|If you ask me, no magical metamorphosis is more spectacular than the transformation of cucumber to pickle. Hah, ha, ha, ha, ha. [descends into the pickle root cellar]||
Now I realize that we’ve walked down the pickled path before, you and I. But in that particular episode, we made fresh-packed or processed pickles which counted on a stiff dose of acid and a jolt of heat to get the pickling job done. Now those were good eats, to be sure. But, if you want to produce honest-to-goodness dill pickles, okay, a category made up of many sub-varieties, you will have to learn to manage time, brine, and bacteria. Step one: locate the best cucumbers for the job.
GUEST: Emperor Tiberius
Huge Puppet Fly #1 and #2
Behold, Cucumis sativus, the cucumber. Cousin to gourds and melons, native of India, but much loved from Mesopotamia to Rome where radical advancements in agriculture were achieved ...
EMPEROR TIBERIUS: [enters and starts to shop for cucumbers]
... simply to ensure that the Emperor Tiberius here would have his required daily supply. Now, when Rome fell, so too did the cucumber. You see, most Europeans just didn’t go for the bitterness. Now I know, we don’t ordinarily think of cucumbers as being very bitter. But back then, they contained quite a bit of a substance called cucurbitacin, a rather powerful, natural pest-repellant.
FLY #1: [flies in and lands on the cucumber AB is holding, and then dies and falls]
The reason we don’t taste it is, well, a couple of thousand years of natural selection have bred most of this substance out.
FLY #2: [another fly swoops in]
Maybe we should rethink that.
AB: [to the fly] Get out of here!
Where was I? Oh yes. Technically speaking, any dwarf variety of Cucumis sativus can indeed be pickled. You just want to look for a few characteristics. Although small, they should be firm, nice rounded end. It’s nice to see a little stem on the bottom. Color, should be, well, anything from dark green to mottled or striated, like this. If they’re yellow all the way across, you want to avoid them. They’re probably going to be some little spines or warts, and that is fine.
The namesake of this country Amerigo Vespucci, was once a pickle peddler.
GUESTS: Yeast Sock Puppets #1, #2 and #3
Bacteria Sock Puppets #1, #2 and #3
Pathogenic Bacterium Sock Puppet
German SS Officer
[at the sink] Cleanliness is next to pickleness. So scrub three pounds of three
to five-inch ‘cukes under warm water. While you’re at it, trim off any ends of
the stem. They contain an enzyme that can soften cucumbers.
Now as I mentioned earlier, we will forego our previous M.O.—the hot acid bath—in favor of the slower, more subtle fermentation method.
Now in the case of bread or beer, we would be counting on yeast to do the fermenting.
YEAST SOCK PUPPETS: [appear and are very happy and burp a lot]
That is, to convert carbohydrates to CO2 and alcohol. But with pickles, bacteria ...
BACTERIA SOCK PUPPETS: [enter]
... will be in charge of the operation. They will break apart the ‘cukes sugars to create some carbon dioxide and alcohol, but mostly lactic acid. This acid is extremely unfriendly to the types of bacteria that ordinarily cause spoilage ...
PBSP: [enters, begins to fight with the BSPs]
which means that lactic acid is a preservative.
Our primary control agent when it comes to fermented pickles is salt. Think of it as a traffic cop who regulates which bacteria get into the pickles, and to some degree, what they produce when they get there. Now there are two ways that we could go. If the target food was very very small or cut up into chunks or shredded, then we could just pour on straight solid salt because it would be a relatively short fermentation period. And it would certainly be the case with something like sauerkraut. But, in the case ...
GERMAN SS OFFICER: I don’t ... like you, ...
... [ignores the GSSO] given the surface-to-mass ratio of cucumbers, I think we’d be better off using a pre-mixed brine, which would ...
GSSO: Nor do I like your little culinary circus.
I’m, going to go with five and a half ounces, by weight, of pickling salt, which I like ...
GSSO: [struggles for a box of pickling salt with AB]
... because it dissolves in cold liquids. And, I’m also going to take a few of these spices with me. And then, I’m going to go, because this is scary.
Time to brine. And these amounts are important. Five and one-half ounces, by weight, of pickling salt goes into a one gallon container. Why? Because we are going to dissolve said salt in exactly one gallon of water. Now keep in mind that chlorine will kill our little bacterial buddies here. So either use filtered water—I have a filter on this system—or you are going to have to use bottled water.
5½ Ounces Pickling Salt
1 Gallon Filtered Water
AB: [to BSP] Do me a favor. Give that a stir every now and again, will
BSP: [takes the stirrer in its mouth]
Back in the day when pickling was the
primary form of home food preservation, pickles pickled in earthenware vessels
called “crocks”. Which, in my opinion, are still the best vessels for the job.
They block light. They’re insulators, so they help to regulate temperature
fluctuations. And they are utterly non-reactive, so they neither give nor
receive flavors. And let’s face it. They’re cool-looking.
Now this is my grandmother’s crock. Now take a look at this. See this lid? It looks like it doesn’t fit. But fermentation is ideally an anaerobic process, and lids like this used to be made to keep the transforming food submerged in the brine while still allowing gases to expand. Now if you’ve got one of these, you should certainly use it. But they’re kind of hard to find. So in our process, we will go with an alternative method.
Now our salt and water will actually define the process of pickling. But the style of pickle that we produce is all about the adjuncts, the flavorants, that we bring to the party.
|Now the most popular pickle flavor of all time has got to be dill. And it comes in two culinary forms. Here we have a teaspoon of dill seed, which we will use. But we also have one large bunch of dill fronds.||
1 tsp. Dill Seed
1 Large Bunch Fresh Dill
Now I think that there are a lot of reasons why dill is so popular with pickles. One, well, it tastes good. Two, it is very common in the regions that have done the most pickling, which is northern Europe. But they also say that dill contains certain volatile oils which act as natural antibiotics.
AB: [beckons a PBSP] Come here! Come here!
PBSP: [bites the dill and dies]
See what I mean? So, one big bunch of dill goes in.
|Now, if we want to turn these into kosher dills, we’ll need to add garlic. I have two crushed cloves here. And I also like to add a little heat. So, one tablespoon each black peppercorns and red pepper flake.||
2 Cloves Garlic, Crushed
1 Tbs. Black Peppercorns +
1 Tbs. Red Pepper Flakes
Now, we are ready to “build the crock” and I want to just dump the cucumbers in. So, I’m going to lay it on its side and arrange these vertically. That will ensure that each one gets its share of the flavor.
“Oh Hamlet, how camest thou in such a pickle?” –William Shakespeare
[taking the spatula out of the BSP's mouth, it's apparently
either tired or dead]
Oh, well. I guess you shouldn't send a bacteria to do a biped's job. Oh, well. At least he finished the brine, and we've got plenty of it.
Now just pour this onto your cucumbers until they float up to about two inches from the top of the crock. You'll see some of the spices floating. That's okay. And we'll stop about there. We've got plenty of brine left over. And some of that is going to go into a zip-top bag. This [bag of brine] is going to be our weight, our lid, so to speak. You could do this with regular fresh water, but what if it were to spring a leak? You would be in trouble then, because your brine would end up being too diluted. So make sure that this is good and sealed. You can throw away whatever brine you've got left. There. Now that goes on top and should hold everything down with a little room to spare. Hah hah hah hah hah.
Temperature is a big factor in fermentation. We don't want
to let this get higher than, say, 75 degrees. The fermentation would still take
place, but it would be really, really slow, which is not something we want to
do. So we're aiming for 68 to 70 degrees, tops. Now if you do not have your own
climate-controlled snazzy wine cooler like this, don't despair. Just look for
any clean spot in your house that will maintain that temperature. If it's a
clean corner of your basement, that's fine. In the winter, I've actually used my
own garage. And in the summertime when my air-conditioning was broken, I put my
crock in a cooler that I just added some ice to every day or two ... to the
cooler, not to the crock. That would be a bad thing. So, 68, 70 degrees, tops,
for three days. Three. Count 'em. Not two. Not four. Three. I'll be back.
[later] Ah, you see these bubbles? These are a sure sign that fermentation is under way, and not by just one bacteria. Nope. This is a group effort. You see, first, strains of bacterial storm troopers, Leuconostoc mesenteroides, move in and get the fermentation kind of kick-started. They can work in very salty or sugary conditions at a wide range of temperatures. But they don't create much in the way of flavor. But after they've softened up the targets a bit, other species of Lactobacillus related to the ones that turn milk into yogurt, go to work creating the lactic acid that will grant our little green friends immortality. Well, culinary immortality.
Now besides acting as a preservative, lactic acid has a much smoother and more complex flavor than the acetic acid which flavors vinegar-cured pickles. Now from here on out, think of this crock as your virtual pet. It does not need to be walked or talked to or scratched behind the ears. But it will need to be skimmed of scum each and every day, or at least every couple of days. Now here's how I do it.
Most of the scum will actually be on the bag itself, so carefully lift and just
dunk that right into a vessel of clean water, and it'll wash off. Then take a
spoon and look around the edges and just scrape off anything that kind of looks
white and moldy. It's not actually mold, at least it shouldn't be. Every now and
then it is. But usually it's just leftover stuff, byproduct from the
fermentation process. If any of it gets down actually on the pickles, try to get
that off best you can. There.
Last step, you're going to wipe that down with a clean paper towel right along the edge. Try not to let anything fall in. You're going to get a few of the herbs, but that's okay. There we go. Take a look at your bag. Make sure that it's relatively clean. There we go, and right back in place. And make sure that you don't use tap water for that. Tap water contains chlorine and chlorine would be bad.
AB: [to the pickles, whispers] I'll be back, sweetheart, in another day.
[later] Depending on the microorganisms particular to your region, your pickles should be mostly fermented in somewhere from six to ten days. You'll know when mostly fermented has been reached, because the bubbling will stop. At that point, you've got some choices to make.
You could move your pickles to the refrigerator, replace the bag with a loose cover, like a plate, and continue scumming, occasionally, for about three days. The cold will put the brakes on the fermentation and you'll have yourself a Polish or Hungarian dill pickle, which is a very nice pickle indeed. If you then move the pickles into a jar and strain the juice and add that, cover it, keep it refrigerated, you'll keep them for up to two months. If they last that long ... if you know what I mean.
GUESTS: “Itchy” and “Twitchy”
On the other hand, you could just leave these down here another three to four weeks with regular scumming, of course. Then you'd have yourself some true power pickles. Honest-to-goodness high-octane kosher dills so sour it'd turn your mouth inside out. Hah hah. Now in the old days, pickles were just sealed up in crocks or barrels and left that way. As much as I would like to instruct you to do just that, ...
LAWYERS: [the two lawyers appear, menacingly]
AB: I know, I know.
... there's just too much of a chance of spoilage. And spoilage leads to sickness and sickness eventually leads to increased billings from Itchy and Twitchy, Vermin-At-Law.
[exits the trap door, keeps they lawyers from leaving] So,
unless you are well-versed in the canning arts, you're probably going to want to
keep your homemade pickles safely ensconced in your refrigerator. Hah hah hah hah hah hah hah.
Look, I just want to say, if this whole fermentation thing is just not where it's at for you, don't give up the pickle. You can still make what's called refrigerator pickles. Just cut your cucumbers into spears, pack them in the same brine, in jars, and stick them in here [the fridge] for three to four days. You'll have the same kind of pickle that many delis serve alongside their sandwiches. They're good, too.
LAWYERS: [reappear and hand AB a piece of
AB: What's this? I'm not going to say that on camera! We'll do it with a tidbit. Come on, get out of here. Get out of here!
If at any time you notice the pickles becoming soft or taking
on odors, it’s a sign that something’s gone wrong.
So, having gone through all this pickling effort, what can you do with the final
product? Well, besides out-of-hand eating, you can slice them up for sandwiches.
You can cube them for a potato salad. You can bake them on pizzas or maybe mix
them into a nice ice cream sundae for your pregnant wife.
Or, of course, if your insurance is paid and you have no sense of personal responsibility and access to some rudimentary electronic equipment, you can make yourself a lamp. Lights! Power! [laughing maniacally, AB turns up the electricity to a pickle that has been jabbed on each end with a conductor, it begins to glow] Pickle! [Laughs] It's alive! [the lights come back on]
LAWYERS: [enter, hand AB a paper, begin to disassemble everything]
AB: Hey, what the ... What? What? What is this? You guys can't do this!
L #1: [disconnecting the electrical power] Clear!
AB: That's my experiment. You can't ... [looking at the paper] What does it say? "Under no circumstances should you ever, ever, ever, ever, ever attempt this experiment. It's deadly, horrible—well, that's true, it is pretty dangerous—and you ...
[now to us] You shouldn't do this. Never. But that doesn't mean that we can't do other fun things with pickles. Of course, when I'm in a quandary, I always wonder, "What would Elvis do?" Ah, I know.
|[preps for frying pickles]||
I'll tell you what Elvis would have done. He would've fried them up! That's what he would've done. You know, I don't know who the first cook was who put the words "fried" and "pickle" together. But whoever it was, he was a genius. Because no other application that I can think of brings out the pickle's pickle-ness quite like deep-frying. Although there is a bit of a trick to it.
|Now we begin with a cast-iron Dutch oven in the four to five-quart range with just enough of ... Ugh [takes off the Neoprene glove that he is wearing] ... just enough peanut oil to come about halfway up the side. We have our heat set to medium-high, and our thermometer in place so we'll know when we hit the 390 to 400-degree range that we desire.||Peanut Oil|
|And in the meantime, pick out five of your finest whole dill pickles and split them into spears; quartering, that is, and lay them out on a long piece of paper towel. Then, just roll it up. The goal? Get off the surface moisture, but don't squeeze.||1 Quart Dill Pickles|
|The real trick to frying pickles is in getting the correct marriage of dip and dredge. Now I've tried dozens of different combinations, including ingredients like breadcrumbs, beer, crumbled crackers, skim milk, eggs, Japanese breadcrumbs, yogurt, crushed corn flakes, sake, rice flour. I've done everything. And believe me, the thing to do is to not think pickles. Think fried chicken. Which, of course, leads you to one cup of buttermilk and two cups of plain old-fashioned cornmeal. Which, if you wish, you could season with a tablespoon of salt. Or you’re welcome to simply season later on.||
1 Cup Buttermilk
2 Cups Cornmeal
1 Tbs. Kosher Salt
Now here's how the dipping procedure goes. Pickle into the dip, then into the
dredge, then use a fork to kind of toss that around so you don't get club
finger, right? Now this could go directly into the fry oil, but you would be
missing an opportunity. So we want to return it to the dip, give it another
turn, and then back into the dredge one last time. Now I don't want to do these
one at a time, or I'll get out of sequence on what's done and what isn't. So I'm
going to just kind of stack them up four to five at a time and then fry them in
When you're ready to move into the oil, get yourself another fork and kind of make a little stretcher and move over into the oil. There. Now, when the cold pieces first go in, you may see a little bit of a drop in the oil temperature. But don't try to chase it around the dial. If you boost it up really hot, it's going to go over 400, and that'll be a bad thing. I would just leave it alone. It'll bounce back soon enough.
It's been two minutes and these look done. So transfer to a draining rack and allow them to cool for about five minutes before consuming.
I know, technically this should be a side dish. But with a little horseradish sauce on the side, I think of this as a main-course option and vegetarian, to boot. Mmm, Elvis would've liked that.
Americans consume about 9 pounds of pickles per person annually.
GUESTS: Irving, The Ice Cream Man
Many adults and children
|AB: Here you go, sir, one perfect pickle. Enjoy yourself.||
Yep, ever since I started making my own pickles, I've become pretty popular with my neighbors. Why? Because they know that on a scorching hot day like today, nothing is more refreshing than a cool dill pickle. Their children, on the other hand, have been duped by Irving, the ice-cream man.
AB: [waving] Yeah. Hi, Irving.
IRVING: Hi, Mr. Brown! How are things on the lonesome side of the street?
IRVING & CUSTOMERS: [laugh]
Oooh, they're duped by all these popsicles. They're cold and sticky and red. If I could just come up with a way of ... Wait a second. I know how I can fix his little three-wheeled wagon. Hah hah hah hah.
GUEST: The Kool-Aid Mascot
|Ha! This recipe from rural Mississippi will help me fix that Irving. Oooh.||
[AB is reading
|Get yourself a one-gallon jar of whole kosher dill pickles—and yes, store-bought is fine—and drain it so that you can separate out the juice down here from the pickles above. Split the pickles in half. That's going to make re-absorption of the brine a little bit easier. There we go.||1 Gallon Jar Dill Pickles|
|Now, time to doctor up the juice here a little bit. We're going to take two small containers of unsweetened, not sugar free, but unsweetened cherry beverage mix. What brand? Well, here's a little hint for you:||
2 Packages Unsweetened
Cherry Drink Mix
[instead of a pitcher, it's a glass that crashes through
the brick wall] Oh, yeah!
AB: I thought you were supposed to be a pitcher, not a glass.
KAM: I know. But a glass is cheaper to make!
AB: Oh. Well, do you think they're going to get it?
KAM: Oh, yeah. For sure!
AB: Okay, well, thanks!
KAM: No problem. I'll come back and get the wall later. Bye.
|I hope that cheap little pop culture reference set you on the right track. So two small packets of unsweetened ... well, you know, that stuff, ... goes into the brine. And to that we'll add one pound of sugar. Now that is one cup, two cups, and about another third of a cup. Just going to eyeball that. That looks about right. Okay, stir until the sugar has dissolved. Put the juice on the pickles, put the lid on the jar, put the jar in the refrigerator, and leave it here for one week before selling ... serving.||1 Pound Sugar|
GUEST: Little Girl
AB: There you go, young lady. One fabulous, sweet Koolickle. That'll be a dollar. Thanks. All right, kids. I'll see you all here tomorrow, same time. But remember, the price is going up to a buck-fifty, okay?
Hah hah hah hah. Revenge is a dish best served pickled.
AB: Hey, uh, hey, Irving! You want to come over and have a sweet, delicious,
I: This is far from over, Brown!
AB: Hah hah hah hah. Oh, I think it's completely over.
You know, we really should say a little prayer of thanks to the cucumber. It's a simple fruit. It didn't ask to have greatness thrust upon it. But when the opportunity to be pickled arrived, it must have known its destiny was at hand. “This,” it said, “is my opportunity to become ...” Well, you know. See you next time.
Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger
Last Edited on 08/27/2010