{garlic scape week} half-sours!

Well, I may be stretching the scape love here because let’s be honest. The star of this show is the kirby cuke fermented in a lovely 3.6% salt/water solution to create a fine replica of your favorite “deli style” (read: crunchy and complex in flavor) pickle. That said, I changed the recipe, which is from one of my current-can’t-put-it-down-books Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz, to include garlic scapes instead of heads of garlic. I will tell you why. I use the slightly pickled scapes after all the pickles are gone is salads and such. I would never use a whole batch of scapes for a “frig pickle” but a few here and there on salads or topped over a fried rice dish or a fritatta- whoa. Now you are talking.

Before we get off the scape-talk and head towards pickle nirvana let’s talk about how you need to buy up the last of the scapes this weekend. The scape season is about over as July is garlic harvest time. So head to your farmers market of farm stand this weekend and pick up the last of the harvest. The tips will turn brown but the stalk part will still be good. And, as I said in my Garlic Scape Week Intro post, they last forever in non-preserved food years. Stuff them in a plastic bag, clip the bag shut, place in your crisper and I’m telling you this: You will have good scapes in November. Seriously. Thank me in November. So, grab’em while you can people! They are easy to store and C-H-E-A-P. Do it.

Before the recipe, some pickle background. Last summer was my first ever season of food preservation. You can look back at our posts, especially Sarah’s & mine, to see our excitement over what to can next. I made 6 jars of water-bath processed dill pickles and they came out looking like this:

Of course, they were the opposite of crunchy (soggy & limp). Why?! Why weren’t they just like the bowl of pickles that I used to have with my father at a jewish deli in Albany?! Well, you are pouring HOT brine over the cucumbers then HOT water bath canning them. HOT brine+ HOT water bath canning= cooked limp, soggy, cucumbers.  That said, they are tasty enough. I took the time to make jars & jars of them in my boiling hot kitchen last summer while then-infant-son Miles was napping; you betcha we’re eating every last one. Every. Last. One. Oh, yes we are. As a matter of fact, we’re on our last jar of the half dozen. Luckily, Miles is a fan of EVERYTHING briney so guess what he’s getting in his daycare lunchbox tomorrow…

As a beginner food preservationst, I did a little research over the winter and found out what I should have done was cut off the ends of the cukes AND only refrigerator pickled them, NOT water bath processed them. If I wanted to stay with that type of recipe. If you do, Marisa at Food in Jars has a recent refrigerator pickle recipe. Once spring hot, and the hope for fresh summer produce on the horizon, I purchased Wild Fermentation, and began patiently waiting for cucumbers to show themselves at the KFF stand. Once they rolled in, a month ago, I immediately began my fermenting. Easy. Easy. Easy. Crunchy. Complex. Addicting. Salty. Easy. Crunchy. Addicting. Easy. Get it? Good.

Everything I have learned about fermenting cucumbers has been from Wild Fermentation. So I’m a novice. I will hopefully be experimenting throughout the summer and bring you more recipes to try. For now, let’s start with the basics. I haven’t strayed from Katz’s basic guidelines I have only tweeked the spice ingredients, the brine strength (but NOT the salt to water ratio) and time of ferment, I only go about a week whereas his recipe says “1-4 weeks”. That said, fermenting half-sours is easy and pretty quick, especially in summer where the high temperature will speed up the ferment, so you could have these babies in the frig to slow ferment within days. Oh, and if you’re uneasy about fermenting, I’m telling you after a day or two you could throw those bad boys into the frig and they would be delicious. No fear!

Adapted from Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz (pgs. 51-53)
makes “about” one quart

2-4 kirby cucumbers depending on size. Not too small, not too gigantic. Try to buy from your local farmer so they won’t be waxed.
2 Tbs dried dill, or dried dill seed or a handful of fresh dill and a flowering head if you got it. I don’t yet. (I’ve used fresh dill seen above and dill seed at other times)
2 tsp celery seed (optional- I love it)
1 Tbs mustard seed (optional, again, a new favorite of mine)
1 tsp peppercorns
1-2 garlic scapes, chopped in 2″ pieces
1-2 grape and/or horseradish leaves (this helps with the crunch). I use both since I have both growing in my yard.
2 Tbs salt & 1 quart of filtered water

1) You can make these in a food-grade bucket or a ceramic crock used for fermentation. I use a Quart Size Canning Jar or when I make a larger batch, big 2 quarts jars that I save from a brand of kimchi I buy at a local Asian Grocery.
2) a pint jar. You will use this, filled with water or with a rock in it, to weigh down the cukes so that they are submerged in the brine the entire time (very important).
3) a cloth kitchen towel to cover the whole contraption so that flies don’t go swimming.
4) a plate or wide bowl. You want to put the entire rig on a plate because as the cukes ferment, the juice will bubble and spill over a bit. You wanna catch that liquid or it will be sticky, salty mess all over the place.
5) Large bowl & a Tbs measuring spoon: to make your brine.

Now what?
note: the demo batch made for this post is super small & simple, I didn’t use the celery seed or mustard and kept it simple with just two cukes.

1) Display the goods on a fancy wood tray and take picture (See above). Seriously, Wash your jars and let dry.

2) Take cucumbers and cut the blossom off each end. I guess that helps them stay crunchy.

3) Scape Time! If your scapes are curly and not a thick straight stalk you can place the scape bracelets on the bottom of your jar. BUT you need to make sure that its lying on the bottom of your jar as you need all the room for the cukes as they have to stay submerged under the brine. So if all else fails, just chop the 1 or 2 scapes and place on the bottom.


4) Place your dill, celery seed & mustard seed (if using), grape & horseradish leaves in the bottom of the jar. *In this demo batch I used only peppercorns, dill, horseradish and grape leaves.

Peppercorns, Dill, Horseradish & Grape Leaves (and celery & mustard seed if using)

5) Now, make your brine. This is a recipe for half-sours, which is a not-too-salty pickle. Its what I like because the other flavors shine through, not just the brine. You can taste the garlic and a little pepper and celery (if using). So your ratio is 2Tbs to 1 quart of water, which is about 3.6% brine according to Katz. (NOTE: If you want to know more about fermenting, the science behind the brine solution rations, PLEASE buy the book. I am no expert.) Stir salt until it dissolves.

Time to Make the Brine

6) Place cukes in the jar without bruising them to the best of your ability.Place jar on plate.

Cukes in Jar, time to get the plate or bowl

7) Pour brine over the cucumbers. The brine must be covering the cucumbers at all times or the exposed vegetable will be exposed to air and create mold. So to keep your cucumbers submerged, cover with the brine by a few inches AND place that pint jar I told you to have handy, filled with water or a rock, and place on the cucumbers to weigh them down. I learned this trick from Audra, of Doris & Jilly Cook, during her food preservation class at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck (thank your Audra!).

The Rock in the Pint Jar Weighing Down the Cukes

8) Cover with the cloth towel and leave the whole contraption somewhere you won’t bother it. You need to check it everyday, but you don’t want toddlers getting their hands in it or somewhere really hot or sunny.

Half Sour Contraption: Before the towel is placed over it.

9) Check the jar everyday to make sure the cucumbers are submerged and skim any mold that grows on the brine. Honestly, because I only ferment for a maximum of 7 days during the summer months, I don’t usually see mold but if I did, I’d just skim it off with a spoon and rinse the pint jar before placing it back into the quart jar. The liquid should be bubbling (see below). That is a good sign, not a bad sign. I know its confusing because with canned items, if you see moving bubbles (not trapped air-bubbles pre-canning) it mostly likely means “Oh No” as something bad is mostly likely brewing in the jar.

bubbles are a good thing. brine after 3 days.

I don’t want my cukes overly briney, so after about 4-7 days, I scrape off any mold and place a lid on the jar and throw it into the refrigerator to slow down the ferment and to enjoy. You can eat them straight from the jar, at anytime, but I like my pickles cold, so that’s why I throw them in the refrigerator before chomping.

Its personal choice. Grab a pickle from the jar, cut it in fourths and take a bite. If its not quiet “there” for you, ferment a few more days. If its almost done, I’d maybe let it go another day then throw them in the frig to slow the ferment. Start eating as soon as you like the taste. I love this part of the process because it is all personal preference, no one can instruct you when the pickle is done. You decide- Power to the Fermenter!

Now that’s a pickle!

10) Enjoy the pickles until they are gone. Show them off to your friends and family; my husband is still very impressed. Or maybe make them for a food swap (see me on Sunday if you’re interested). Try different fermenting times and different flavors. Maybe rosemary would be great?!

Finally, Once there are fewer pickles in the jar and you can get your hands on the good stuff at the bottom its: SCAPE TIME! I take them out of the jar, cut them up really small and add them to my daily salad. They are still usually pretty firm with a little pickle to them, and I love them. Honestly, I probably will never take an entire batch of scapes and pickle them, so this is a great way to get a small quantity of pickled scapes for various applications.

17 Comments Add yours

  1. Bookmarked! I’m going to try this asap! I made a large batch of pickles this week, but like you, mine always turn out a bit soft (though I’ve heard if you add a grape leaf, it helps keep them crispy). Usually I’ll take the “soft” pickles and chop them up for cold salads (like macaroni) and for relishes. Love reading all your tips!

    1. Christina says:


      That’s what I heard too; re: Grape Leaves. I also heard that horseradish leaves do the same thing. Luckily, I have both, so I use both! Oh, and by the way, I’m TOTALLY making relish from my latest set of sours. Why have I never thought of doing that!!! Thanks babe!

  2. Dianna says:

    I don’t like pickles all that much, but might be tempted to try these. Who could resist things you get to eat after watched them bubble and grow mould?

    1. Christina says:

      Dianna, the bubbly mold on the surface of the brine is the best part 🙂 Try it. Do what Deanna just suggested and make a relish out of them (I’m totally doing that!!!)

  3. Cindy says:

    Thanks for the walk through and all the photos. Very helpful. I’m doing a ton of hot pack pickles this summer. But I have a feeling I’m going to be trying fermented next year. I just got a copy of The Joy of Pickling and the chapter on fermented pickles is extensive.

    1. Christina says:

      Hey Cindy,

      I don’t know if you heard this tip: I’ve heard from one of our food swappers that they “ice bath” the cukes before they hot pack pickles. Place whole cukes in an ice water bath for a few hours before you pour the hot brine and then hot water bath. I’m totally trying this… Oh and fermenting pickles is fun; to remove the mold every couple of days makes my 2 year old son giggle. One more thing in favor of fermenting; super small batch. Make them w/ two cukes. TWO CUKES! Unlike the canning process and all it entails, you can just throw a few pickles in a jar and ferment away. Easy.

  4. renée says:

    i am SO excited that you posted this. i’ve been afraid and wanting to ferment pickles forever. i even have wild fermentation! this is my year! thank you!

  5. Becky says:

    The hubs is going to be so excited. I cannot wait to make these. Do you think it will be okay with smaller cucumbers? I have Rocky Hybrids from Territorial in the garden this year and they are amazing three bite little things. I think they will make perfect pickles, but the hubs wants half sours (me too!).

    1. Christina says:

      Becky, I don’t see why that variety wouldn’t work BUT they will probably ferment really quickly because of their size. So watch them daily. You might wanna only let them go a day or two in the summer heat then slow down the fermenting process by placing them in the frig. Try it out and PLEASE let me know how it turns out. -Christina

  6. Scott says:

    These sound great, Christina. Love the idea of adding the scapes. I’m going to start experimenting on my own half-sours soon. I’m also curious about Katz’s new book, The Art of Fermentation. Summer reading and pickled vegetables!

  7. Lianne says:

    Has anyone tried this with slices instead of whole cucumbers? How’d it go?? I only have experience fermenting cabbage for sauerkraut, but would love to try this!

    1. Jeni B says:

      You could but they will ferment MUCH faster and you run the risk of soggy mushy cukes.

Start a conversation --> We love feedback!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s