Have I mentioned that Tai loves pickles? I mean Loves them, with a capital L. I think making pickles last year may have been the best thing I’ve ever done for him. So, even though I despise pickles with a white-hot passion, when I saw Kirby cucumbers at the farmer’s market on Saturday, I simply had to pick up a bunch and start a batch o’ pickles brewing. Because, really, when it’s this easy to make someone happy, how can you not?
Fermented pickles are nice in that you can taste them along the way, and stop when they’ve reached your idea of pickle-perfection: maybe you prefer a half-sour or “new” pickle, and you’ll only need to ferment them for a few days; maybe you like them super-sour and strongly garlicky, such that you’ll let them go for 4 to 6 weeks. Either way, for the pickle-lover, it is lovely to have a big crock of cool cucumbers, gently bobbing in their brine, that you can sample from every few days until you reach Pickle Nirvana.
I’ve made dozens of batches of these deli dills over the last four years and, after much tweaking, I’ve finally settled on a ratio of dill-to-spice-to-garlic that works for Tai, the resident pickle lover. This recipe (apparently) makes a nicely dilly, not overly salty, but quite garlicky pickle. Adjust the amounts of spice, dill and garlic to your liking, although do not lower the salt as it impacts the safety of the final, canned product, and a certain level of salinity is necessary to protect the cucumbers from spoilage during fermentation.
Adapted from Deli Dills in The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, J. Kingry and L. Devine
- 3 to 4 lbs pickling cucumbers (Kirby, Northern Pickling, etc), washed and ends trimmed
- 8 cups filtered water
- 1 cup white vinegar (at least 5% acidity)
- 3/4 cup of pickling or canning salt
- 1 head garlic (about 12- 16 cloves), cloves peeled and left whole
- scant 1/2 cup pickling spice
- 1 large dill flower head, or 4 tsp dill seed, or 2 fresh bunches dill
- Day 1. Add water, vinegar and salt to a medium stockpot and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir to dissolve salt; remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
- In a large glass or ceramic bowl or crock or clean plastic pail (avoid metal, as it can turn garlic cloves blue), add about half of the flavorings. Add cucumbers. Pour brine over cucumbers to cover. Scatter the remaining flavorings over the top. Weigh down cucumbers with an inverted, clean plate. Cover bowl with a clean kitchen towel or cheesecloth. Let stand at cool room temperature (70 – 75 degrees F).
- Days 3 -21. Every couple of days, check your pickles and skim off any scum that rises to the top of the bowl. The pickles will bubble as they ferment; when the bubbling ceases, after about 3 to 4 weeks, fermentation is complete, but you can pull the pickles any time during the process, whenever they taste the best to you. If not canning, move pickles to the refrigerator to stop fermentation: pickles will last for months refrigerated.
- Prepare canner, jars and lids. Be sure to sterilize jars with a full 15-minute boil prior to filling.
- Strain brine into a large saucepan, reserving pickles and flavorings; bring brine to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and boil gently for 5 minutes.
- Pack pickles into hot, sterilized jars with a generous 1/2-inch head space. Add a few pickled garlic cloves and a spoonful of spices to each jar if you wish. Ladle hot brine into jar to cover pickles, leaving 1/2-inch head space. Process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.
Yields 3 to 4 quarts, or 6 – 7 pints pickles.
- Pickling or canning salt is the best to use in this recipe as it does not contain any anti-caking agents (which can cause the brine to become cloudy) or iodine (which can cause pickles to become discolored). Kosher salt is the next best alternative, as it does not contain iodine, although may contribute some cloudiness to your brine.
- If canning, know that whole spices added to the jar may darken your brine and pickles over time; make sure to strain out whole spices prior to boiling the brine and, if using, add directly to the jar. Do not use ground spices, as they will discolor the pickles.
- Dill flower heads or dill seed are preferable to fresh dill, as the fresh herb will turn the brine a yellow color. Dill flower heads can be difficult to find unless you grow your own, so if fresh dill is all you can find, I say use it!
- Fermentation times can vary substantially depending on the ambient temperature where you are storing the pickles: 70 – 75 is ideal, and sometimes I’ll pull the pickles in as little as one week (when Tai tells me that they are sufficiently garlicky and dilly, but still very crisp). Cooler temperatures will result in slower fermentation: I’ve had pickles go for 5 – 6 weeks before they were done. Temperatures below 60 degrees F may inhibit fermentation entirely, and temps at 80 degrees F or above may result in soft or slimy pickles, as the high temps encourage different, non-desirable bacteria.
- The 5-minute processing time here essentially ensures a good seal for your jars: the brine is acidic enough to protect your pickles from botulinum toxin or mold. It is important, however, to boil your jars prior to filling, such that they are as ‘sterile’ as possible when filled, due to the short processing time.
If canned, store in a cool, dark spot for up to 1 year. If refrigerated, store in brine for up to 3 months.