This is by far the most frequently asked-for recipe in my repertoire – how to make dill-garlic pickles, without vinegar. Naturally fermented (aka cultured) pickles produces the most delicious sour pickle that is full of naturally occurring “friendly” bacteria. The pickles float in a cloudy brine that is delicious, and many are known to drink this brine for the flavour and beneficial bacteria.
The following recipe is directly from my European grandfather. I remember visiting my grandparents house during harvest season, my most favourite time of year. Their cold storage pungent with the smell of brine wafting from giant earthenware crocks – that were almost as big and tall as my ten year old self. Opening the heavy stone lid and reaching in for those super-sour-garickly pickles is one of my favourite childhood memories.
And here I am sharing his recipe!
Find a local source of pickling cucumbers that still have a nice hard crunch to them. If you buy soft cucumbers or tough skinned cucumbers, you might end up with sub-par pickles. This is very important. I always search for just-harvested cucumbers that are very crunchy.
Immediately wash the cukes in freezing water AND if they were not harvested that day let them soak in a freezing cold bath to crisp and freshen them up as pictured above. Be sure to de-bud the ends of the stalk.
Wash your crock (or wide-mouth glass jars or other non-porous container) really well. I use boiled water off the kettle to wash to ensure everything is fairly sterilized. I do not want unwanted bacteria in my pickles, this introduces potential moulds. Then, add the following herbs to the bottom of the crock:
– 1 grape leaf (grape leaves are rich in tannins that inhibit an enzyme in the cukes from going soft)
– peeled, whole garlic cloves, as many as you want! I use 1 -2 whole bulbs
– fresh dill weed and some dill seeds fresh or dried
– mustard seeds, whole
– peppercorns, whole
– coriander seeds, whole
All of these spices are to taste. For one litre jar sized batch, I’d use half a teaspoon of each spice, and 1 whole head of garlic
Next, layer all the freshly washed cucumbers on top of all the spices and garlic. You don’t have to pack them tightly, just pile them in.
Now you must make your water solution to cover your pickles. I found 3 litres of water nicely covered 6 pounds of cucumbers. So, in a clean mixing bowl I dissolved 6 TBSP of unadulterated sea salt into non-cholorinated tepid (not boiled!) water. If this math scares you: Just fill a pot of water, eye-ball how much water you think will cover your cucumbers by three inches. Then, add sea salt by the TBSP and keep adding salt until it reaches a mouth-puckering saltiness that’s enjoyable. If it’s sickeningly salty, you’ve added too much salt. Too much salt means the environment will be too sterile, and the cukes won’t culture, all the salt just kills the friendly bacteria. Too little salt, and the unwanted moulds will take over and you’ll have a rotten batch. Once you’ve mixed your water and salt solution, pour over your pickles to cover them by three inches.
You need to keep the cukes under the brine (salt and water mix) and avoid them from being directly exposed to air. Find a plate that fits inside your crock that can keep the cukes under the water brine, and allow a weight to sit atop. If you’ve made your pickles in a mason jar or other wide mouthed jar, use a smaller jam jar to act as the weight. The goal here is to keep the veg under the water solution. Make sure your weight (a rock, jar filled with water etc) is also really clean! Now, cover with a lid, plate, etc, and let it sit undisturbed in a cool place (not the fridge).
Check on it daily, and with a clean spoon, scoop away the “skin” and foam that will be begin to form (pictured above). While this doesn’t look pretty, it’s not bad, it’s just a sign that the cucumbers are fermenting and turning into pickles! Put the plate, weight, and cover back, and return the crock to the cool location.
Check on the pickles every few days, scooping away the foam and skin. After about 7-10 days, you won’t have to do this anymore. then just leave them, and check for taste! After about three weeks, they can be put into mason jars and then into the fridge. There, they will continue to slowly ferment, and age deliciously. In the fridge, they can last up to a year. Then they are REALLY sour, but so good!
Here I am checking on the pickles after about two weeks. Notice the plate that’s kept them below the brine:
They are turning sour, but not quite finished culturing to my taste buds. So I left them in the crock for another week. Below, after three weeks, they are nearly perfect! So, I transferred them into big glass jars (I made a gallon and a half of pickles) to store in the fridge so they can slowly ferment through the season. They are SO GOOD!
Recap & tips:
– Make sure they are crispy cukes to begin with, and let them soak in freezing cold water to crisp them up
– find that “sweet spot” of salty brine to your liking. The saltier, the slower to ferment. The less salt, they’ll ferment quick and you might risk them going mouldy. There should NEVER be “hairy” mould.
– Make sure everything is really clean
– on top of the cukes, place a clean plate, a weight, then a cover to keep away the dust and bugs (a lid, a kitchen towel, a plate etc)
– Use only excellent quality sea salt. I avoid kosher salt, table salt, rock salt as these are usually adulterated salts. Natural sea salt comes in a perfect balance of minerals and trace minerals that are good for our health.
If you have questions, please write them below in the comments.