Fermented Dill Pickle Tutorial

Pickle-making time is here, and the best pickles are fermented! Fermenting (or culturing) is a simple, traditional method of preserving foods. The process involves salt + water + vegetables + a bit of time for the fermentation process. This process is kicked off by the naturally-occurring friendly bacteria that live on the skins of naturally-grown vegetables and fruits, and they create enzymes, acids, and a range of probiotics that naturally preserve the vegetables.

And then! there's an incredible transformation from fresh cucumbers to pickles that are bursting with dilly-garlicky-tangy flavours. They'll last for months (that is, if you make enough to keep eating them for months). So, make a jar or 10 - you'll be glad for them when the chilly weather comes!

Ingredients:

Cucumbers (the "pickling" type work best)

1 or 2 garlic medium to large clove(s) per jar

1 grape leaf per jar (this helps keep the pickles crunchy)

sea salt

spring water or filtered water

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Step 1: Make a brine by combining 1.5 Tbsp fine sea salt with 2 cups of water. This is about enough for 1 jar of pickles. Let the brine sit while you proceed with the next steps, as this will help the salt completely dissolve.

  • If you're making more than 1 jar at a time, you can use 3 Tbsp fine sea salt with 4 cups of water. Or 6 Tbsp fine sea salt with 8 cups of water
  • Every type / brand of salt has a different weight per Tablespoon, and the range of weight per volume is dramatic. This ratio works best with grey sea salt; use a smidge less salt if you're using Real salt, Himalayan fine pink salt, or white (refined) sea salt. This volume ratio does not work so well with coarse salts.

Step 2: Trim the blossom ends off the cucumbers. This also helps keep the pickles crunchy, and you can skip this step if the cucumbers are really fresh.

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Step 3: Put a large garlic clove (or two) + a grape leaf + a head or two of dill in each jar.

Step 4: Pack the cucumbers into a quart jar, filling as much space as possible. Place cucumbers around the grape leaf so that the grape leaf is kind of in the middle of the jar. This helps prevent an air pocket that might occur if the leaf was pressed against the side of the jar.

If the cucumbers are large, slice them lengthwise (or however you want to slice them). The only consideration is that all of the cucumber pieces should be roughly similar sizes so that they will ferment / culture evenly.

Step 5: Pour the brine over the cucumbers, making sure that there are no air pockets. The brine should come to the base of the neck of the jar (about 1/3 to 1/2 inch "headspace" between the brine and the top of the jar). The brine should cover every piece of vegetable.

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Step 6: Put the lids on the jars, screwing them on firmly.

A couple options here: 

a) Use the regular jar lids. But, these MUST be "burped" after the first day. As the cucumbers turn into pickles, there WILL be a gas buildup inside the jar from the good bacteria working away. This is absolutely normal & necessary & will happen. After 24 hours, the lids of the jars ABSOLUTELY MUST BE OPENED SLIGHTLY to release the pressure. I take no responsibility for anyone not following these directions! :)

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Holding the jar over a sink, SLOWLY unscrew the lid. You'll get a whiff of garlic breath! Be sure to do this slowly, because if you do it quickly... you might have a fountain of brine running all over the place. Therefore, open the lid slowly, and open it just enough to let the air bubbles rise to the surface and dissipate. They usually are finished in a minute or less.

When it's settled down, keep the lid "on" the jar, but not screwed on as tightly as before. The ideal is to keep it cracked open just enough to let further air bubbles release, but not so much that a bunch of fresh air is getting into the jar. (In other words, the lid is screwed semi-loosely onto the jar.) This method works well, it just requires attention once or twice a day to open the lid ensure there's not too much pressure building up inside.

b) The other option is to use an airlock in the lid that's on the jar. I offer the other option first, because you might not have an airlock lid for your quart jars kicking around in a kitchen drawer!

These can be purchased at some health food stores, online, or you can make your own (which I've done, so I know it's quite do-able if you have the right tools and supplies).

The benefit of these is that you don't have to remember to burp the jars. Any gases that build up inside the jar will be released through the water in the airlock device, and the extra bit of pressure inside the jar keeps fresh air from getting through the airlock the other way into the pickles.

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Step 7: After a couple days (in hot weather... in cooler weather, this part of the process may take up to a week), the brine will have turned cloudy. This is just what you want: the good bacteria & yeasts & enzymes are hard at work making pickles.

Taste a pickle. If it tastes somewhat pickle-ish and not cucumber-ish, they're likely ready to be moved to the fridge. The fermentation will continue there, and the complex flavours will develop. If you can wait... leave them there for at least a month before digging into them! It's only after a few more weeks of fermenting that they will truly be pickles with the full pickle flavours.

If you like your pickles to be more sour, leave them at room temperature for longer before putting them into the fridge.

Here's a photo of dill heads (which I forgot to include in the photos above). These dill heads will give much more dill flavour to pickles than the green leafy parts of the dill plant.

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A few tips to ensure success:

1) Make sure all the ingredients are submerged under the brine - nothing above the level of the liquid.

2) Use only clean utensils and clean hands to handle the ingredients.

3) Keep the jar out of direct sunlight, preferably in the dark. A cupboard can work, but there should be good airflow around the jar

4) Check on the progress a couple times per day, and release any gas buildup.

That's it! Enjoy your pickles!