There are two primary methods of brining: Long-brine and short-brine (or fresh pack). In the latter, the vegetables are cured in salt for only a few hours, then preserved in vinegar. Long-brine vegetables are cured in salt in a method that requires an extended soaking period and controlled conditions. Salt plays many roles in pickling: It enhances the taste by removing raw flavors; deters bacteria; and extracts water from the vegetables, which not only keeps the vegetables crisp, but also keeps the water from seeping out later and diluting the preservative effect of the vinegar. Use uniodized salt; iodized salt darkens the vegetables and turns garlic blue. Fruits are not brined, which would extract their acid needed in preservation, but instead they are lightly cooked before pickling.
The gherkin is the most common variety of cucumber used for pickling. There are three basic types of pickles: Sour, half sour, and sweet. Sour pickles are fully fermented cucumbers, while half sours are partially fermented in a salt brine for two to four weeks. Europeans never added vinegar to the brine, but it has become popular in America to prevent the growth of bacteria. The addition of garlic makes a pickle a kosher dill. Cucumbers pickled within 24 hours of harvest have the best flavor and texture; older cucumbers produce hollow centers.
Soak the cucumbers in cold water to cover for at least one and up to eight hours. Drain.
Snip off the tip of the stem ends (it contains an enzyme that causes bitterness) and remove any blossoms (which will produce soft pickles).
Meanwhile, bring the two quarts water and salt to a boil. If using, add the vinegar. Let cool.
Sterilize four one-quart jars. Into each jar place 3–4 dill sprigs or 2 dill heads, 2 cloves garlic, 1 teaspoon pickling spice, 4 peppercorns, 1 bay leaf, and, if using, 1 chili or 1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds. Pack about 6 cucumbers, without squashing, in an upright position into each jar.
Pour the salt water over the cucumbers to cover, leaving a 1/2-inch headspace (to allow for expansion during processing). Seal the jars and shake well.
Let stand in a cool place for at least two to three weeks for half-sours; five to six weeks for sour dills. After opening the jar, discard the garlic and store in the refrigerator.
Each quart jar requires 1½ to 2 cups pickling liquid.
An 8-quart basket of cucumbers yields about 12 quarts pickles.
The traditional manner for determining the amount of salt in the brine is to place a raw egg in a pot of water and add enough salt until the egg rises to the surface and protrudes above the water by the diameter of a dime.
Vinegar-Solution: Reduce the water to 3½ cups water and add 2½ cups white vinegar (bring it to a boil with the water and salt).