I’ve gone all American on you with the title of this post, Polish Pickles. One lesson I learned from my Polish friends was that pickles are made with vinegar. The preferred method of creating sour little cucumbers in Poland is to preserve them in brine, so these are more correctly referred to a preserved cucumbers rather than pickled cucumbers. If this differs from your family’s English definition of Ogórki Kiszone, I’ll have to refer you to my group of experts in Poznan. I’m just repeating what I’ve been told.
Ogórki Kiszone are much loved, and I was fortunate to be given jars of brine preserved cukes twice. The first jar came from my friend Elzbieta, her mother makes them every year. The second came from a young man, an engineering student at our Poznan’s Politechnika University, and a waiter at our local TGI Fridays. We would chat at Fridays, and occasionally run into each other at a party in our neighborhood. At some point, we got on the subject of Ogórki Kiszone, and the next time I saw him, he brought me a jar of his mother’s preserved cucumbers. Apparently, he had multiple jars stashed in his dorm room. I returned the favor at our next meeting with samples of a few things I’ve been whipping up in the kitchen, almond cookies, and his favorite Bailey’s pinwheels.
One of the things I loved about Polish supermarkets (even little markets) was the pack of veggies they’d put together for soup making and in the summer, for your Ogórki Kiszone. I bought one of these when I tried my hand at this Polish staple in Poznan. It included multiple cloves of garlic, a flowering stem of dill, a piece of horseradish root, and leaves. My research tells me that any of the following leaves can be used: cherry, black currant, raspberry, oak, grape, horseradish, mustard. The leaves contain tannin and are supposed to help the cucumbers stay crisp during the fermentation process. That’s what’s happening to produce the sour taste, lacto-fermentation.
Laco-fermentation doesn’t involve dairy. Lacto refers to lactic acid. All fruits and vegetables have beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus on the surface. In an oxygen-free environment, these bacteria convert sugars into lactic acid, which inhibits harmful bacteria and acts as a preservative. (This is why you want your cucumbers completely submerged, so they’re in an oxygen-free environment.) It’s also what gives fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kambucha, or sourdough bread their characteristic sour flavor.
Below you’ll find the basic process for making one quart of Ogórki Kiszone. Other than the cucumbers and salt, you should feel free to adjust, add to (maybe a bit of chili pepper), or omit on the ingredient list and multiply based on the number of quart jars you’d like to make.
Cucumbers, naturally fermented in a flavorful brine
- wide mouth 1 quart jar
- 8 to 10 pickling cucumbers (4–6 inches long), washed and dried
- 2 tablespoons pickling salt or sea salt
- 1 quart water
- 2 teaspoons mustard seeds
- 2 cloves peeled garlic
- 1 stem dill, preferably flowering
- fresh horseradish root, about 1 inch long
- bay leaf
- Cherry, grape, blackcurrant, or oak leaf
- Tightly pack the cucumbers into the sterile jar, you want to squeeze them in, so they’ll stay submerged and not float to the top of the liquid
- Add the salt to the water and bring to a boil
- Add the mustard seeds, garlic, dill (fold to fit), horseradish, bay leaf, and other leaf if you have one
- Fill the jar with the salt water to within 1/4 from the top, all of your ingredients should be covered
- Loosely cap the jar with a sterile lid, the lid must be loose to allow the gases produced during fermentation to escape, some brine may seep out, so store where this won’t be a problem
- As it ferments, the brine will become cloudy
- Depending on your taste, the cucumbers will be ready to eat in 1 to 3 weeks
- Fermentation will end after 5-6 weeks, if you have any left at this point, the lids should be tightened to prevent spoilage