Old Fashioned Brined Pickles

Would you like a way to make pickles that saves you time, delays any canning until the temperature cools off a bit, produces pickles that last much longer in storage (in fact, up to a year without refrigeration), and is easy?

I don’t know about you, but I like easy.

During the summer of 2013, shortly after moving to the homestead, I ended up overwhelmed with assorted vegetables. I had made friends with some farmers who happily loaded me up with whatever did not sell at the Saturday market.

A few pounds of green beans, a couple of heads of cauliflower, some odd-shaped carrots.
Then my own garden started producing, especially green beans.

In the midst of all this, I found Pickles and Preserves by Marion Brown. The date on my copy is 1955, but the book has been reprinted. The biggest difficulty with the book is that it assumes a lot of knowledge.

Before I go any further, I will note that all pickles are brined at least briefly. Most people make fresh pack pickles, which are generally only brined overnight and then pickled with vinegar.

These aren’t those pickles.

They’re better.

The author notes in the book that properly made pickles should need neither alum nor lime and that only “good vinegar” with 4-6% acetic acid should be used.

Almost any vegetable or fruit can be pickled in some for or another. Some, however, take to pickling better than others. – Pickles and Preserves, Marion Brown.

To make my pickles, I used a 4-gallon stone crock. In the 1950s, that was apparently the most common container used. I found mine at a second-hand store, but they are available at Home Hardware in various sizes. I also used an old-fashioned glass canning jar and … don’t laugh too hard … a water jug with spigot that we picked up at the grocery store. There was a lot of fermenting going on.

Why do long-brined pickles? 

I did it to give myself a bit of breathing space, since brining for six weeks meant I could do those ones later. Later is good when you have bushels of produce coming in. But this year I will do it because these seriously made the most delicious, crispiest and longest-lasting pickles I’ve ever had.

Do NOT be intimidated by the four steps. Each step takes very little effort.

Making The Brine – First Step

fermenting250The first step to making brined cucumbers is the brine. Produce kept in a 10% brine will not spoil. It really needs no other method of preservation and will keep for about a year. A 10% brine is “strong enough to float an egg”.

To make a 10% brine, bring 4 1/2 litres of water to a boil and stir in 1 pound salt until it dissolves. Be sure to use salt intended for pickling, and not one with additives. Let the brine cool completely before using it.

Before adding produce, lower a whole, raw egg gently into the solution. 

It will, in fact, float. 

This isn’t a vital step, but it’s really cool to see.

A 5% brine is made the same way, but with 1/2 pound of salt. This will allow some fermentation, and unsealed pickles will spoil within a few weeks. Most modern recipes for fermented pickles are made with a weak brine like this.

It takes about 2 1/2 gallons of brine to process 5 gallons (1/4 bushel) of vegetables.

Make brined pickles when the temperature will remain about 86F. Colder temperatures may cause fermentation to stop and the vegetables to spoil.

Brining The Cucumbers – Second Step

The hardest part of this is accepting that so much salt is actually necessary.

Thoroughly wash and dry a 4 gallon crock, or another large container that is not metal, not porous and can be covered.

Wash 1/4 bushel cucumbers and place them in the crock.

Cover the cucumbers with 6 litres COLD 10% brine. Cover the crock and let it stand overnight.

Whenever you see “overnight”, it means “12 or so hours”.

Next day, pour 1 pound 3 ounces pure salt on the board or plate. This lets it slowly sift in, instead of settling into the bottom of the crock.

The extra salt is necessary because the cucumbers release water, changing the salt level in the brine.
At the end of the week (that is, in six more days), add another 1/4 pound salt.

Repeat this for weeks 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. Yes – 1 1/4 cups MORE salt. I told you this was the hard part.

During the fermentation process, remove any scum that forms. It inhibits fermentation and can cause your pickles to spoil.

When all bubbling stops, fermentation is complete. This may not take six weeks. When fermentation stops, however long that has been, move on to step three.

Process Pickles – Step Three

Now, not everyone is going to want to process them further. Plenty of people like brined pickles just the way they are. And if you do, they will keep for up to a year, in a cool place like a cellar.

The non-processing way is to let the pickles cure in the same brine for 6-8 more weeks. That’s all.
But if you’re looking for a more complex flavour, keep going.

Remove cucumbers from the brine.

Combine vinegar, spices and sugar as indicated in your recipe. What recipe? ANY recipe you would normally do with short-brined vegetables. I’ll soon post my favourite sweet mixed pickle recipe.
Bring the vinegar mixture to a full, rolling boil, just as you would if using short-brined vegetables. Drop in the brined vegetables, a few at a time, and then return the pot to a full boil.

Lift out the vegetables and pack them tightly into large crocks, leaving some room at the top.

Pour the hot, spiced vinegar on top, with at least 1/2” of liquid covering. Let stand overnight. If the liquid level has dropped, make some more and add it. When the pickles will no longer absorb the vinegar syrup, repackage in small, glass jars.

Storage – Step Four

The safe, USDA-approved storage method would be to heat process the pickles. It IS what I did with mine, but I am not sure that it’s actually necessary. Between the salt, fermentation and vinegar, spoilage is rather unlikely.

In order to heat process this, drain the syrup and heat it to a boil. Put the pickles into clean, hot jars, cover with the syrup, and seal with lids and rings. Process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes – start with room temperature water and start counting the time when it comes to a full boil.

The non-USDA-approved but likely just as safe method is to repackage the pickles in sterilized jars, pour the cold syrup on top, seal with sterilized lids, and store them in a cool, dark cellar. Shh, don’t tell them I said that, though.

Curing – Step Five

These pickles must be cured. I know, I read all the time about people who make brined cucumbers and eat them right away, but they make my eyes cross.  Shortly after making these pickles, I tried eating a few.

Salty. Oh. My. Goodness. Salty.

And so I trusted Pickles and Preserves and repackaged the long-brined pickles in a spiced vinegar solution. Tasted them and … no better.

I gave a jar to a neighbour who said she soaked them overnight in cold water and then ate them. And that is the usual recommendation for how to eat brined pickles. Do you know, half the time I forget to take pickles out of the pantry and chill them, so I really don’t think I’d remember to soak them overnight.

All last summer, I looked at them in the pantry, wishing I had done something else with the vegetables. Such a waste of vegetables, salt, vinegar and storage space.

They sat there for a year and a half while I wished I had not made them.

This past week, I decided to try soaking the pickle overnight in clear water to see if I could wash off some of that salt. I opened a jar and tasted one to see just how bad the salt content was.

It was delicious.

As in “the most incredibly delicious pickles I’ve ever tasted and not salty at all.”

We’ve been eating a pint a day since then. They’re that good.

This year, I’m long-brining my vegetables before I make pickles.

To Recap:

1: Bring 4 1/2 litres of water to a boil and stir in 1 pound salt until it dissolves.

2: Place 1/4 bushel washed vegetables into a sterilized pickling crock. Cover with brine. On day 2, add 1 pound 3 ounces salt, pouring it on top of the plate or board holding the vegetables under the brine. On day 7, add 1/4 pound salt. A week later, repeat the 1/4 pound salt and continue until fermentation stops or until 6 weeks have passed, whichever is first.

3: Let pickles cure in the brine 6-8 weeks. OR remove from brine and make the vinegar mixture for any short-brined pickle recipe. Boil the vinegar, add the vegetables, a few at a time, and return to a full boil before removing the vegetables. Pack vegetables in large jars and pour the vinegar mixture on top. Let cool and top up the liquid if needed. When no more is being absorbed, seal the jars.

4: Store in a cold cellar or a refrigerator. OR boiling water bath the pickles in smaller jars.

5: Let pickles cure until they taste just perfect. They keep at least a year.