All you skeptics out there should know that our Hungarian sun pickles, which sat outside our front door for four days in a two quart jar with a fat slice of rye bread, produced some of the best pickles we've ever tasted. These pickles are incredibly crisp, not too salty, with just enough flavor of dill and garlic and a faint, yeasty sweetness.
We don't exactly understand how this fermentation works, between the salt and the yeast, but this may be our new favorite pickle of all time. One reader calls them "penicillin pickles," yet they are incredibly easy to make. Unfortunately, they won't last forever, so we are eating some every day.
It's been a month now since we first started making our pickles. We've made quite a lot, and several different kinds. Here's a roundup:
Deli-style dills: We love these crisp, fermented half-sour pickles. It's the perfect pickle to eat with a corned beef sandwich. They are easy to make, the basic formula being two tablespoons of salt for every quart of water, then add dill weed, garlic cloves, peppercorns and oak leaves. Five or six days later, you should have a small bucket-full of pickles that will last a week or two.
Martha Stewart's Refrigerator Pickles: I wasn't expecting a lot from these pickles. They were a little bland at first, being preserved in white vinegar rather than fermented. But they have gained flavor over time and they are growing on me. Quick and easy, and they last a long time. I like nibbling on them with a piece of cheese.
Sweet & Sour Pickles: I wish these pickles were a little firmer. Perhaps I processed them a bit too long. But the combination of vinegar, sugar, cloves and celery seed provides a jolt of flavor. They are fun and addictive.
Bread & Butter Pickles: These also have to be near the very top of our list for most outstanding pickles. Don't spare any effort: get yourself some pickling lime for the long soak these pickles require to turn out firm and extra-crisp. These are a dense, full-flavored pickle with cider vinegar, sugar, cloves and ginger. Sit yourself down with some of these and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Oak Leaf Pickles: If you spend enough time in the pickle literature, you'll see all types of recipes calling for oak leaves, grape leaves, cherry leaves, currant leaves. The tannin in the leaves is supposed to help keep the pickles crisp. The original recipe for these pickles called for grape leaves, but the closest thing I have is the oak tree outside my front door. These are fermented pickles, similar to the deli-style dills described above, but fermented for two or three weeks until they are fully sour. They can then be processed for long-term storage. This is a full-flavored, classic dill pickle.
Mustard Pickle: I had my first taste of these this morning because they've been mellowing since I first made them two weeks ago. Again, I wasn't expecting much because they are so easy. But they are devilishly good, with plain white vinegar and a bit of mustard powder. Some readers objected to the tiny bit of artificial sweetener in the recipe. I'm sure you could leave it out. I could easily spend an hour or two with these pickles and a bowl of popcorn. Once processed, they should keep almost forever in the pantry.
Cajun Pickles: You figure with a name like this, they have to be good and they are. They gain heat from ripe cherry peppers and jalapenos from the garden, along with lots of flavor from the many different herbs and spices in the brine. These are another variety of fermented pickle and I just wish the recipe came with a method for canning them so we could put a few quarts away in the pantry. I hate the idea of them going bad before we can eat them all. This is one of those pickles to give to a friend who likes something with a kick.
That wraps up our pickling marathon for now. Seems to me what's missing here is a simple dill pickle made with vinegar for easy canning and storage. With all the references in our cookbook library, we should be able to find one so none of our cucumbers go to waste.
Remember to check your cucumber plants often and well. And may the cucumber fairy bless you plenty.