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 produce the most delicious sour flavour that is full of naturally occurring good 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.
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 bitter and soft pickles. This is very important. I always search for just-harvested cucumbers that are very crunchy.
Immediately wash the cukes in very cold water. If they were not harvested that day let them soak in a very cold bath to crisp up as I’m doing 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 sterilized. I do not want unwanted bacteria in my pickles, this introduces potential moulds causing the batch to go off. Once your container is washed and the cukes are ready, 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, peeled, separated
– 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 make your water solution to cover your pickles. I find 3 litres of water nicely covered 6 pounds of cucumbers. So, in a clean mixing bowl I dissolve 6 TBSP of 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 good 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.
*note: if you are using chlorinated city water, boil all your water and then let it cool down (without a lid to off-gas) to room temp and use that for your brine.
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 hold the cukes under the water brine, and permit 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! I sterilize by cleaning with boiled water. 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. If the plate and weight are getting slimy, I wash them with soap and boiled water. After about 7-10 days, you won’t have to scrape the foam anymore. 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 will be REALLY sour, but so good!
Here I am checking on the pickles after about two weeks:
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 gallon jars to store in the fridge so they can slowly ferment through the season. They are SO GOOD!
Recap & tips:
– Make sure you use crispy cukes to begin with. Let them soak in very 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 a good quality salt
Questions? please write them below in the comments.