This Monday series checks out whether something that sounds like a good deal — or takes a bit of extra work — is a good deal. We’ll look at cost and benefit — with everything filtered through my individual experience. Please chime in with your take.
One of my over-exuberant garden beds contains a mound of cucumber plants climbing up a makeshift trellis and extending their spiky little arms into the neighboring tomato plant.
Every day, I gently poke through the vines, lifting the fuzzy leaves to look for ripe fruit. The vines are covered with yellow flowers, and often, every flower contains a buzzing bee. Some of the bees break free to buzz out and see if I’m dangerous, but they quickly dive back to belly up to their yellow pollen bar.
I believe we have about a dozen cucumber plants going. In their current fertile state, that means we can pluck about six three- to four-inch cucumbers every morning — and we miss a few that grow up big. So we are eating all the cucumber salad we want, and we are making pickles. Lots of pickles.
In the past, I’ve made pickles by boiling a pickling solution (either made with a mix from the store [cheating, but super easy] or a homemade solution). The cucumbers go in sterilized jars, the hot solution goes over the cukes, and the sealed jars go into the canner for about 25 minutes at our altitude. Then we have jars of pickles to last a year.
I did that process this weekend. Twenty cucumbers made four quarts of pickles.
But for earlier consumption, I also tried making pickles the old-school, very low energy way — pickling cukes in brine a la Wild Fermentation.
To do this, you essentially toss flavorings and cucumbers into a crock and add salt water. We used a covered crock (an old Amana Radarange crock I got half-price at Goodwill for $2.50), with a plate inside to weigh down the cucumbers. Then we set the whole thing in the (unplugged) mini-fridge in our laundry room and checked it every few days.
The cost breakdown:
A quart of pickles bought on sale with a coupon at the grocery store costs about $1. These are “cooked” pickles; the uncooked (like Claussen, I think?) are usually more — I never buy them.
Homemade pickles cost:
- Cucumbers (about 15) – $0.00 (grown at home)
- Jalapenos (about 4) – $0.00 (grown at home)
- Garlic (5 cloves) – $0.25
- Dill (2 heads) – $0.00 (grown at home)
- Salt (3 Tbsp) -$0.09
- Cherry leaves – $0.00 (grown at home)
- Peppercorns – 1 Tbsp. – $0.25
- Water – 1/2 gallon – $0.00
- Electricity – none
TOTAL = $0.58 for two quarts, or $0.29 per quart
Savings = 71%
Even if I never use the crock again (though I plan to), the cost would be just $1.54 a quart including the crock purchase.
The winner: Homemade. The pickles were really good – and super easy.
The priceless factors:
- Barely any time commitment.
- No heating up the kitchen.
- No additional packaging.
- No unknown ingredients.
- Almost 100% organic.
- The curiosity-satisfying factor of knowing what old-style pickle-crock pickles are like.
A couple of caveats:
- The process is a little alarming to modern minds. Unrefrigerated veggies soaking in water — even salt water? Yikes! It took an act of will to taste the pickles — I think we were a little afraid we’d be poisoned.After a week or so, the taste was: A salty cucumber. Less than delicious. But after about three or four weeks? A delicious, crisp, kosher-style dill. Now we have two quarts of brined pickles in the refrigerator — crunchy, just-sour-enough, with a little kick from the garlic and jalapenos Mr. Cheap threw into the brine.
- After opening the pickles to check them, a pickle smell lingered in the air for half an hour.
Note: While the Wild Fermentation site mentions skimming the mold off the water (a process we had some trepidation about), we didn’t have any mold at all in our pickle crock.
Definitely going to try it again. I think I could can these for longer-term preservation, too.