Half sour pickles are common fare in New York City. Every corner deli you walk past there ferments their own. But in Southeastern Indiana, not so much.
If you’re from this corner of the state, chances are good that you’ve never heard of (little alone tasted) a delicious, tangy half sour pickle.
Vinegar preserved pickles are more common in this neck of the woods. Jars of them line the shelves of every grocery store in the area. And home canners make batch after hot, time consuming batch of them every summer. Well, most of them do. I don’t because mine always turned out too soft and too vinegary.
I’ll bet you have at least one jar of vinegar preserved pickles in your refrigerator right now. But a fermented half sour pickle in Southeastern Indiana? Good luck finding some. I haven’t. And I’ve looked. A lot.
But that’s OK. Because fermented half sour pickles are quick and easy to make yourself at home. Much easier than vinegar preserved pickles. And you don’t have to heat up your kitchen to do it!
They aren’t just easy to make, I think fermented half sour pickles taste better too. And they contain gut friendly probiotics, which is something vinegar preserved pickles lack.
Half Sour Pickles Recipe
I hesitate to call this a recipe. It’s more of a guideline really.
Before I decided to share this ‘recipe’ online I had never measured anything except the saltwater brine concentration when making half sour pickles. I just eyeballed the spices and followed my nose. But this time, I measured just for you.
Please adapt the types and amounts of pickling spices used in this ‘recipe’ to suit your family’s tastes. Unlike canning recipes, it’s safe to make some changes to fermenting recipes without fearing you’ll give your family botulism.
- Pickling spices
- Garlic cloves (optional)
- Leaves that contain tannins
Pickling cucumbers work best but slicing varieties work too.
Wash the cucumbers and remove the blossom end.
Then place them into a bowl or pan of ice water. Let them sit for at least 30 minutes. A couple hours is fine too, just refresh the water with more ice if it starts to get warm.
Mix up Brine
While your cucumbers are taking an ice bath, make a 3.5% saltwater brine. Heat one quart of de-chlorinated tap water or spring water in a pan on your stove and stir in 2 tablespoons of non-iodized salt until it dissolves. Don’t boil the water, just heat and simmer.
If you’re turning a large batch of cucumbers into half sour pickles, you’ll need to double or triple (or more) the amount of brine you make. When deciding how much brine to mix up, keep this in mind: a one quart jar filled with pickles and spices will require about 2 cups (half of a quart) of saltwater brine.
Allow the saltwater brine to cool completely before you use it. You can speed the process up by putting it into your freezer or refrigerator.
Heat can kill some of the helpful bacteria naturally present on the surface of the cucumbers. It can also cook your cucumbers, which will cause them to lose their crunch.
Add pickling spices to the bottom or your fermentation jar or crock.
Amounts suggested below are based on one quart of finished pickles. Adjust accordingly.
Fresh dill is best, but dried works OK too. If it’s springtime, use two fresh dill fronds per quart. If it’s later in the year and your dill is starting to set seed, use 1 dill head per quart. If you don’t have access to fresh dill, add one teaspoon of dill seed and one teaspoon of dill weed to each quart.
If you’re using garlic, it must be fresh. Add 2 to 4 peeled cloves per quart. FYI if you add fresh garlic cloves to your half sour pickles and the garlic turns turquoise or some other shade of blue after several days, don’t panic. This is totally normal and they are still safe to eat. It’s just the sulfur compounds reacting with the acidity or minerals in the water.
Whole peppercorns are another popular addition to half sour pickles. If you’re going to use them, add 6 to 8 whole peppercorns to each quart.
I love to put some whole mustard seeds in my half sour pickles. If you’d like to include some in yours, add about 2 tsp per quart.
To add an interesting kick, add ½ tsp red pepper flakes per quart.
If you want to add bay leaf or coriander seed, you’re on your own. I’ve never included them in my half sour pickles, and have no idea how much to include.
Add Tannins for Crunch
Now it’s time to add leaves that contain tannins. Tannic acids can help to prevent cucumbers from getting soft during fermentation by neutralizing the pectinase enzyme present on the surface of cucumbers.
Temperatures can affect pickle crispness also, see recipe notes.
Fresh or frozen grape leaves, oak leaves or horseradish leaves are the traditional choice. One leaf per quart should do.
But, if you don’t have access to grape, oak or horseradish leaves, a little pinch of dried black tea per quart will do the trick too.
Pack, Fill and Ferment
Once the brine is cool and ready to use, remove the cucumbers from their cold swimming pool and pack them tightly into the jar or crock you have lined with pickling spices and tannic leaves.
Then pour the completely cooled 3.5% brine over the top.
Next, weigh the cucumbers down under the brine. Read the second half of this post if you need help selecting a proper weight.
Cover the cucumbers with a lid or several layers of cheesecloth secured with a rubber band.
Ferment in a cool, dark place for about 10 days. Then transfer to cold storage and enjoy!
Clouding of the brine, bubbles, fizzing and white sediment in the bottom of the jar or crock are good things. They’re signs your pickles are happy.
Fuzzy white or black stuff on the surface of the brine or the cucumbers is not good. That’s mold.
If you’re fermenting in a clear glass jar, put it in a cabinet or throw a towel over top to keep light out.
Warm temperatures speed up the fermentation process. If your house is hot, your pickles may be finished a few days early or they might become a bit soft. For best results, ferment your pickles in a spot that stays around 68 to 70 degrees.
Eat the smallest pickles first, because they will have fermented faster than the bigger ones.
Ferment cucumbers whole. Sliced cucumbers ferment too fast and tend to get soft or even fall apart. If you want sliced pickles, slice them after they’re done fermenting. Likewise, if you want a fermented pickle relish, chop the pickles up and add the other ingredients after the cucumbers are fermented. The only exception to this rules is if you’re using slicing cucumbers and you need to cut one in half so it will fit inside your fermentation vessel.
What are you waiting for? Get yourself to your local farmers market and buy some cucumbers before they’re gone. Then make a batch or three of half sour pickles and see what you have been missing!
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