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A New Way To Make Pickles

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Basically, this is a hybrid of the two traditional types of pickles.  To my surprise, after a great deal of research, it’s new as far as I can tell.  In any event, I came up with it independently.


Here’s the story.  Several years ago, when developing my recipe for kimchi, I read a lot about natural fermentation.  From which I learned the object is to produce lactic acid with the ubiquitous bacterium lactobaccillus plantarum.  Meanwhile, I had long ago decided I prefer naturally fermented pickles (e.g., Bubbies) to those cured with vinegar (e.g., Clausen’s).  What would happen, I wondered, if I prepared traditionally vinegar-cured pickles with lactic acid directly?  At the time, though, I couldn’t find a source.  Later, when looking for ingredients for Modernist Cuisine at Home, I happened upon Modernist Pantry and noticed they have the elusive lactic acid in powder form.  After numerous trials, I worked out a recipe.  It marries the convenience and flexibility of quick curing with the less obtrusive flavor profile of lactic acid.  The result isn’t as complex as a natural ferment, but it’s a heck of a lot easier, more reliable and more versatile.


The method works with pretty much anything that anyone pickles with vinegar, including cucumbers, beets, mushrooms, turnips, cauliflower, onions, asparagus, green beans, eggs, apples, etc.  For convenience and ease of refrigerator storage, I built my recipe around 1 litre canning jars.  (Quarts also can be used, of course.)  How much main ingredient will fit depends on how closely it packs after prepping, but 1‑1/2 lb is typical.  If appropriate, blanch or otherwise cook so as to be tender but not soft.   If appropriate, cut into bite-size pieces.  For the brine, combine 2 c water, 2 tbsp kosher salt (18 g) and 2 tsp lactic acid powder (6 g).  For sweet pickles, e.g., Bread & Butter, I reduce the salt to 2 tsp and increase the lactic acid to 1 tbsp.  Notably, according to my electronic pH meter, the 2 tsp lactic acid brine has a starting pH of about 3.2; once it equilibrates with the main ingredient, the pH rises to about 3.8; the recommended level is 4.0 (or less), which is well below the 4.6 needed to inhibit botulism.  Flavorings may be added as desired, including garlic, dill, chile, spices, herbs and/or sugar.  As with the main ingredient, the flavor profile of just about any vinegar-cured pickle can be adapted for the lactic acid brine.


A few practical points.  I like to sequester the flavorings in a bouquet garni bag.  It’s not necessary, but makes for cleaner pickles.  Also, I find infusing the brine works better than cold packing.  Bring to a boil, add bag with flavorings and let cool covered.  Put bag in bottom of the jar, add main ingredient and pour brine over.  Most main ingredients float, so I insert a pickling spacer to submerge them.  My favorite spacer is an inverted lid for a stainless steel dredge shaker, available from restaurant supply stores and online (e.g., here and here), as it happens to be exactly the right diameter (70 mm) to fit inside a wide mouth canning jar.  An inverted plastic storage cap for regular size jars also works, though it’s a bit too wide (not easy to get in and out of the jar), solid rather than perforated (no brine above the top layer), and, well, plastic.  Finally, curing takes at least a few days, but a week works better.  Like most quick-cured pickles, texture and flavor generally suffer if held more than a month.


Anyhoo, having learned a great deal from the forum, I thought I’d drop this in as my little contribution.

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Very interesting. Thanks for posting. I make my own kimchi and also tried water kimchi and I'm very interested in fermentation in general.

Did you ever try the Caldwell starter?

I thought the brine solutions should be different depending on the vegetable used, like cucumbers and peppers requiring much higher percentage of salt. Here.

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I tried the Caldwell starter but was disappointed.  It may be that I got a bad batch.  Or operator error.  Hard to know.  But I've had no trouble with kimchi or sauerkraut, so I'm inclined to blame the product.  YMMV.  As regards salt, bear in mind that the page you link is talking about natural fermentation.  For quick cured pickles, whether using vinegar or lactic acid as I propose, salt is merely a seasoning.  In this context, one may use as much or as little as suits one's palate.

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