July 27, 2016

Making Pickles in my Great-Great-Grandmother's Crock

When we came home from Michigan, my cucumbers had exploded on the vine - I easily filled a five gallon bucket with fruit.  

Since I've been getting so into fermenting lately, I was interested in trying fermented pickles.  I talked to my aunt, who I knew had fermented sauerkraut before.  She said she did little pickles once too and offered me the family crock if I wanted to use it.  

It's a nice crock: six gallons and it has handles!
She explained the history of generations who had used this same crock:
She got it from her grandmother, as her mother didn't have any interest in food preservation.  Her grandmother had a dairy farm, where she had used the crock regularly to pickle things they grew.  Her grandmother had most likely gotten it from her mother-in-law.  So, including me that's four generations to use it!  I eagerly said yes, I wanted it.

I found some old pictures in a family album of the ladies who touched my treasured old crock through the years.  

Minnie (my great-great grandmother) with her son, Willard, and his wife, Nancy.  This picture was taken at Burns Crossing Farm, where Willard and Nancy raised dairy cattle, a few pigs and chickens.
Here you can see three generations: Nancy (my great-grandmother), Minnie (great-great-grandmother) and Bettie (grandmother).  Bettie never had much interest in food preservation so the crock went right from her to her daughter (my aunt).
Here is Nancy with my aunt Pat.  Nancy passed the crock on to her grand-daughter, Pat.

When I got the crock home, I tested it outside with the hose to make sure it was still water tight before I filled it with brine.

It passed the test so I gave it a good scrubbing and brought it inside.  

I found a recipe for Crock Pickles in the book Putting Food By and then consulted with Rita to make sure it was a good one.  She confirmed that it looked like what she had done before so I came home to get started.

I mixed the brine in the bottom first:
- one gallon apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup sugar
- one cup pickling salt
- one cup whole mustard seed
- dill heads 

I only had about five small dill heads on my plant so I added a little extra dill seed from the pantry since I like my pickles pretty dilly.

Then I was ready to add my cucumbers.  I had already prepared them: cleaned and ends trimmed.

I had enough to fill the crock about 1/3 full.  Then I set a clean plate on them and weighted it down with a pint jar filled with water and sealed.  This serves the purpose of keeping the cucumbers submerged.

Finally, I covered it with a clean towel and set it in a corner of the kitchen.  The recipe in the book said it needed to be kept fairly cool, near 40 degrees.  This was one thing I consulted on with Rita because there's no place in our house that cold.  She looked through her older recipes and they all said to keep the crock around 70 degrees to encourage fermentation.  This is similar to what my kombucha recipes call for so it seemed to make sense to me.  I'm hoping that with the air conditioning, this corner of the kitchen will work alright for my pickles.

Later in the week, I added more cucumbers from my plants to the crock so that it was about half full.

At that point I put 1/2 cup of salt on top of the plate that's holding the cucumbers under the brine.  The recipe says to do this when the crock is half full then another half cup when it's full then 1/4 cup each week until the pickles are ready.

After about a week and a half, a brown crust of salt has formed on the outside of the crock, up to the fill line.  Rita said this is normal.  Some of the salt is leaching through, even though it's enameled, probably because the crock is so old.

I haven't yet seen the white film form across the top.  Putting Food By says this needs to be skimmed off daily to keep the acidity correct.

This sure is a learning process!  I have my fingers crossed that the conditions are right and it's beginning to ferment.  Check back, I'll post updates as they progress.

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