Last year, I made pickled dill cucumbers the way most of us modern do-it-yourselfers do it. I boiled them in mason jars with vinegar and dill. I saved the pickles for later in the year. They turned out just how I envisioned them: dilly and vinegary. A commenter inquired if my pickles were crisp. They stated that when boiling the cucumbers they would always turn squishy. That make me stop to think about why that would be. I do concede that the vinegar pickles were floppier then I would prefer. Fortunately, I know that fermenting cucumbers is a traditional way to create crisp delicious pickles!
This summer I set out to complete this project. It really turned into a bit of a science experiment. I wanted to see if I could safely ferment foods stored outside of cans or the refrigerator while overcoming my fear of microbial spoilage. Sandor Katz, the author of The Art of Fermentation and Wild Fermentation, provides a great definition about the difference between fermenting and pickling in our modern age on his web page titled “What is the Difference Between Pickling and Fermentation”.
The basic idea is that the cucumbers are added to a brine solution. The salt in the brine slows down the reproduction of bad bacteria while the good lactic acid bacteria transform the cucumbers into pickles. Be aware that mold may form on the surface of the brine. It must be carefully skimmed off the top and removed before your pickles are invaded. Any blemishes on the pickles are easily cut away just before consumption. Benefits of fermenting cucumbers using this method include ingesting probiotic bacteria with your pickle. The vitamins that would break down with any added heat are preserved when fermenting. Also, the crunchy texture is delightful and difficult to achieve with vinegar packed pickles.
To make my fermented cucumbers I referred to a few sources: Sandor Katz’s Making Sour Pickles, America’s Test Kitchen Do-It-Yourself cookbook’s Sour Dill Pickles (Their cookbook makes every recipe look like a spectacular way to spend some free time!), and my handy Ball Blue Book’s Brined Dill Pickles. I laid out these three recipes on my kitchen table and my husband and I pieced together a fermented sour pickle recipe that worked for us.
Fermented Dill Cucumber Pickles
Several bunches of fresh dill
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorn
1 whole garlic pealed into individual cloves (estimate for your own tastes)
8 cups water
½ cup and 1 tablespoon of Kosher salt (I used Pickling salt because I have it)
¼ cup vinegar
Start by heating 4 cups of water in a sauce pan then add the salt. Heat the water until the salt has dissolved completely. Next add the remaining water and vinegar to the salt water. This is the base brine solution. You may need to make more at a later date if the brine level drops as water evaporates and pickles are removed from the crock.
First, rinse all cucumbers and dill sprigs in clean water. Add the pickling items into the crock in layers: layer of cucumbers, a few dill sprigs, a few garlic and a few peppercorns. Layer the items like a pickle lasagna inside the crock. Some items will shift but don’t sweat it. Last, carefully pour the brine solution over the cucumbers until the crock is almost full. Lay a plate or flat fermenting stone weight on top of the cucumbers in the brine. It is important to make sure the dill or cucumbers have no contact with air. Use something heavy, like a mason jar filled with water or a sanitized rock, to weigh down the plate. Then add a cover, like a moistened towel. I used the lid for my removable crock pot upside-down with a weight on top of it. Last, put the crock away someplace cool and dark. The back of a basement closet works well.
Then wait. No really, toxic bacteria won’t just jump out and kill you. Check the crock’s process every day. Remove any slime or mold that builds up on the surface and add brine as needed. We noticed bubbles forming after a few days. Within a week taste test your pickles: they should be more yellow in color and taste of dill and salt. They are done when the sour flavor is to your liking, one to four weeks. Once they pass the taste test put the crock in the refrigerator to be accessed whenever you desire a crunchy sour dill pickle. I highly recommend enjoying one with tuna fish sandwich and a glass of milk!
We fermented ours for about 2 weeks and we may alter our brine or the time in the crock. They are a bit saltier then we were expecting. But this gives me a great start on a family pickling tradition.