Anyone that has experienced a true, NY kosher half sour pickle knows that anything you can purchase in a grocery store just can’t compete. True half sour pickles are fermented in salt, not vinegar, take about a week to create, and don’t last long once they’re done. If you’re craving a real half sour pickle and are tired of the vinegar infused varieties you find at your local supermarket, give this very simple half sour pickle recipe a try.
What Is a Half Sour Pickle?
Pickles come in a wide variety of different styles and flavors. A half sour pickle is made through salt fermentation. It gets its name from the stage of fermentation that it reaches. The exact same process can also produce new pickles and full sour pickles; the only difference between the three varieties is the time that you choose to take them out of the brine. New pickles are generally produced after just a few days, half sours after a week and a half, and full sours after three weeks. Once the three week period has passed, the pickles will begin to lose their crisp crunch and texture and will soften in the middle.
A half sour pickle has a wonderful crisp bite, and a tangy slightly sour taste. Depending upon the pickle spice blend that you choose to use, you can vary the flavor slightly while still retaining the basic principles of the half sour.
If you’ve ever taken a course in homemade wine making, you’re probably already familiar with the process of making pickles. The biggest difference is that pickles are much simpler to make, taking just about a week to reach half sour consistency. The other major difference between making pickles and making wine is in the spices. While wine is all about the science and the precise measurement of acids and sugars, pickle making is part science and part art. The basic fermentation process remains the same, while the spice mixture can vary tremendously based on your own personal tastes.
Half Sour Pickle Spices
You can purchase a pickle spice blend from many different sources and retailers. The key is to find a blend that is aimed specifically at half sours. Penzey’s, for example, is well known for their spices, but their pickle spice blend is likely to produce a sweet pickle or a bread and butter pickle, not a true half sour.
You can make your own pickle spice blend by tinkering with varying amounts of spice such as:
- Mustard seed
- Crushed bay leaves
- Whole red chili peppers
- Dill seed
The first time you make your pickles, you may want to use a readymade blend, and then begin adjusting based on personal tastes and what spices are in the blend. For example, if you choose a blend that produces a sweeter pickle, examine the spices and exchange some of the “sweet tasting” ingredients for more spicy ones until you get a blend that you enjoy.
Half Sour Pickle Recipe
This recipe will produce either new, half sour, or full sour pickles depending on the length of time you keep them emerged in the brine. Pickle making is definitely part science; don’t deviate from the recipe in order to ensure that the pickles ferment properly.
Keep in mind that while many cucumbers can be used for pickle making, and that Kirby cucumbers are the preferred cucumber for making half sours, they also give off a lot of water when fermenting. This will throw off your salt to water ratio. Therefore, when making the pickles for the first few times, use Persian cucumbers; these give off less water and will produce a more authentic pickle. Once you have made pickles a few times and are comfortable with the process, you can switch to Kirby cucumbers and adjust the amount of salt as needed. In other words, once you know what the brine should look like and taste like, you can adjust if necessary, but for your first time out, stick to the Persian cucumbers that are easier to work with.
- Several Persian cucumbers – as many as will fit together very tightly in a 32 ounce plastic deli container
- 2 tablespoons pickle spices
- 20 grams (approximately 2 tablespoons, but you will want to weigh it out the first time to determine how much of your brand you will need) of Kosher salt
- 3 medium cloves of garlic
- 1 large sprig fresh dill
- 16 ounces spring water at room temperature
- Fill a 32 ounce plastic deli container with water.
- Add the salt, fit the lid onto the container tightly and shake the container hard to dissolve the salt. Keep in mind that coarser salts take longer to dissolve. Keep shaking until no salt crystals can be seen or felt in the water.
- Add the pickle spices to the container, replace the lid and shake again.
- Add the garlic to the container.
- Remove the stems from the pickles; stems will cause the pickles to become too soft because they will ferment at a different rate than the rest of the pickles.
- Pack the pickles tightly into the jar. Their tips should be completely submerged in the brine when done; you don’t want them floating up to the top of the jar. If the pickles are too long for the jar, cut them in half before packing them.
- Place the dill frond on top of the brine so the dill can infuse the pickles as they ferment.
- Poke several small holes in the top of the lid to allow the gas to escape while the pickles ferment.
- Replace the lid on the jar.
- Set the jar on a counter or in a window for 24 hours. Leaving the pickles in a warm spot will help jump start the fermenting process.
- Remove the lid from the jar and skim any scum off the top of the brine.
- Replace the lid and set the jar in the refrigerator to continue fermenting.
- Wait at least three days; new pickles will be ready to eat in three days, half sours in 1-1/2 weeks. You may leave the pickles in the brine for up to 3 weeks to get full sours. If you choose to make full sours, you will need to eat them within one week to prevent them from going soft.
Keep in mind that the actual time of pickle fermentation may vary depending upon your climate and the temperature of your refrigerator. Pickles ferment faster in warmer climates and temperatures than in colder climates. In other words, your pickles may take a few days longer to ferment and reach half sour stage in January than they will in July. Start checking them around the 1-1/2 week mark and adjust the final timing if necessary.
You may also want to sample the brine at several stages so you can get a feel for what it is supposed to be like. If you choose to switch to Kirby cucumbers, you will need to add more salt to make up for the extra water; sampling will allow you to determine how much more you’ll want to add.
Enjoy Your Pickles
A good half sour pickle recipe can be a great addition to any cook’s repertoire. Whether you’re just learning how to cook, or you’re taking a course in gourmet cooking, you can’t go wrong with a half sour pickle recipe in your arsenal. This recipe is also a good one for kids to learn, because it requires no chemicals or special equipment, and they can learn about the process of fermentation and how it changes a cucumber into a pickle. Give this half sour pickle recipe a try and enjoy the taste of New York.