Miracle of miracles. My first batch of naturally fermented cucumber pickles taste and look like real kosher dills. Sour, crisp and very flavorful. And surprisingly rewarding for something so quick and easy to make. Naturally fermented in a salt brine seasoned with my homemade pickling spice and cloves of fresh garlic, in just 8 days I ate my first pickle. I’ve got another jar fermenting. But between eating pickles and sharing pickles, I’m going to start a third batch while there are still lots of pickling cucumbers around.
Pickles made the old-fashioned way
No vinegar in these pickles. The sour flavor (and a host of beneficial bacteria) comes from the process of natural, lacto-fermentation (lactic acid fermentation). Eating naturally fermented kosher dills, instead of vinegar-brined pickles, enhances your gut bacteria.
Lacto-fermentation produces probiotic, enzyme and nutrient-rich foods that
- taste sensational,
- balance intestinal flora,
- support the immune system,
- improve digestion and elimination, and
- boost the nutrient levels of foods eaten along with them.
Kosher dill pickles
“The so-called “kosher” pickle is not necessarily kosher in the sense that it complies with Jewish food laws. It is called kosher because of its flavor profile made popular by New York’s Jewish pickle makers, known for their natural salt-brined pickles heavily seasoned with dill and garlic. So any pickle that is seasoned in the same fashion is referred to as a kosher dill.”
Cultures for Health
You want crisp pickles?
These are the tips I’ve gleaned from more accomplished pickle makers.
- Choose small (2 ½-3 inch) fresh and crisp “pickling” cucumbers versus “slicing” cucumbers.
- Though many people prefer Kirby’s, my favorite farmers grow Harmonie cucumbers. Jeanne says “it’s the best cucumber I’ve ever grown!” She should know. As annually—for over 20 years—she and her husband grow thousands of pickling and slicing cucumbers for the farmers’ market.
- Pickling cucumbers are short and squat with lots of little bumps on their thin skin. They have more flesh, fewer and smaller seeds, and less water than slicing cucumbers.
- Remove a thin slice from the blossom end of each cucumber. This removes the enzymes at the blossom end that tend to soften pickles. BTW, the lighter green-colored end is the blossom end of pickling cucumbers.
- Add a few large grape leaves to the jar of pickles. The tannins in these leaves help keep the pickles crisp. Tannins slow down the pectinase enzymes that break down cell walls, causing the cucumbers to soften.
- Without these leaves, some people recommend a couple of pinches of tannin containing black tea leaves for the same purpose.
The equipment is minimal, to say the least. You’ll need a half-gallon wide-mouthed glass jar and a tight-fitting lid. You can purchase these jars online. Though, I found mine locally in the kitchenware department of our local hardware store. In order to not have metal in contact with the ferment, I use these plastic white storage caps rather than the metal lids that come with the jars.
Inspired by and adapted from a recipe from Cultures for Health.
A half-gallon glass mason jar works great for making pickles. Try to find the large stalks of dill with the flower heads attached. For the best dill flavor use the dill heads just before their flowers bloom. Though, even without them you’ll still get tasty pickles using lots of garlic and dill seeds in the pickling spice mix.
Makes ½ gallon jar of kosher dill pickles Printer-Friendly Recipe
Active time 30 minutes
Total time 30 minutes plus time for fermentation
2 ½ tablespoons Celtic or Himalayan salt dissolved in 1 quart of filtered water
1 tablespoon mustard seeds (brown, yellow or both)
1 teaspoon whole coriander
2 whole allspice
1 whole clove
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf, broken into large pieces
½ cinnamon stick, broken into large pieces
½ tablespoon peppercorn mix (red, green, black and white or all black)
1 teaspoon dill or fennel seeds
1 recipe brine
1 recipe Pickling Spice
2-2 ½ pounds pickling cucumbers (depends upon their size and how many fit in the jar)
3-6 raw, fresh grapes leaves (depending upon their size) or a few pinches of black tea leaves.
1 large head of dill (the flowering part from the top of the dill plant)
6 or more large garlic cloves, peeled, halved
- Prepare the brine and set aside.
- Combine the pickling spices and set aside.
- Wash and dry the pickling cucumbers, grape leaves and dill.
- Remove a thin slice from the blossom end (the lighter green end) of each cucumber.
- Place 2 medium grape leaves or 1 large leaf (or a pinch of black tea leaves) at the bottom of the jar. Add a rounded tablespoon of pickling spice and a third of your garlic cloves.
- Tightly pack a layer of standing cucumbers on top of the spices.
- Pack in a few sections of dill in between the cucumbers.
- Add another layer of leaves (or another pinch of black tea leaves), spices and garlic. Top with another tightly packed layer of cucumbers. Pack in a few more sections of dill between the cucumbers.
- Cover with the remaining spices and garlic.
- Pour the prepared brine over the cucumbers. Leave at least one inch of headspace between the brine and the top of the jar.
- Cover the cucumbers with the remaining grape leaf or leaves. If necessary, use a weight to keep the cucumbers submerged under the brine. Cover the jar with a tight-fitting lid.
- Ferment the cucumbers at room temperature (64-78 degrees). Burp the jar daily to release excess pressure.
- The cucumbers will change color from bright to dull green. The brine should turn cloudy and taste sour. Begin tasting the brine about day 4. When the brine tastes the way you like it, slice off a bit of a pickle and taste it, too. If the pickle tastes great, close the jar and place it into the refrigerator to slow down the fermentation.
- Otherwise, close the jar and let the fermentation continue at room temperature, burping the jar every day. Repeat the tasting of the brine and of a slice of a pickle until the pickles are just right for your taste. For a more sour pickle, ferment for a longer time. Note: I liked mine on the 8th day of fermentation.
- Once the pickles taste great, store them in the refrigerator to slow down the fermentation. Enjoy your naturally fermented kosher dills for months to come.