Dill Pickles, Easier than You Would Think

Easy Fermented Dill Pickles Start with Brine

dill pickles

Ages ago my uncle Bob made fermented dill pickles. He had this giant ceramic crock which he would fill with garlic, dill, mustard seed, coriander, small cucumbers that were quartered length-wise, and then covered in brine. He’d put a plate over the whole shebang to hold it all underwater and in a few weeks we’d be eating dill pickles. Best darn pickle I’ve ever had.

Uncle Bob’s dill pickles had a pretty hefty garlic kick. He loved the stuff and used it generously as he did with the umbels of dill. (Did you like that word? Umbel? Take a minute to learn something new and look it up.) I don’t know how much garlic and dill he used, they were the main flavors, but he always managed to use the perfect amount.

You can be eating fresh dill pickles in a few weeks. It’s incredibly easy and fast. In less than 15 minutes you can make your own dill pickles, honestly.

Somehow over the years I acquired an irrational distrust of fermented food. It’s difficult to believe now but I had some illogical fear of fermented pickles and kraut. Like I was going to die if I ate it. Nonsense. Fermenting is not dangerous at all when a few easy steps are followed.

Like I said, it’s the brine

Brine is made by adding kosher salt to water in a specific ratio. Right about now you’re thinking, “Dang! he said this was going to be easy.” Settle down, it is. I use a 3% brine solution for my dill pickles Most vegetables, things like carrots, beans, beets, and such are fine with a 2% brine. Cucumbers, or so I’ve heard, have a bad rap sheet and can go moldy if the brine is less than 3.5%, and Lordy…I use a 3% brine! Were keeping it simple here so I’ll tell you a little about salt later. For now let’s get this brine thing finished.

How do I know what the brine concentration is?

Start with 4 cups of cold water, that’ll be one quart for you mathematicians out there. Add and dissolve 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. Did anything happen? Yes, you made a 2% brine solution. Congratulations! One quart of brine is plenty. What happens when you add 2 tablespoons of kosher salt? Right, you get a 4% brine. Here’s a chart to make it easier:

  • 2% brine use 1 tablespoon kosher salt to 1 quart of water
  • 3% brine use 1.5 tablespoons kosher salt to 1 quart of water
  • 4% brine use 2 tablespoons kosher salt to 1 quart of water

I said I’d keep this simple so I’m not going to touch on the fine points of brine making. There’s plenty of geek-speak about the different weights of different salts and is Himalayan salt better than Dead Sea salt….blah blah blah. Bottom line. Uncle Bob didn’t know diddly about salt from the Himalayan mountains or what the brine ratio was. He made a brine with a handful or so of salt and some water. Done. We didn’t die from bad pickles.

Can we pleease make dill pickles now?

Okay, let’s do this. Get some pickling cukes that are about 5 or 6 inches long. Clean and rinse six – one-pint canning jars. Chop the ends off the cukes so they’ll fit into the jar. Quarter them lengthwise. Into each jar put: a smashed garlic clove, a flower head or two of dill (or 2 teaspoons of dill seed), one tablespoon coriander, one teaspoon mustard seed (optional), some black peppercorns, a half a grape leaf if you have one. No…then add two bay leaves. Do you have a cabbage leaf or two?

cabbage leaf for dill pickles

Now jam the cucumbers in the jar, really jam them in. You want to make sure they don’t float during the fermentation process. Now fill the jar to about 1/2 inch from the top with your fancy 3% brine. Grab the lid from one of the jars and press it hard onto the cabbage leaf to make a cut-out. Stuff that into the top of the jar to keep the cucumber ends from rising above the brine. (What do you mean you don’t have a cabbage leaf?) Then make sure those cuke slices are jammed in real tight. They need to stay submerged.

Top off with brine, put the lid on the jars, make note of the date, and put them on the counter for one to two weeks, temperature dependent. In low temperatures, things take longer to ferment and the opposite in higher temperatures.

Some tips and pointers

  1. Wide mouth pint jars are best…in my humble opinion because you can use Pickle Pebbles. But use what you have.
  2. Play with the recipe by adjusting the amount of dill or garlic or coriander or whatever else you add. You won’t die…you’ll learn.
  3. It’s important that the cukes stay submerged so they pickle and not spoil. Thus the cabbage leaf and/or the jammed in cukes
  4. Higher temperatures = faster fermentation. Lower temperatures =  slower fermentation
  5. Very important! Daily give the lid a twist to burp the jar. You say what!? This is fermentation and carbon dioxide is created. In other words, gas and bubbles. Do this over the sink just in case the ferment is going gangbusters.
  6. This process of fermentation is properly called lacto fermentation because of the lactic acid created. Look that up, too.
  7. To test the doneness open a jar and slice a bit off a cuke. If you like the taste they are done. Put them in the fridge for up to a year. If you don’t like the taste give them more time.
  8. Twist the lid daily to burp the jars.
  9. After they have been in the fridge for a while you may see some fine white-ish, cloudiness stuff in the jar. It’s fine and part of the fermentation process with salt. I’ve eaten pickles from jars with that in them.
  10. If you open the jar and there is a white film on top the pickles are most likely still okay. It’s called Kahm yeast and is harmless, gross looking, but harmless. The pickles may taste a bit different but it won’t kill you. The brine may smell funky, too.
  11. If there is fuzzy stuff on the top that’s mold. Toss the pickles and brine because something went wrong. The pickles are spoiled.
  12. It may take up to three weeks for your pickles to be ready. Chillax, dudes and dudettes, good stuff is happening.
  13. The grape leaf or bay leaves add tannin to the brine. It helps keep the pickles crunchy.
  14. Be adventurous and play with the recipe.
  15. Burp the jars…daily…over the sink…slowly…

For an incredibly detailed article on salt follow this link. The author is Marisa McClellan and she is pretty cool. If it can be put in a jar and preserved Marisa has done it.

Pickle Pebbles hold the cucumber or vegetable under the level of the brine. I would have used mine here but I’ll be making sauerkraut soon and will be using them for that. Another useful item is Pickle Pipes, which automatically release the carbon dioxide from the jar. Yup, you don’t have to burp the baby! You can buy both as a kit as well.

Go make some pickles or do something interesting. Have fun.

Lastly, and it pains me to do so, I must make you aware there may be a link to my Amazon affiliate page, which if you buy something there from this link I will receive a small amount money at no cost to you. I am required by law to let you know this. If I was a congress person or senator I would not be required to let you know a lobbyist has been to my office and made a campaign contribution.

  • reply Your sister-in-law Pat ,

    The pickles I sampled on my last visit were SO good, David! You go!!!

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