The fermentation process is slow, but the preparation is a snap: Line the bottom of a clean crock or jar with grape or currant leaves. Clean the vegetables, add any spices you prefer, and place them in the crock. Mix up the brine and pour it over the vegetables to cover well. Top the crock with leaves before weighting it with an inverted dinner plate or lid. It's essential to weight the vegetables so that they stay submerged, lest the batch be spoiled. Discard and replace leaves as scum forms.
Fermentation begins within a few days. When it slows, your pickles will be ready in one to six weeks, depending on the vegetables and the room temperature. Let taste be the final determination. Cucumbers are usually ready at two to three weeks, when they turn a translucent olive green color. Remove the bag of pickling spices. Place brined pickles in clean jars, covered with their own boiling-hot brine, top with sterile lids, and process in a canner (10 minutes for pint jars; 15 for quart jars). Store at room temperature.
Related: 6 Veggies You Never Knew You Could Pickle
Basic Pickle Brine Recipe
You can adjust this recipe to make larger or smaller quantities; just be sure to keep the proportions of salt to vinegar to water the same.
1¾ cups pickling salt (not iodized)
2½ gallons water
2½ cups vinegar
½-¾ cup Pickling Spice Mix (see below)
2-3 bunches whole dill heads or 1 cup dried dill weed (optional for noncucumber pickles)
Garlic cloves to taste (up to 1 head, peeled and separated)
Mix the salt into the water until it is completely dissolved (the water will start out cloudy, then grow clear). Add the vinegar and the cheesecloth bag containing the spices and, if you're pickling cucumbers, add the dill. You may use our Pickling Spice Mix or one from the grocery store. Include garlic if you wish.
Makes enough brine for about 20 pounds (about ½ bushel) of vegetables.
Pickling Spice Mix
Use this recipe as a point of departure for your own favorite mix. You can add this mix to a batch of fresh pickles. For fermenting, use twine to tie the mixture up in a cheesecloth square as a spice bag; remove when you can pickles. A big jar of your own spice mix makes a nice gift and will last up to a year if stored in a cool, dark place.
4-inch cinnamon stick, broken
4-6 small dried chile peppers, seeded (or ½ teaspoon hot chile flakes if you like things hot)
1 tablespoon black or pink peppercorns
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 teaspoons whole allspice
1 teaspoon whole cloves
2 teaspoons whole coriander
½ teaspoon small pieces nutmeg
1 tablespoon dill seeds
Makes about ½ cup (enough for a five-gallon batch of pickles).