In my previous posts, I often referred to my babushka (“granny” in Russian) as my “food mentor” but it wouldn’t be fair if I don’t give a credit to my dedushka (“granddad” in Russian) for instilling my appreciation of the bounty of nature. His life principle was that nature could never hurt you, and that was why when I was hanging out with dedushka alone at the dacha with no babushka’s “supervision,” I was allowed to eat fruit and vegetables right from the farm without washing them, cook food on open fire, wander in the woods by myself, and swim in an ice-cold pond on hot summer days – it was all considered healthy by dedushka.
One summer afternoon at the dacha, dedushka suggested that we pick up some young cucumbers, a few garlic cloves, a handful of herbs, a few raspberry leaves, then wash it all in the pond and make our own new pickles for a summer snack. As one could guess, sterilizing the jars was not in my dedushka’s pickling routine, so we grabbed a few seemingly clean 3-liter jars, some filtered water, threw a bunch of freshly picked goodies in there and left the jars in a shade for a day. This is how I learned how to make new pickles, and boy – those were good!
Now, by no means I am trying to underestimate the complexities of the pickling process, but my point is that pickling is an art rather than a science. By trial and error, through experiments and with a bit of creativity, you can create your own perfect pickling recipe. The fun thing, though, is that even when you have your favorite pickling formula, you might get surprising results from time to time because fermentation is often an unpredictable process. Start with the basic recipe that I am sharing here (and this is the one that my family uses), and feel free to use your favorite spices and herbs to find your perfect flavor.
Active time: 30 minutes | Total time: 1-2 days to ferment | Makes: 2 pint jars of pickles
11/2 lb cucumbers
4 garlic cloves, peeled and slightly smashed
2 slices of peeled horseradish root
2 raspberry or cherry leaves
2 springs of dill
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp black peppercorns
6 cups filtered water
3 tbsp salt
Sterilize jars for canning as described in Step 1 of the tomato jam recipe.
Put the cucumbers and all the remaining ingredients into the sterilized jars, packing them tightly. Use a spoon to help push in the cucumbers if needed.
Pour the brine over the cucumbers so that all of them are submerged with the brine.
For the sourer pickles, keep the jars at room temperature in the shaded place for up to one day, then transfer the jars to the fridge or cool cellar. For salty and ever so slightly fermented pickles, place the jars in the fridge right away. Start tasting the pickles after one day of fermentation for the right level of acidity and salinity.
Everyone in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine knows that pickles, together with rye bread, make perfect companions for vodka and are often served as “zakuska” (an appetizer that traditionally serves the purpose of a chaser after a shot of strong liquor). However, the most authentic pickle zakuska also includes honey (as shown in the picture above), which, trust me, works like magic together! Just sprinkle a piece of rye bread with honey and top it with a sour pickle – and it is good to go with a shot of your favorite vodka. Speaking of which, my absolute favorite one is Chicago Vodka crafted by a family-owned distillery in Chicago – give it a try and you will never want to get back to a mass-market brand.