Sunday, April 22, 2007


“Oh, Hamlet, how camest thou in such a pickle?” (Act 5, Scene 1.)

Ogorki. Dill pickles. Whatever you want to call them, pickled cucumbers in the Eastern European style have always been one of my favourite foods. Until now it has been a sore point that I've never managed to make them. Firstly because I like to think homemade is also best. Also I worried about what I would do post peak-oil without access to Polish pickles, without access even to the tinned Israeli ones. And they're kinda expensive when you've got a pickle habit like me.

"Thou shalt be whipp'd with wire and stew'd in brine, Smarting in lingering pickle.”
(Anthony and Cleopatra, Act 2, Scene 5.)

My first attempt many years ago freaked me out because the garlic turned blue. I didn't know then that it was just because of a reaction with the stuff they put in salt so I threw them all out fearing some kind of poisioning. Last year I tried again and most of the pickles went awfully soft but a few stayed firm so it gave me hope.

But by the time cucumber season came around this year I had a lot more fermentation practice under my belt and I had met Sandorkraut, my pickling guru. (well I read his book, I didn't really meet him.) I now understood that the souring in my pickles was a simple process and nothing to be afraid of but also I felt worried as Sandor said dill pickles were the hardest pickles around. Oh the confusion!

My pickling cucumbers didn't grow too well in this drought summer but when I found some for sale at a Balaclava greengrocer I just had to give it a try. And? Success! These pickles turned out just perfect. Garlicky. Sour. Crunchy. I have never been so happy. I bought more cucumbers and now I feel ready for winter - all stocked up. Hell maybe if I can learn to grow the little mofos I'll even be ready for peak oil.

In September, 2000, after the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Dallas Cowboys 41-14 in the blazing, September heat, many players attributed the win to the vim and vigor they gained from drinking pickle juice. "I may start drinking pickle juice when I'm just sitting home chilling," said defensive end Hugh Douglas.

From this:

To this:

You can read the recipe I used here. It's really easy - just make sure you use unadulterated salt and stick heaps of grape leaves in to keep them crunchy. Otherwise all you really need to do is pack the cucumbers in a bucket with garlic and dill and pour salty water over them. Then sit back and wait for the bacteria to do their thing. I didn't have as much garlic on hand as Sandor specifies but found mine were heaps garlicky enough even using less. Now go forth and pickle.

I myself, will be planning how to get to pickle day. yes!
(The excellent "Pickle Wing" of the NY Food Museum is also where I stole the great quotes.)


jenjen said...

i'm glad your dill pickles came through with the goods. last year was a bit scary.

speaking of which, i have a scary-pickle question for you.

why has my kim chi started giving us nightmares? it's not the chilli. entirely different quality of nightmare: feverish rolling around and reports of actual whimpering. strangely satisfying, unlike mere bad dreams.

it was out of the fridge for a day or so when we changed fridges. i am planning some more controlled experiments to make sure it's the kim chi (which is very good, thanks for the recipe), once i'm off work.

esther said...

jenjen! yeah i know, the fizzing was weird last year. and the softness. but mostly the not knowing what to do at all.

the kimchi situation sounds kinda crazy. but i'm glad you used the recipe. i've not had a similar situation so i dunno, but i don't think that keeping it outta the fridge is that bad. tho it's hotter than hot up there isn't it? hmm.. that should just make it more fermented. maybe don't eat so much just before bed?

now you got me thinking i wanna make some more kimchi. i got lots of daikon growing so maybe i'll kimchi that.

also, you can email sandorkraut with questions on his website. he'd like to hear from you i'm sure.

come visit soon. i will ply you with pickles. also i might do a ferment workshop at Camp Betty so come help.


Vanessa said...

I'm a big pickle fan also.
Lucas and made some:
They tasted okay, but then we had some trouble with the cucumbers we were growing to pickle: we planted two different varieties which is something not to do - you can only grow one variety at a time or else they sterilise each other.
That pickle festival sounds like heaven.

Wojtek Przywrzej said...

Hi, here's a little gift form Warsaw, Poland. Best cucumber pickles in Warsaw. Belive that!,20.975647&spn=0.001683,0.004426&t=h&z=18&om=1&msid=117602317749055038153.00043ae2b960392b43112

Wojtek Przywrzej said...

Once again a link.

esther said...

thank you wojtek!!
i will have to go there next time i'm in warsaw. such an exciting mission....

squeegan said...

Hi, I'm a year 12 food technology student in australia, and for an assessment task we had to preserve a food using methods we researched. So I chose to do polish pickles, and it was going quite well until a few days ago, when the water began to go cloudy. Is this normal, or are my pickles spoiled?

esther said...

hi squeegan,
that's great that you were pickling for a school project! Wish I'd learnt something useful like that at school. Don't worry about the cloudy water.. that's very typical and some people say that shows you when your pickles are ready. Pickles don't really spoil and they won't hurt you even if they're a bit soft or a bit mouldy so don't worry. Hope they taste good.

Tom Aarons said...

So impressed! I only really have the courage to make fresh pickles and fermented/sour pickles that last a week or so. But I might give the longer term ones another go now.