Old Fashioned Fermented Dill Pickles For Newbies
This step by step recipe is especially for a friend of mine who is nervous about fermenting. I'm determined to win her over, and this easy and informative breakdown plus a few mouthwatering photos, might do the trick! Maybe you are one of those nervous newbie fermenters? If so, I hope this will get your butt in gear, it's pickling season after all! What better way to eat your pickles than raw, probiotic and from scratch?
So What Type of Crazy Supplies Do I Need?
Not much really! You should have most of these things already:
- 1/2 gallon (or 1 Qt) clean, wide mouth mason jar plus one Kraut Kap pickling lid (or other ferment vessel)
- Sharp knife
- Teaspoon measures
- Liquid cup measure
Now Let's Talk about our Ingredients for a minute:
First off let's talk about cucumbers. For best results you want to find the little warty pickling (also called Kirby) cucumbers while they are in season, preferably organic and definitely not waxed. In a pinch you can also try the Persian cucumbers, which are available at Trader Joe's or Costco. I don't put a weight or measure on the cucumbers in this recipe. It really all depends on what size and shape your cukes are! Sometimes you can squeeze a ton into your jar and other times you get five big fat ones and that's it! This recipe is for a half gallon, so buy at least 15 cucumbers and if there are extras eat them while you are waiting on your pickles.
This is a critical ingredient, it will inhibit any bad microorganisms from establishing before your good ones put up shop. You need to use a natural unrefined sea salt, without any additives whatsoever. It's important that it's a regular grind because I'm letting you measure it, normally you would want to weigh your salt so that it's an accurate amount despite how coarse it's ground. This recipes calls for an amount that is in-between a "half sour" pickle that has a 3.5% salt brine and a "full sour" pickle with a 5% salt brine. That way, you will be good even if your salt is measure is slightly off. The salt should look like the coarseness of grind you would use at your table and you should level off each spoon measure.
Any basic pickling blend should work. Try to make sure it's good quality and not irradiated. If you can't find a blend you can mix your own. Use clove buds, broken cinnamon stick, dried ginger, cardamom seeds, mustard seed, black peppercorns, allspice berries, dill seed and crushed red pepper. Never use powdered spice in a ferment! Everything going into the ferment should be whole and as fresh as possible. (You can use just dill and garlic if you don't care for the spicy flavors and just want a great garlic dill)
If you have grape leaves great! The tannins in the leaves will help keep your pickles crunchy. If not, you can use Red Raspberry leaves, Horseradish leaves or Oak leaves. I haven't tried the latter two, but I found the Red Raspberry gives a slightly different flavor, not bad, just it does add it's own flavor profile. You can experiment with any of these leaves, or just omit them if you don't have access to them.
And here we go...!
Makes 1/2 gallon. Measures for quart recipe are in parentheses
- 10-15 medium pickling cucumbers unwaxed (5-7)
- 4 Cups of filtered water (2 Cups)
- 2 Tablespoons plus 2 1/2 teaspoons natural sea salt (1 T. plus 1 1/4 tsp)
- 1-2 heads of fresh dill weed or 1 teaspoon dried (1 head fresh or 1/2 tsp dried)
- 2 Tablespoons of pickling spice (1 Tablespoon) (eliminate for garlic dills)
- 10 cloves of garlic, peeled (5 cloves garlic)
- Fresh or dried grape leaves- optional
(1) Wash your cukes very well in cold water. Don't use a scrub brush, just plenty of cold water and your fingers so you don't tear up the skins. Trim both of the ends off. In any type of pickling process, the blossom ends are removed. The blossom end contains enzymes that can lead to squishy pickles, and nobody wants that! We are cutting both ends off because it will help the brine penetrate better and you won't get confused about which end, exactly, is the blossom end? Leave your cukes to soak in a cold water bath so they are super plump before they go in your jar.
(Edited to note; I have seen quite a few opinions this pickling season on trimming the ends. It sounds like some fermenters have better luck with crispy pickles by leaving the entire skin as intact as possible. I have not found trimming both ends affects the crunch factor, but if you don't have access to grape leaves trimming only the blossom end slightly is something you might want to try!)
(2) Heat 1 cup of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Pour in your salt, remove from heat and stir until dissolved. Leave this mixture to cool while you continue to work on your pickles.
(3) Place a grape leaf in the bottom of your jar. Arrange the cleaned and prepped cucumbers in a single layer standing upright. Try to puzzle piece them together to fit as many as possible but don't crush them.
(5) Arrange your next layer of pickles on top the first. This second layer is a bit tricky, because you want to make sure to leave plenty of head space at the top of the jar. Usually it works well to save the short or curved cukes for layering horizontally on top. Go ahead and cut one or two in half if necessary. Make sure they are no higher than slightly below the shoulder level of your jar.
(6) Sprinkle packed cukes with remaining pickling spice, dill and garlic cloves. Place another grape leaf on top of everything.
(7) To your cup of salt water, add enough fresh cool filtered water to make 4 cups total. Double check that it is at room temperature. If you are in a big rush, or forgot to dissolve the salt earlier, you can add ice water to bring down the temperature faster. Pour the finished brine into your jar just until it covers the cukes.
(8) Place a ferment weight on top of your grape leaf (or straight on top your pickles if there are no leaves) and gently push down until the cukes are snuggled up into the jar and brine covers the grape leaf and the weight. (NOTE: I got slightly carried away with the photo taking part of this and I did not leave enough head space here! It should be at the shoulder level of your jar, not up to the threads. Some of the brine was later removed)
(9) Secure your pickling lid according to the manufacturers instructions. (For a Kraut Kap, this means making sure the silicone seal is in place, screwing the lid on as tight as possible, inserting the airlock into the grommet and filling it with water to the "fill" line.) Place your ferment in a dark closet or cabinet for about 1-3 weeks at room temperature (68-72) If it's really hot summer time you can utilize a cool cellar or use an ice chest with some cool water. When fermentation is complete, top your jar with a storage cap and move to cold storage (your fridge, unless you are a fancy homesteader with a cold cellar.)
(Edited to note; I have great success with a 3 week ferment, however, I live in a very temperate climate, if you are having a hot summer and are unable to practically cool your ferment down, you can move to cold storage much sooner. I had one pickling fan tell me two days was enough in the heat! It won't harm your pickles to move them to the fridge sooner if you feel like they are ready to eat!)
Let's answer those questions I know you must have:
The ferment will be very active the first few days and there is a possibility it can overflow through the airlock if you did not leave enough head space. If this happens, simply remove the airlock, clean it out put it back in and fill it back up with water to the "fill" line. It's a good idea to put a towel under your ferment to prevent a possible mess!
You can tell your pickles are done when they stop bubbling so much and it's been about 1-3 weeks. You can check if they are fully fermented by slicing one open. Opaque white spots means it's not quite done. Don't worry, you don't have to seal it back up and let it ferment longer, just eat them they will be delicious, and they "finish off" in the fridge anyhow. Inspecting your finished product can help you learn to judge when your ferments are done for future batches.
How do I know it's safe to eat?
Luckily pickled veggies are very safe! Much safer then canning! Your pickles should be at least mostly crispy (can vary depending on tannins, quality of produce etc…) The brine will be slightly cloudy, but should taste fresh and clean and salty. Your pickles should taste like pickles (this is why it's a good first ferment, you know what the end result should be!) The garlic can turn blue while fermenting, but it's delicious and perfectly safe to eat. There may be a slight white powdery looking film settling on some of the pickles, this is also safe! It is most likely an anaerobic yeast, but can also come from additives to salt, or wax coatings on the veggies, but we had agreed not to use waxed cucumbers, so I think it's probably the yeast!
How can I tell if it's not safe to eat?
The same rule of thumb you use for canning applies here, check it out before you consume it. If you see any signs of mold, slime, discoloration, funky smell etc…don't eat it, just toss it! Vegetable fermenting is very safe but things can still go wrong! So be smart!