I’ve run into a few recipes (both online and in old cookbooks) that call for adding a small amount of vinegar to the brine when fermenting pickles. What’s curious is that the proportions of vinegar they call for (eg. ¼ cup per gallon) are too small to provide any real pickling or preservation benefits.
We’ve been pretty successful with our salt brined pickles, but one observation that’s knocked around in my head is that pickles seem to come out best when the brine sours quickly. One means to this end seems to be a good fruit-to-brine ratio (see this pickle test). It stands to reason that if there aren’t many cucumbers, the microbes only have so much fuel to convert into the preserving acid, and assuming they can only reproduce and create so much lactic acid at a certain rate, a large amount of brine could remain dilute for too long, possibly allowing spoilage or a flat taste. Simply packing the crock tightly and using as little brine as possible to cover the fruit and the weight is an obvious first solution, but I’ve wondered if adding just a touch of something sour (like vinegar…) would give the brine a head start by lowering the pH just a bit.
This notion has so many be holes it’s hardly a theory; the first microbes in the fermentation progression might prefer a higher pH, or they might not thrive in the presence of acetic acid. But I’m also guessing it can’t hurt that much, since the plan isn’t to add much vinegar and these microbes have been around for billions of years, this ain’t their first rodeo, and I don’t think a touch of sourness would knock them off their horse. I could be wrong of course, but depending on how the batch turns out, it could be interesting to follow up with a head-to-head test in two crocks.
Fermented kosher dill pickles with a very small amount of vinegar, 3/18/2015
- Two gallon pickling crock
- Crock weight
- 5¼ lbs Pickling cucumbers
- 3 tbsp Pickling spice
- 3 small cloves garlic, lightly crushed
- 6 heads dried flowering dill with stems, about 12 g
- 3 L 5% brine
- 30 mL Apple cider vinegar
Bundled the dill seed, pickling spice and garlic loosely into cheesecloth and set aside. Washed the cucumbers under running water and scraped the blossom ends off with a paring knife. Placed the crock on it’s side and packed the cucumbers, vine ends up, into the crock. Around half-way through, tucked in the cheese cloth bundle of spices and continued packing the crock. It was 1 or two cucumbers short of a really tight fit. With the weight on top of the cucumbers, the 3L of brine covered the weight by about one inch.
Measuring out the dill seed and stems, along with the pickling spice and garlic, onto the cheesecloth. Bundling the spices helps to keep the brine easier to skim.
I like to keep the bundle loose and have found that one layer of cheesecloth is enough. It’s ok if a few seeds escape.
Packing the crock. I find we get the tightest fit (for the best fruit-to-brine ratio) by laying the crock on its side and then stacking in the cucumbers. The spice bundle is tucked in the middle.
At last – the moment of experimentation. I mixed up 3L of 5% brine using the scale, then added the cider vinegar 10 mL (2 tsp) at a time. In the spirit of Victorian science, I tasted the mixture after each dose of vinegar, attempting to note the flavor in my Pickle Log and doing my very best to not contaminate the brine.
At 10mL, I struggled to detect the vinegar. At 20 mL, I noted a very faint sourness, and more of an apple aroma than any vinegar flavor. At 30 mL, the mixture finally tasted faintly like lemon, and so I called it quits. The flavor reminded me of a mild lemonade that didn’t require sweetening or acidulated water for keeping vegetables like artichokes from oxidizing. Plus, at 30 / 3000 mL, the ratio had the nice round number ring of 1%.
This is a good brine level – there’s just enough to cover the weight completely while also allowing the easy skimming of any froth that might arise during the first few days of fermentation.
On with the top, and we’ll be checking back once a day to taste the progress of the brine as it sours.