I pickled some small homegrown cucumbers in spiced and sweetened vinegar, packed tightly in a jar with a lid. The liquid escaped from the flask, there was cloudy patches and it was bubbling. Are are my pickles still good?
Helen, Newent, Gloucestershire
What, uh, pickle. It’s hard to say whether these cucumbers should be thrown away without knowing exactly what went into Helen’s brine, she says. Rachel from Trample, author of The River Cottage Fermentation Manual. What we do know, however, is that pickled cucumbers are hard to make right, so you should take a break.
” What happened is that fermentation has occurred,” says De Trample. “Most likely the cucumbers have a high water content and if they are put whole in the jar, the water will leak out.” Obviously, measuring how much water is in your nuggets is almost impossible, so it is better to salt them the night before. This, says De Trample, draws out excess moisture (then the salt is rinsed out) and “helps lower the pH, which creates an environment where bad bacteria can’t multiply.” For a fermented brine, you normally add 4% salt (that’s 4g of salt per 100ml), but, says De Trample, watery vegetables can dilute this, so try increasing it to 8-10%.
Always use sea salt, too, advises Kyle Newton, author of The modern conservative, because “some iodized salt can create a cloudy white residue.” Also, check that your brine recipe has a “healthy 5% high acid vinegar ratio,” Newton adds, “so your pickles last longer,” and always let it cool before pouring over the cucumbers. Then add spices (mustard seeds, allspice berries, black peppercorns, coriander or dill seeds) and something from the gallium family: “Shallots, onions or chives, leeks, garlic [cloves bashed or thinly sliced] or wild garlic [when in season] It will add a really beautiful base note” sayssays De Trample. And don’t be alarmed if your garlic changes color: “Sometimes it turns green / blue [due to a chemical reaction]; It seems strange, but it’s okay. “
You also don’t want to pack that jar too tightly: “The vegetables should be completely submerged under the brine with only a 2mm gap between the brine and the lid,” says Newton, “and I use a toothpick to scoop out any bubbles that might encourage to other bacteria in those spaces. ” For a longer shelf life, you’ll also want to store those cucumbers in the refrigerator.
There are other ways to pickle too, Helen, so don’t be discouraged. While those homegrown cucumbers are worth persevering with, also consider heading to your nearest Eastern European deli next summer. “Many Polish-style pickles use varieties of cucumbers that are drier and have thicker skin,” says De Trample, “and this guarantees success.” Alternatively, make friends with quick pickles: “My grandmother used to cut cucumbers from the garden, add apple cider vinegar and a pinch of salt, and leave them on the table a couple of hours before dinner.” (You may want to sweeten the deal with a little honey, remember.)
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism