My son, the one once known as the Future Pastry Chef (now we think he could be the Future Architect), aka Noah, attends a Jewish high school. Every day starts off with a morning prayer session to help center the kids and make them mindful of their shared heritage and interests.
Students at the school can pick from a variety of morning prayer meetings ranging from very traditional to very non-traditional. Noah, or Rusty as he is self-nicknamed (long story and too much of a digression for here), chose one that combines food with discussion and religious study as away of achieving a connection with meditation and prayer. That’s my boy.
One activity that explored those connections was preparing the traditional Jewish-style pickle. I was thrilled to find out about this project, because, to be honest, 17-year-old young men don’t often tell their moms what they did at school that day, and because of my personal pickle history.
First, I am of Eastern European Jewish heritage, so kosher-style cucumber pickles, crunchy, garlicky and sour, are part of my food heritage. Second, my grandfather is said to have hid one night in an empty pickle barrel from the Russian troops when his family was trying to escape czarist Russia. Next, I’m an ex-New Yorker, with a fondness for both the historic and modern Lower East Side, home of some of the last open pickle barrels and the setting for the movie Crossing Delancy, where Amy Irving finds true love with a pickle maker. One of the entries I researched and wrote for the food encyclopedia that was published last year was on the business of pickle making. Lastly, my husband and I are big pickle fans, enjoying all sorts from all cuisines.
Here’s the directions for My Very Excellent Manchild Just Served Us Nice Pickles (which I think you’ll agree taste out of this world).
The recipe is as used at Jewish Community High School, San Francisco, CA. When I make these myself, I’ll rework it, if needed, to reflect my experience. Meantime, this process resulted in a pickle with lots of crunch, taste and history in every bite. The school cites the website Wild Fermentation as a resource. It’s full of info and recipes for making pickles and other fermented foods.
These pickles, called Zelig's Pickles at the school, after the pickle expert who helped the students make them (I think, Noah was a bit fuzzy on this) "are raw and lacto-fermented, made in the old style without vinegar. Natural fermentation creates pickles rich in live, active cultures, anti-oxidants, enzymes, and an abundance of nutrients that are essential to a healthy diet.”
(Quoted from the recipe shared with the students.)
1. Place at bottom of 5 gallon crock (or food grade bucket) 1 cup fresh grape leaves (for crispiness), 1.5 cup fresh dill, 5 cups whole fresh garlic cloves (approx 12 heads), 1 cup dry bay leaves, 1 cup mixed pickling spice (wrap in cheese cloth and toss in bottom of crock for best results).
2. Fill crock with fresh, clean pickling cucumbers.
3. Cover with salt water (brine) with a ratio of 3/4 cup sea salt per gallon water For 5 gallon batch, dissolve 3 cups salt in 4 gallons warm/tepid water . . . then pour brine over cucumbers until cukes are completely submerged.
4. Completely cover/seal crock with sturdy plastic bag (double bag to prevent breakage/spillage) filled with water so that the pickles are submerged in brine and pickles and brine are not exposed to air.
5. Leave crock at room temperature for approximately eight days. The warmer it is, the faster the pickles will ferment and sour. Six-to-eight days will generally result in a very fresh, crispy pickle. For a sourer pickle, ferment longer.
6. For storage: pack pickles in glass mason jars and fill with brine so that pickles are submerged. Refrigerate to prevent further fermentation. Sealed jars can be stored for six or more months if kept in refrigerator.