I link sour pickles with old-fashioned New York deli pickles. In traditional delicatessens they were stored in large wooden barrels that seemingly held a lifetime supply of pickles—and you were free to dip in and fish out your own. Unlike most off-the-shelf pickles that use vinegar, ’half sours’ are fermented in a salt-water solution and become only mildly sour.
My recent venture into sour pickle making stemmed from an over-abundance of fennel—and conjuring up new uses for those feathery fronds I have learned to cherish. I knew I had a plan when I coincidentally netted a supply of small Persian cucumbers. They are similar to Kirby cucumbers, the popular clean-flavored babies used in pickle making.
These pickles couldn’t be easier, they require no canning or water bath. Brines and marinades, those stalwarts of the small kitchen, both provide natural preservative qualities and the ability to infuse flavors.
The salt water fermentation brings forth pickles rich in probiotics, vitamin B and K. Depending on ambient conditions, a jar of crisp garlicky pickles is ready to eat in 7 to 10 days.
In all fairness, the fennel flavor is not wildly apparent; I know it’s there, and that makes me happy. It’s tough to compete against the power of garlic, and the combination of dill and garlic is doubly hard to beat.
But, for pickle diversity, the fennel is a nice change and it works beautifully.
4-6 Persian or Kirby cucumbers; wash, trim halve
1 cup fennel fronds or 4 heads dill
4 cloves garlic, halved
2 cups filtered water, warm
1 Tbsp salt
½ tsp sugar
1 Tbsp whole peppercorns
3-4 cup clean jar with lid
- Dissolve the salt and sugar in warm water. Add the peppercorns and cool.
- Place a layer of fennel or dill in bottom of a 3-4 cup jar. Pack the cucumbers upright in the jar, distribute the garlic among the spears, and top with a layer of fennel or dill. Pour in salt water to cover; reserve any excess.
- Drape jar top with a layer of cheesecloth and set on a plate to catch any potential brine overflow. Let cucumbers ferment 1-4 days at room temperature—the warmer it is, the faster sourness will develop. Top off with more of the salt water to keep emerged. When the brine becomes cloudy and a foam forms on top, taste for sourness. Within 7 to 10 days they should be ready to eat.
- Seal with lid and move to fridge to slow fermentation and longer storage. They will last in the fridge up to a year. Yields 1 jar pickles.