Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hieronymous Gherkin Exposed

I come from a family of picklers. My Mother is a pickler, my Uncle Irwin is a pickler; I'm a pickler too. We come from a long line of picklers stretching back across the Atlantic to the shtetl.

Picking Your Pepino
I've learned that making Kosher style dilled cucumber pickles is not difficult. The main requirement is selecting your cucumbers. Mexican markets offer several types of unsuitable cucumbers. One cucumber to avoid, although our favorite vendedora es muy bonita, are the inexpensive but very large, pulpy, seedy ones. While they are sometimes only 5 pesos for 3 kilo , Do Not Buy These for pickling! You will be tempted to buy bags full, but don't. Buy a pineapple, jícama or some melon from her instead.

Go to Bodega Aurrerá, or perhaps Wal Mart or Superama and get "pepinos criollos". Get at least 15, preferably small to medium sized, straight and free of blemishes. They are usually 1 peso each. When you find out how easy this recipe is, you'll wish you'd bought more.

Dewaxing the Pepinos
When you get them home, you must remove the waxy, oily coating. Not only is it inedible, but it will prevent the brine from penetrating the skin and they won't ferment.

Here's how to remove the waxy coating. Place the cukes in a large bowl in the sink, add a tablespoon or two of baking soda, and fill the bowl with hot tap water. Let the cukes sit for 5 minutes or so, then scrub each with a clean stiff brush of a Golden Fleece scrubber. Do not rub so hard that you scratch the skin.
 Drain the baking soda away, and repeat with a similar bath of half a cup of salt and hot water. When you are done, rinse and dry the cukes with a clean towel and set aside.

Prepare The Brine
In a large, non corrodible metal pot, such as stainless steel, bring 1 gallon of water to a boil, along with 1/2 cup coarse, Kosher salt, or 3/4 cup sal marina gruesa (obtainable in Super Codallos, La Fortaleza or at Don Chucho's. Es muy barata.) Add 4 tsps up to 1/2 cup mixed pickling spices. If you don't have pickling spices, you can make up some, as in this recipe from Better Than Store Bought. Spanish translations are included for your convenience:  Pickling Spices

4 cinnamon sticks each about 3 inches long... canela
1 piece dried gingerrot 1 inch long... gengibre
2 TBSPS mustard seeds... semilla de mostaza
2 tsps allspice berries... pimienta gorda
2 TBSPS whole black peppercorns... pimienta negra
2 tsps whole cloves... clavos de olor
2 tsps dill seeds... semillas de eneldo
2 tsps coriander seeds... semillas de cilantro
2 tsps whole mace, crumbled medium fine... macis
8 bay leaves, crumbled medium fine... hojas de laurel
1 small dried hot red pepper, 1 1 /3 inches long, chopped or crumbled medium fine, seeds and all. (Or more to taste.) Oh, um, err... ¿chile rojo seco?
Allow the brine to thoroughly cool, I mean really cool; while you obtain at least 4 cloves of garlic, unpeeled but slightly smashed. Note that in the first picture of pickles in a crock, there are at least 8 cloves of garlic visible. Yes, they were peeled. No animals were hurt nor extras injured during the filming, so?

You'll also need a goodly handful of fresh dill, including some seed heads, none of which is readly obtainable, except at el Rancho Eneldo de Doña Cuevas, where there's presently a small forest of the stuff. While fresh is best, dried will do in a pinch.

Overlooked Tip for Preventing limp pickles: My Mom advises adding a little white vinegar to the brine when setting up the "cure". It toughens the cukes' skin, I believe.

Get a Crock
Get a clean, well scrubbed crock or a glass gallon jar (see Super Codallos, for possibilities, or use a clean plastic food pail. I recently used one of those ribbed glass aguas frescas "barrels". You can get them in the mercado or in the kitchen wares department of your favorite Mexican supermarket. Ours is smaller than usual, and it was perfect for curing 18 medium pickles.

Cure Your Pickle (for "Half Sours")
Pack the container with prepared cukes, inserting garlic cloves at intervals and stalks of dill. Pour the cooled brine over to totally fill the container. Place a clean, heavy saucer or a small soup bowl into the mouth of the container. Cover all loosely with a clean plastic bag. (I recommend placing the whole rig on a tray with sides, in case of spillage or overflow.)

Leave at cool room temperature for 36 to 48 hours, The brine should turn cloudy and you'll see small bubbles forming.
You should test them by slicing off a schtickel and tasting. (A schtickel a pickle.)

Use of clean utensils, such as tongs, is advised. (Such duties, OMG!) When it tastes right to you, decant the pickles and brine into smaller jars and refrigerate. They will continue to cure under refrigeration, but more slowly. 

For "Full Sours", leave them in the crock until they are a translucent green throughout, then transfer them to jars, add spices and brine, and refrigerate. Here are half sours and full sours, side by side, at Irving's deli, Livingston, NJ

Recipe source: The wonderful, but mostly out of print Better Than Store Bought


Calypso said...

The Calypsos are not picklers per se. However we are going to try your recipe on sliced cucumbers -

Don Cuevas said...

Calypso, I won't guarantee that the sliced pickles won't turn out mushy.

You might want to make bread and butter pickles, which ARE sliced, and while not at all like the kosher style dills, are delightful.

I also forgot to write in my Mom's advice: piut a little white vinegar in with the brine whem setting up the curing vat. It will endurecer the skins.

Don Cuevas

Bob Mrotek said...

Move over Dr. Pepper. Make room for Dr. Pickle :)

Michael Dickson said...

Good work. If I were not so shiftless, I would give it a go.

Superama sells these things. Less work.

Don Cuevas said...

Felipe! What Superama sells in jars is hardly comparable to a homemade, naturally fermented pickle.

Don Cuevas

Tancho said...

Aaaah a man after my own tastes! Finding the right cucumber is the hardest thing to do, I often will grow my own, but I didn't do that this year. I will usually make two batches a year.
The more garlic the better for me, I will try the splash of vinegar next time, I have never used any vinegar, the pickles that use half vinegar and water just turn out way to sour for my taste and lack the complexity of the garlic and dill flavor, but a splash is worth trying!
Growing up we always had a jar in the fridge, along with the picked mushrooms, they were interesting, need to find the recipe for that one.

Cooking in Mexico said...

We make our pickles, too, since good ones can't be found here. They are so easy to make, and turn out so well. There is always a 1/2 gallon in the fridge, along with the gallon of sauerkraut, 3 quarts of homemade yogurt ... I need another fridge.