<p>It takes several weeks to pickle vegetables, and you need a hefty, sturdy vessel, such as a stone crock, to keep them in during fermentation. During pickling, lactic acid bacteria appear naturally on the surface of the pickles and converts their sugars to lactic acid, which acts as a preservative. Fermented pickles, like sauerkraut, can be stored for longer periods than their fresh counterparts -- up to 4 to 6 months in the refrigerator and one year if canned and stored in a cool, dry place.</p>
<p>Wash the cucumbers in cool water, using a vegetable brush to scrub them clean. Cut about 1/16 inch off the blossom end and slice off all but about 1/4 inch of the stem ends of the cucumbers.</p>
<p>Wash the crock, a plate and the jar, and sterilize them using boiling water. Place the crock in a room with a temperature between 55 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit; choose a place the crock can sit for 2 to 3 weeks while the cucumbers ferment.</p>
<p>Add the cucumbers and pickling spices to the crock. Pickling spices, such as black peppercorns, dill seeds and allspice, are natural preservatives that help defend against bacterial growth in pickles. You need about 1 tablespoon of pickling spices per pound of cucumbers.</p>
<p>Mix the salt and vinegar in the water in a separate bowl. You need about 1/2 cup of salt, 1/4 cup of vinegar and 1/2 gallon of water for every 4 pounds of cucumbers. Pour the brine over the cucumbers in the crock.</p>
<p>Place a plate top of the cucumbers inside the crock. Place a jar of water on top the plate to keep the cucumbers submerged in the brine.</p>
<p>Ferment the pickles for 2 to 3 weeks at 65 to 75 F or for 3 to 6 weeks at 55 to 65 F. Check the crock several times a week for surface scum and remove it as needed. Remove, rinse, dry, and replace the plate and jar if they develop scum or mold.</p>
<p>Remove the plate and jar from the crock after the pickles ferment. Pour the brine from the crock into a saucepan and bring it to a simmer. Simmer the brine for 5 minutes and strain through a mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth and into a bowl.</p>
<p>Pack the pickles into canning jars and pour the hot brine over them, leaving about 1/2 inch of headspace. Close the jars using the lids and rings and let them reach room temperature. Process the jars using the low-temperature pasteurization treatment of your hot-water canner, if desired. If you don't want to can the pickles, store them in the refrigerator after they reach room temperature.</p>
You can find pickling spices sold in portioned packages in the spice section of the grocery store. One pound of cucumbers yields about 1 pint of pickles. For each 4 pounds of cucumbers you need 1 gallon of space inside your crock. Load the crock in the place it will sit during fermentation. Once full, it will be difficult to move.
Do not vary the amount of salt and water in the brine. You want a salt level that is high enough to kill bad bacteria but low enough that it doesn't kill the lactic acid bacteria. Some surface scum is to be expected. The pickles should not be soft or slimy, and they should not smell funny. If anything about them is inconsistent with what you'd expect in a pickle, throw the batch out.