Cucumbers · Pickling

Fermented Dill Pickles

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I know.  It’s a rather…sparsely populated image, isn’t it?  Usually my two Kitchen Aid stand mixers hang out at that end of the counter, but during all the flood drama the other morning I’d moved off of that end of the counter so we could try to fix the fridge (that black thing in the left of the above picture). 

I kind of like all this cleared-off space now, so I’m wondering if I should put at least one of the mixers in the pantry or somewhere.  I usually only need both of them around cookie-baking-extravaganza time in November/December.  Hmmm…

Oh, yes, and I’ve been making pickles.

I think I started making these fermented pickles last summer.  I’d made and canned pickles before, but Bill was always unhappy with the lack of crunch in those versions.

Somewhere – and I really don’t remember where any more – can’t find the recipe or print-out or whatever I’d worked with last year – I learned how to make pickles in a pickling crock, and THOSE have been a huge hit.

And the other annoying thing is that I thought I’d written a post all about this, and I’d thought that I could just pull up that post and the recipe would be there…but NO!  Despite very clear memories (or very clear FALSE memories) of photos taken and posted in this falsely remembered post, I can’t find anything in my archives. 

So after spending time online looking for the original recipe and not finding it, I gave up and decided to wing it.

Here’s what I did.  Oh, and Bill said this year’s pickles are The Best Pickles He’s Ever Had.  So winging trumps remembering accurately, apparently.  At least, that’s what I’m telling myself.

Here we go.

First, you’ll need some sort of vessel to contain your pickles.  You can use a pickling crock (we’ve got one that we use for small batches of sauerkraut in addition to these pickles) or a bowl (glass, ceramic) or even quart-sized pickling jars.

Here’s one that we use.  I can’t remember if it came from Bill’s parents’ house or mine, but the important thing is, it’s being utilized.  A lot.

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The next thing you’ll need are the pickling cucumbers.  We’re growing ours, but you can get them at Farmers’ Markets and at the grocery stores.  They’re in season in my part of the world (New England) right now.

We’ve tried using regular salad cukes for the pickles, but they don’t work as well.  Too many seeds, for one thing, and they don’t seem to stay as firm, as I remember.

Sometimes we’ll toss in other vegetables – baby zucchini…baby carrots…string beans – just to see how they do in the brine.  In these pictures I used wax beans because they were starting to come in and I hadn’t really planned anything else for them.  Yet.

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I will say that if you’re going to use vegetables with different thicknesses/sizes (like those skinny beans vs the meatier cukes), you should check their progress a day or two sooner, as the thinner things tend to get mushy if they stay in the original brine for too long.  At least, that’s what they’ve done in our house.

Moving forward…

Next, you’ll need what amounts to your pickling spices.  In the picture below I’ve got whole dill heads (just starting to go to seed – they’re even better when the seeds appear), some smashed garlic cloves, dried chili peppers, black peppercorns, caraway seeds, dill seeds, and coriander seeds.

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And, last but not least, some seeded rye bread.

I know, I know, it sounded a bit funky to me, too, when I first read that in the recipe (the recipe that I can’t find – grrrrrrrr), but I think the starches in the bread help kick off the fermentation process.

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So I use it.

Because we really like the results.

Anyway, I place a slice of bread in the bottom of the crock…

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And then a little Kitchen Helper shows up and I let her do the rest of the work. 

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She smushes about half of the dill heads (I pick 8-10, depending on their size) on top of the bread in the crock…

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And then in go half of all the other spices.

I know it’s not really necessary to layer it like this – water is added at the end and everything ends up swimming around together anyway.

But it makes me happy.

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Next, the all-important cucumbers. 

I read somewhere that you should trim a bit off the blossom end of each cucumber, so I’ve been doing that this year.  Maybe it allows the pickling liquid to penetrate the flesh more quickly.  That would be my guess.

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Anyway, as best you can, position the cucumbers so the blossom end is down in the crock.  If you have a lot of cucumbers, they’ll pack together nicely.  I probably could have used just a quart jar for this batch, since there aren’t really a ton of cucumbers, but no, I wanted to use the crock.

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If you’ve got other vegetables to add (like these beautiful wax beans), add them in now.  If you have more cucumbers than I do in this batch, just slide the beans in between the cucumbers. 

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If you have too many wax beans, give some to your Kitchen Helper.  She’ll eat them.  Even with missing teeth.

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And, finally, add in the rest of your pickling ingredients. 

You don’t necessarily have to impale your rye bread on a wax bean.  Ours was attempting to escape, so we had no alternative.

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Once that’s done, you top it all off with salt water.

I pour about half a cup of kosher salt in the bottom of a 4 cup measure, add two cups of hot water to dissolve the salt, and then top it with another two cups cold water.

I usually use about 8 cups in total, repeating the salt + water process with the second 4 cups, only I chicken out and add less salt in the second batch.  I don’t know why. 

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Kitchen Helpers are handy things to have around.

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They do the work so you can take the pictures.

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So here’s how your concoction will look at this point:

 

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Now you just slap on the lid and leave it alone for a few days.  Few = 3-5 days, depending on where you keep the crock and how hot or cold the surrounding air is.

Last year I kept the crock in the basement, where the temperature was relatively stable and comfortable throughout the summer.

The pickles were usually ready around day 5, sometimes day 6.

This year I got lazy (or forgetful) and left the crock on the counter.  It worked fine, except for one batch that fermented during our recent little heat wave.  I forgot to check on the pickles, and when Bill took a peak, there was a snowy layer of mold all over the top.

But.  I cleared off the mold, checked out the cucumbers below, and they were fine.  A couple were a bit mushy on one end, so I trimmed them, placed them in fresh brine in a quart sized canning jar, and stuck them in the fridge.  The beans that were in there, too, didn’t fare as well. 

And the moral of the story is – if it’s really hot and humid, check on your pickles after two or three days AT THE MOST! 

And – no use crying over white, furry mold. 

Okay, that’s not a moral, that’s just me being awake early with no coffee yet.

Anyway – go ahead now, make some pickles!

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I don’t really have a recipe, but for those of you who would like everything all itemized, I’ll give it a shot.

Fermented Dill Pickles

(makes about 2 quarts)

Ingredients:

8-10 pickling cucumbers, rinsed off and a tiny bit of the blossom end trimmed off.

1-2 slices stale, seeded rye bread.  (This is a good use for the heels of a loaf, if you are someone who doesn’t like that part.  P.S.  If this describes you, what’s wrong with you???  Don’t you know the heel is the best part???  Sorry.  Just kidding.  Mostly.  Actually, the more people who don’t like the heel, the better.  More heels for me!  I need to make that coffee now, I think.)

8-10 dill heads

4-6 cloves of garlic, smashed (no need to peel them)

4-6 small, dried red chili peppers.  (We use the little Thai bird chili peppers, because we always have a bag of them in the cupboard.)

1-2 teaspoons each black peppercorns, whole coriander seed, dill seed, and caraway seed

3/4 cup kosher or pickling salt dissolved in about 2 quarts of water

What to do:

1.  Wash out a crock or glass jar or bowl big enough to accommodate all of your pickles.  Something more tall than wide works best.

2.  Place one slice of rye in the bottom of the vessel, then place half of your dill heads on top.  Then sprinkle in half of your other pickling ingredients (the seeds, peppercorns, peppers, and garlic).

3.  Stack your cucumbers on top of all that, so the sliced blossom end is facing down and all the cucumbers are snug, like too many people in an elevator.

4.  Top the cukes with the remaining bread (if using 2 slices), dill heads, and the rest of the spices.

5.  Pour the salt water over everything, cover the crock or jar, and let it sit at room temperature for at least 3 days.  If your kitchen is too warm (say, consistently in the 90’s), you should check the pickles after two days.  If there’s any mold forming, scoop it out and discard.  You can also store the crock in the basement, or even in the fridge.  The cooler the temperature, the longer your pickles will take to ferment.

How do you know when they’re done?  Try one.  How does it taste?  Do you like the flavor?  Yes?  Then they’re done.  If you think they could stand to hang out a little longer in the brine, then leave the rest of them there for another day or two. 

To store them, remove the pickles from the existing brine and place in jars (I use the quart sized canning jars).  Pour in a fresh brine – just the salt and water – and add in a new dill head if you like – it looks cool.  I don’t do anything fancy with ours – they don’t last long enough for anyone to admire the dill head in there, and I’d rather use it for another round of pickles.

And that’s it!

Do you make fermented pickles?  How do you make yours? 

11 thoughts on “Fermented Dill Pickles

  1. No vinegar? Hmmm, I’m sending this on to my sister-in-law who is about to receive a pickling crock from my sister, it was Mom’s and it now collects dust on her patio.

  2. oops – it posted too soon – anyway, I realize not everyone has an official Pickle Tester available. I’d say when the flavor has developed but the cuke is still crunchy, you’re there. And of course you can feel free to increase/decrease/change the spices I’ve used.

  3. Jayne, I love your countertop. Can you tell me about it, I am in the initial idea gathering stage of updating my kitchen. Is it Corian? Formica? I love it.

  4. susanna, its nothing fancy, and it was here when we bought the house. As far as I can tell its just some sort of laminate. It looks nice, though. 🙂

  5. 3-5 days? Usually fermented pickles should be left for 3-5 weeks, with the foam skimmed off the top each day. You have to actually give it time to ferment & bubble & rest.

    Also, the blossom end is cut off bc it has an enzyme that causes limp, squishy pickles. All just some FYIs 🙂

  6. Our pickles were fabulous and crunchy and dilly and pickly in less than a week every time. This is what happened with ours. (They were also eaten probably in less than another week as well). Thanks for the explanation about why the blossom end is cut off!

  7. Incidentally, I followed a recipe for those pickles. Ours got squishy (even with blossom end removed) if they sat much longer than a week. We moved the crock to the basement where its cooler in the summer, but still, they fermented rapidly and were ready to go that quickly. What temperature are your pickles fermenting at? Just curious….

  8. YOU SHOULD CUT OFF THE BLOSSOM END ALWAYS BECAUSE IT CONTAINS AN ENZYME WHICH CAUSES THE CUCUMBER TO DEGRADE FASTER. IF YOU CUT OFF THE BLOSSOM END, YOUR PICKLES WILL BE NICE AND CRISPY 🙂

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