Mill City Cooks

Russian Brined Apples

by Nick Schneider

This recipe is from Linda Ziedrich’s “Joy of Pickling,” which covers many methods of pickling including fermenting.  This is an old Russian way of preserving apples.  The reason I like it is because the apples stay firm  and crunchy (vs. the traditional cooked crab apple pickle).  It relies on wild yeasts but I think one would be wise to experiment with cultures and whey.  I have made this every September for the past 5 or so years.  The results vary from ok to amazing.  The apples take on a flavor quality of sparkling wine, laced with tarragon.

I make the recipe with Chestnut crab apples, a smallish, sweet and firm apple that fits nicely into big crocks or jars.  I recommend trying it with a smaller apple like Gravensteins (east coast) or Centennial.  Though, certainly the apples you choose will be best if they are freshly picked and in your home environment, I don’t think some of these apples are widely available nationwide, as they were  bred by our university for local conditions.  I have not tried it with a truly sour crab apple.  When preserved the apples can be cored, sliced and served on appetizer platters with cheeses and/or cured meats.  Any manor of canapes and on a salad, as well.

  • 3 qt. water – filtered
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 8 t pickling salt – if using a flaky kosher  x’s 1.5.  Pickling salt is used because it is uniform in consistency – provides a common measure among recipe users.
  • 2-3 handfuls of sour cherry leaves – needed to keep the apples firm.  other leaves with tannins that do the same are grapes, currants and oak but the later will yield a unique flavor.  I have tested cherry and grape and the cherry leaves work the best.  Ask your farmer/orchardist for some if you don’t have access to a tree. Alum, or aluminum, is what is used as a commercial firming agent.
  • 4-6 tarragon sprigs – French, not Russian.
  • 3 # small tart apples – centennial or chestnut crab.

Using a stainless steel pot (not aluminum) bring the water, honey and salt to a boil, allow to cool.  I do this in the AM or night before, if it’s a big batch.

Using a 1 gallon jar or a crock, spread some cherry leaves and tarragon on the bottom; place a layer of 3-4 apples on top, repeat with cherry leaves and tarragon, then apples, until full.  Make sure to leave head space to allow for a weight of some kind.

At this point the brine is poured over and you are using a wild culture.  Alternatively, the whey or culture could be added to the cooled water and honey with the salt being reduced somewhat.  This is where the experimentation comes in.  Keffir starter grains might also be a good variable to add.  As far as how much to add, I would attempt to find a whey to brine ratio in Nourishing Traditions, if not that, then a whey to vegetable mass.

Weight the apples with something so that they are submerged under the brine:  plate, zip-lock bag filled with brine.  Ferment at 70 degrees roughly for 5-6 days or until fermentation slows.

Remove the bag or plate, cap tightly and put into a cold place below 50 degrees, such as the refrigerator. Let the jar stand for 30-40 days before eating the apples.  Maybe strictly below 38 degrees is the best bet.

I have started eating them before the 30 day period ends.  There several things to watch for.  The fermentation will continue to go if not kept cool enough. I have had them turn to producing alcohol.  Also, the flesh might wrinkle a bit.