From Soil to City

Over here at Local Roots NYC, we had a great time this Monday at our pickling party with Brooklyn Brine. As we gathered for an evening of fermentation basics, Brooklyn Brine owner Shamus Jones talked a bit about his background, and how he came to be a full-time pickler. After working in several vegetarian restaurants in Seattle, Shamus brought his culinary passion to New York. Before long, he found himself burnt out on the chef lifestyle, at which point he made a business of his passion: pickles.

Eager to begin our own pickling journey, we gathered around the table where veggies, spices, dill, and copious quantities of apple cider vinegar awaited. As a CSA focused on bringing only the freshest local produce, we weren’t about to use store-bought cucumbers, so of course we pickled what’s in season! Turnips, daikon, carrots, and even apples all made it into our brine—as Shamus explained, you can pickle just about anything!

Here are the steps and tricks you can use to make your own refrigerator pickles at home:

  1. Peeling your produce is optional if you’re just making a quick fridge pickle. Had we been canning our pickles to make them shelf-stable, peeling would have been essential to prevent any risk of bacterial growth in an anaerobic environment. As it is, your fridge pickles will be ready to eat in a week or so anyway, so that’s not a concern!
  2. As some worked on peeling, others chopped the produce into sticks or rounds. Meanwhile, other partiers worked on crushing garlic—as Shamus explained, pressing the cloves releases more oils so you get the most flavor from your garlic.
  3. Produce prepped, we next worked on a spice blend for the brine, the salt and vinegar solution that cures your produce. The brine can “make or brake” your pickle, but it’s also where you can get the most creative! Layering spices, you can build a complex flavor experience. We kept ours fairly simple—in a sauce pan, we combined:
    • ½ T chili flakes
    • ½ T whole black peppercorns
    • 3-4 T each dill seed, coriander, mustard seed
    • 1 T caraway seed
    • several cloves of crushed garlic, to your taste

Over medium heat, we lightly toasted the spice blend to draw out the essential oils. Cooking the garlic with the spices helps to fuse the garlic flavor with the brine, giving the final product a smoother flavor profile. At Brooklyn Brine, they then use the cooked garlic in their condiments line.

  1. Once the spice aromas filled the kitchen, we made our brine: a solution of 4 quarts cider vinegar, 4 quarts water, and at least 6 T sea salt. Taste your brine and adjust ratios as needed—it should be very salty! At this point, we learned that there is a crucial difference in the types of cider vinegar available. Avoid “second rate” vinegar and get only pure apple cider vinegar, of at least 5% acidity. A lower acidity means your vinegar has been watered down, and apple cider flavored vinegar is just white vinegar with coloring and apple flavor added. If possible, opt for the best, and use locally-sourced, high acidity vinegar such as Brooklyn Brine does. 
  2. Bring the brine to a boil, then turn down to a rolling simmer as you prepare your jar.
  3. In your jar of choice, add a few teaspoons of any of the above spices—the spice that you add to your jars will contribute to the flavor of your pickles depending on how long you let your pickles sit in the brine. If desired, add a few stems of fresh dill to your jar before putting in your produce. Pack the jar tightly, but don’t crush your produce; be sure to leave about ½ inch at the top for the brine to cover everything. Pro tip: to remove the roots from your fresh herbs, just twist at the stem—this will give you an easy, clean cut.
  4. Before ladling the brine into your jar, you can strain out the seeds and garlic from the brine solution. The boiled seeds have already soaked their flavor into the brine, but it’s not necessary to filter them out.
  5. As you cover your jarred produce with brine, be sure it’s filled almost to the top! Covering the produce entirely ensures that it’s pickled and preserved.
  6. And the only step left is… patience! Let your pickles sit for at least a week to allow for sufficient fermentation. If you’re anxiously awaiting your pickles and an entire week seems like an eternity, you can leave the jar of pickles outside of the fridge for 1 to 2 days before storing it in the fridge. This will expedite the process. Pickles will stay good in the fridge for up to one month.

Variations: Pickling is all about flexibility! The above spices are a suggestion, but you can mix and match your favorites and play with ratios to taste. Like a spicier pickle? Throw a hot pepper into your boiling brine to infuse the flavors. Like a sweeter pickle? Try adding more fruit to let the flavors of your produce shine, or a bit of sugar (though this is generally a rookie move for more inexperienced picklers, according to Shamus). Generally, keeping a 1:1 ratio vinegar to water ratio is a safe bet for your brine, but you can play with this too! As mentioned, you can pickle most any produce that you have on hand. Shamus recommends piercing veggies such okra or peppers to avoid air bubbles.

So what’s in it for you (besides some tasty nibbles to show off at your next dinner party)? Not only is pickling an age-old means of making your produce last longer, it’s also great for your gut! Adding fermented produce to your diet can help to reduce inflammation, and provide many essential vitamins. As pickling cures your produce without cooking, nutrients that might otherwise be lost in the preparation process are preserved along with your produce! This means that when you eat your pickles, you’re getting all of the antioxidants and vitamins of the raw fresh produce. A salt brine also aids in the supply of gut-friendly bacteria yumm!

Check out photos from the evening here!