that a cucumber should be well sliced,
and dressed with pepper and vinegar,
and then thrown out, as good for nothing.
~ ascribed to Samuel Johnson in
The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D.
James Boswell (1785)
Small, knobby pickling cucumbers are generally sold unwaxed so that, with little more than a scrub and a trim, they’re ready for the pickle barrel. But who has the space or need for a whole damn barrel of pickles? Not me.
Unlike 19th century Americans or Soviet-era Russians, I don’t put up summer’s bounty to survive harsh winters. I make them because I like the taste. Instead of a big barrel or crock, I tend to make pickles—watermelon, jicama, eggs, carrots, lemons, beets, peppers, whatever looks good at the market—in quart-sized batches. Many can ferment on the kitchen counter and may be ready to eat within just a few days.
Half-sour pickles are one of those counter pickles. It’s worth pointing out that half-sours aren’t half-done or half-ready; they’re cured quickly in low-salt brines. More salt, longer ferment and you’ve got sours. Different recipe. We’ll tackle those some other day.
Food writer John Thorne suggests an easy method to combat the air exposure that can cause the pickles to go bad. In his 1984 pamphlet The Dill Crock, Thorne recommends a plastic bag filled with brine to exclude air from a fermenting pickle. If it leaks at all, the brine inside is the same strength as what’s in the container, so the pickle doesn’t get diluted. I use a Ziploc bag to the same effect.
Final note: we trim the blossom ends of the cucumbers. It’s not strictly necessary, but the blossom ends may contain enzymes that could cause the pickles to go all soft and mushy. Not what we’re going for.
Quick Half-Sour Pickles
1 quart of pickling cucumbers
Brine for one quart of pickles
2 Tbl kosher salt
3 cups water (filtered or distilled)
½ tsp black pepper, coarsely crushed
½ tsp coriander seed, coarsely crushed
I head of fresh dill
½ tsp crushed red pepper (Aleppo if you’ve got it)
1 bay leaf
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
Gently scrub the cucumbers under running water to remove dirt and any particularly prominent spines on the nubs. Drain. Trim a thin slice from the blossom end and pack the cukes into a one-quart non-reactive container, such as glass or food-grade plastic.
Stir the salt and water until the salt dissolves. Add the aromatic/seasoning ingredients to the container with the cucumbers. Put the container on a plate to contain any possible dripping once fermentation begins.
Pour in enough brine to cover the cucumbers. Push a sandwich-sized Ziploc bag into the container’s aperture, fill it with the remaining brine, and seal. Cover with cheesecloth and secure it with a rubber band to keep out fruit flies or other flying little beasties you may discover are drawn to this stuff.
After a few days, the brine may begin giving off tiny bubbles. Keep an eye on it and skim off any white foam that rises to the surface, giving the bag a rinse if necessary. The cucumbers will begin turning darker and to taste, well, brined after just two days. Let them go for a week and they should turn olive green throughout. Remove the bag, skim any new foam, close container fast, and put in the fridge.
These are meant to be eaten in fairly quick order and are not intended for long storage. Make yourself a sandwich, grill up some burgers, or snack on them Russian style, with shots of vodka.