henry thinks it is – so game on. If this one fails I’ll think about cutting back on the garlic. Salt doesn’t seem to agree with it.

2018-09-21 10.43.43

Initial tasting of the second attempt (the half-sour) was a lot  more favourable; still very salty but with lovely dill and horseradish flavours, and that one’s gone into the store cupboard.  The third method was another Diana Henry recipe for ‘Scandinavian Pickled Cucumbers’ which only went in yesterday so we’ll wait a few weeks and taste again.

Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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