This year, I had no time to home-can when the cukes were ready. My cucumbers had to do the work themselves. I found a recipe for fermented Kosher cukes, and went to town. Home-fermented cukes don't use vinegar - they make it! There are bacteria and yeast naturally found on the cucumbers, the spices, the dill, and if you give those little critters the right conditions, they will turn cucumbers into great pickles. Here is a jar of cucumbers in the process of becoming pickles. You can see the dill and spices I added.
|New pickles plus dill, coriander, mustard seeds, pepper, garlic and more.|
Acid-producing bacteria grow well with a limited amount of oxygen, and many of them are salt-tolerant. Most disease-causing bacteria are not salt-tolerant. If you give them a food source, such as a fresh cucumber, and eliminate competing microbes by keeping out most oxygen and adding salt, the little acid bacteria can go nuts. They break down the sugars in the cucumber and release lactic acid and acetic acid, which tastes sour and helps keep even more harmful bacteria out of the food. It is not a coincidence that vinegar is acetic acid. In fact, vinegar is produced by a similar process as my home pickles, but using apple cider, wine or some other food source for the bacteria. Other sour-tasting foods are produced by a similar process, for example yogurt and kim-chee.
Once a food has been fermented, the acid adds extra protection against spoilage by non-desirable microbes. Before refrigeration and easy inter-continental transportation, pickling food was a major way of having food in the winter. All kinds of things can be pickled: green beans, okra, hot peppers, eggs (they're good!), carrots, garlic and more.
After two days, my cucumbers are pickling away. There is a little foam on the top of the pickle jars, and the liquid is becoming predictably cloudy. I'm going to taste them each day, provided they look and smell like I expect them to, and when they are sour enough to my taste, I'll seal the jars and refrigerate them. They should theoretically keep a long time if we don't eat them, and I could can them to make them last even longer. Since canning involves heating them in boiling water to the point of sterilization (about 20 minutes, depending), the cucumbers will be less crunchy.
|Active fermentation going on here.|