I am in the process of getting pickled again, picking cucumbers that is. One of the reliable vendors at the farmers market has nice small pickling cucumbers, and the cute organic farmer boys (there are three of them now) have fresh dill. Only one thing to do, pack the crock and get pickled.
The process is simple, yet for most of us terrifying. This kind of pickle is fermented, allowing natural yeasts on the outside of the cucumbers to convert the sugars to vinegar, changing the chemical make up of the cucumber, that would spoil in a couple of days, into something that will last for weeks.
A few keys.
Buy, fresh unprocessed pickling cucumbers. Pickling cucumbers are a different variety, they are not just a smaller version of a salad cucumber, they are a variety that stops growing at a pickle size, and they have a thinner less bitter peel. Ask the vendor, if they don't seem to have a clue what you are talking about, they don't have what you want.
The cucumber should only be lightly washed. Not scrubbed, never waxed (as most grocery store cucumbers are.) You need some of the naturally occurring yeasts left behind to work their fermenting magic.
The blossom end needs to be trimmed off, about 1/8th of inch. The blossom end contains an enzyme that will cause the cucumber to decompose and release its seeds into the ground. Trim this, or your fermenting pickles may start to decompose. If are not sure which end is the blossom end, trim both ends.
I have had better luck with whole cucumbers, if they are on the large side you may need to split them or quarter them. If you do this before pickling the center will be softer. Better to cut up after pickling.
If you are on city water, you need to either use bottled water, or bring the water to a boil for 10 minutes, and let it return to room temperature. The chlorine and other sanitizers in most municipal water supplies may kill the good yeasts you need to make pickles pickle.
This is a simple half-sour mix.
4 Cups water
2 Tablespoons salt (I use Kosher, table salt may result in a cloudy brine.)
1/2 cup white distilled vinegar. Don't substitute on this, the acid in the vinegar is needed.
Rinse trim and pack the cucumbers in a non-reactive crock (I use simple glass canisters or cookie jars) layer the dill and garlic in the mix. Combine the water, vinegar and salt to make a brine. Pour over the cucumbers. You need to weigh the cucumbers down so they don't float to the surface. I use a circle cut from the top of a resealable plastic container, cut to fit inside the crock. Weight that down. This batch has a juice glass filled with extra brine on top of the plastic disk. Cover with a loose fitting lid. This needs to breath, but you want to keeps things out of it. The glass containers I use have a lid that fits imprecisely, and work perfectly. If the liquid is near the top, place something under the crock. The contents often expand as things ferment.
Now comes the brave part. Let this sit at room temperature. It is normal to see bubbles form and rise the surface. How long, about a week, a little less if it is warm, a little longer if it is cool or the cucumbers are large. Check every couple of days, skim off any scum or mold that rises. (I have never really had mold.) If the brine gets cloudy or mold starts to form, you may need to re-pack in a clean crock with fresh brine. The contents will change color, with the cucumbers going from dark cucumber green to pickle green. It will change smell, but it should smell like vinegar or pickles. I usually start sampling after about a week. When the cucumbers are pickled pretty much all the way through and have the right taste, store in the refrigerator. These have a limited shelf life, a couple of weeks, but they are so good they seldom last that long.
The first crock was good, and only lasted a few days. The second crock pickled fast (five days) and are divine.