Hungarian sun pickles turns out to be cucumbers fermented in a salt brine with flour and a slice of bread. And, yes, they do spend a good amount of time sitting in the sun.
That according to Lucy Norris in her book, "Pickled." Not having grown up with a tradition of Hungarian pickles, I can't dispute Ms. Norris. But I'm still a bit stumped. I didn't do as well as I had hoped in my college microbiology class. Still, I'm pretty sure that the usual salt fermentation process involves a succession of bacteria, whereas bread and flour involve yeast. But Norris insists that "the yeast in (the bread) makes the fermentation process work."
Well, that's why I wanted to try this recipe: to see what happens. (Note: the amount of salt in this brine is much less than what I normally would use for lacto-fermented pickles.)
I ran into the usual problems of trying to match the volume of cucumbers I have on hand with the brining formula presented in the recipe. So I did it backwards. Instead of measuring out ingredients for the brine, I stuffed my container (a 2-quart jar) with cucumbers (2 1/4 pounds) , sliced in half lengthwise. I covered everything with water, then poured the water into a measuring cup to see how much I had.
The original recipe called for 25 to 30 cucumbers 5 inches long (no weight given) and 1 gallon of water to make 1 gallon of pickles. Again I ask, if you are filling a gallon container with a gallon's worth of brine, where's the room for the pickles? Once filled with cucumbers, my 2-quart jar needed just three cups of water. I rounded it off to an even quart to make the rest of the measurements easier.
Pack the cucumbers into the 2-quart jar along with a fist-full of dill weed with seed heads and three cloves of garlic.
Now, for the fun part. The following instructions are designed to allow hot brine to be poured into the pickle jar without cracking the glass.
Stand the filled container in a tall pot with some sort of rack at the bottom (I used my pasta pot with the strainer insert). Fill the pot with warm water to surround the pickling jar (my jar was somewhat taller that my pot, so the jar was not entirely submerged). Gently bring everything up to steaming over moderate heat on the stove. Meanwhile, pour 1 quart cold water into a saucepan and add 1 1/2 tablespoons pickling salt or additive-free sea salt. Heat that until it's steaming as well, the salt completely dissolved. Pour the brine into the pickling jar until the cucumbers are covered by an inch or more.
Use canning tongs or a couple of hot pads to remove the hot jar from the pot. Place it on the counter and sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon flour onto the surface of the brine (no need to stir). Now push a thick slice of yeasty bread, such as sourdough or Jewish rye, onto the top of the brine. (I got a loaf of rye at Whole Foods. I thought that sounded more Hungarian.)
Screw the lid onto the jar and place the jar in a sunny spot outside. You can bring the jar inside at night, but keep putting it out in the sun for four or five days until the cucumbers have fermented to your liking, adding water if needed so the bread doesn't dry out.
When the pickles have fermented, remove the bread and the pickles from the jar and strain the brine through a fine seive. Return the pickles, the dill and the garlic to the jar and cover with the strained brine. Refrigerate. According to Norris, these pickles should last about one week in the refrigerator. My hunch is they will last longer than that. I'm anxious to find out.