by Paul Manthe, Deli Team
The dill pickle is the perfect complement to a barbecue plate or sandwich.
Summertime in Whatcom County is a perfect time for pickling cucumbers. We have the best selection of local seasonal produce at hand, and the ambient temperature is consistently warm enough to sustain fermentation. Pickles nearly make themselves, although some care is required to make them taste right and have the firmness and color we've come to expect. The great thing about fermented dill pickles, aside from their healthy probiotic qualities and familiarity, is that you likely already have most everything needed to make a delicious home-fermented dill pickle.
Fermented Dill Pickles
EQUIPMENT & INGREDIENTS
- Quart-sized glass canning jars with rings
- Kosher salt, canning salt or any uniodized salt
- Filtered water
- Garlic cloves
- Dill seed or fresh dill
- Bay leaves, oak leaves, or grape leaves*
- Pickling cucumbers, the smaller the better
- A warm home
*The leaves provide tannin, which helps maintain the firmness and color of the pickle. Oak leaves, grape leaves, and bay leaves contain small amounts of tannin and have been traditionally used for this purpose, as have tea leaves.
- To begin, determine how much you want to pickle. I suggest starting with only a few quarts while you learn the procedure. How many pickles would you eat in a month, a week, or a day? Cucumbers will be available for a few months, so there's time to perfect your technique. Just buy a few pounds to start.
- Wash your cucumbers, scrubbing off any dirt and removing blossom fragments. Trim any projecting stems. You don't want to eat woody stems.
- Loosely pack the cucumbers into clean quart jars, leaving an inch or so of head space. Note the number of jars you filled. This is very important, as it will determine the amount of brine and other elements you'll use.
- Dump the cucumbers back out of the jars and set aside. Now comes the tricky part.
- For every quart jar you filled, you need to make a quart of brine. The strength of the brine is important as it will determine whether you have pickles at the end of this or a bunch of rotten cucumbers. I find a ratio of three tablespoons of salt to one quart of water works best for me. Too much salt and there's no fermentation, too little and there's altogether too much fermentation, and a slimy mess.
- Add the measured salt to the measured water and stir to dissolve. Set aside.
- Now prepare your other additives: garlic, dill, leaves, and whatever else you'd like to flavor your pickles. Some people like a bit of red pepper, mustard seed, allspice, or black peppercorns. My advice is to go lightly on seasonings until you know how strong the flavor will be. I'd just use a clove of garlic (peeled), one bay leaf (or other leaf), and a teaspoon of dill seed (or sprig of fresh dill) per jar. Set those aside once prepared.
- Return cucumbers to the jars, remembering to add in the flavorings in proportions given per jar. Once jars are filled, add brine to cover. The cucumbers will float to the surface of the brine, which is undesirable. They must stay submerged for the duration of the process. Use an object which fits inside the jar to weigh them down. I use shot glasses, but any small round heavy object will work. Remember that you will need to remove it later.
- Cover each jar with a small piece of clean cloth, screw down the canning ring over it, and place your jars in a warm dark space in your home. Ideally, the temperature should hover around 68 to 72 degrees. The fermentation process will take between three to six days at this temperature.
- Check your jars daily to see how things are going. Bubbles and cloudiness are good signs that fermentation is happening. Mold and scum on top of your jars are not. You'll have to remove your weights and skim that out of there, replacing the weights with clean ones.
- After six days, try a pickle, because that's what you'll have! They should be an olive green color, firm but not crisp, and taste like dill and garlic and salt. If so, refrigerate and enjoy over the coming weeks.
Once you've made a successful pickle, you might want to make another few jars with different seasonings, or branch out into other vegetables.