Last month, my friend Jony informed me that she was going to make some crock pickles. “What are crock pickles?”, I asked her. I wondered whether they were related to the ”crocs” in the Nile. Are they as dangerous? Probably not. Crock pickles are cucumbers that are pickled in a crock. A crock is a piece of pottery used mainly for storing food and water. What is special about these pickles, beside the amazing antique crock to contain them, is that they go through a controlled fermentation using a brine (water and salt solution). Conventional or commercial pickles are made with salt and vinegar and do not go through fermentation. I was very excited since I’ve never seen this process before. It is a very old fashioned way of preserving food, the way Jony’s grandmother Karolina use to do every year. Unfortunately, Keith and I had planned a vacation out west when Jony had the pickling party, but we were glad that she agreed to document the entire process for us. Thank you Jony.
Karolina came from a small village in Czechoslovakia. At the age of 15 she started work as a cook for a Jewish family in Austria. Jony’s grandfather came to the states and worked as a welder for three years. He then bought a house, sent for Karolina, and they got married. They had four children, one of which was Jony’s father. When Jony was young, her father would visit grandma Karolina every Friday. There were noodles hanging from chairs and always a pot of chicken soup with dumplings on the stove. She also made her own paper thin dough for strudel. At Christmas time, the family enjoyed her butterhorn cookies filled with ground walnuts or poppy seeds. Jony remembers biking to her grandmother’s house to help her pick currants for jelly. Karolina used everything she grew in her garden. She passed down her recipes to Jony’s mother and then Jony learned from her mother. Now, thanks to Jony’s generosity we might be able to enjoy Karolina’s crock pickles.
Karolina & Family (Jony’s father is the tallest child in the middle)
*First, find yourself a 5 gallon crock. Jony has a Redwing brand one. You can buy them brand new or you might look for them in antique shops. You’ll also need some space where there is little foot traffic like a basement (a place where you wouldn’t mind a really really heavy smell of garlic). I know Jony prominently displayed her pickles at the scarf shop she manages. I wonder if she gained or lost any friends/customers that week. I could still detect a hint of garlic a week after she was done processing the cucumbers.
30 freshly picked cucumbers (medium size, about 6 inches in length and 1 inch in diameter)
3 garlic bulbs, peeled and sliced
2 bunches of fesh dill (cut in 5 pieces) or two packages of fresh dill flowers
40 grape leaves
The night before:
- 2 c. pickling salt
- 2, one gallon containers
You can use the microwave or the stovetop. Dissolve 1 cup pickling salt in some water then place in an empty gallon container. Fill the container to the top with water and set aside. Do the same process all over again so that you end up with 2 gallons of cold, salt water.
Place the 5 gallon crock on a chair. Layer the ingredients in the following order: grape leaves, 10 pickles, 1/3 of the garlic, 1/3 dill. Repeat this two more times and top with grape leaves. Pour the cold, salted water in the crock. Top it with a heavy, non-metal plate, and weight it down with a quart jar filled with water and capped. Place a cotton towel over the crock and let it sit for 7-10 days.
After 7-10 days, strain the liquid because there will be some mold from the fermentation. Save the strained brine. Discard the grape leaves, garlic, and dill. Fill some jars with pickles and brine then store in the refrigerator. Enjoy!
This is hands down the best pickles we’ve ever tasted! If I’m going to make this, I’ll need to find a crock by next summer and hopefully plant some cucumbers, dill, garlic in the garden. My Concord grape vines will be there for the leaves. If it doesn’t work out, I hope Jony will share another jar with us.