Sunday, July 1, 2012

Now THAT'S a jar of pickles!

I made a batch of homemade fermented refrigerator pickles last week.  It was a small batch of two 1-quart jars, so I shared one of the jars with a friend.  Sadly, our jar is nearly empty already!  So, at the farmer's market this past weekend, I bought more pickling cucumbers -- about 18.  I usually use three 1-quart jars to make my fermented pickles.  Each jar can handle about six average-sized cucumbers that are approximately 5-6 inches long.  However, these cukes were really fat!

Last winter, another kind-hearted friend "gifted" me with four half-gallon jars!!!  How cool is that?!  So I opted to use one of those jars this time.  It's a good thing since they would have never fit in only three jars -- definitely a four or even five jar batch, due to the extra fatness of the pickles.  I opted to cut the cukes in half or in quarters in order to squeeze them all in.
Left: extra brine. Center: Half-gallon of pickles.  Right: Seasonings used.
The brine I like to use is a 3.6% brine. This is a ratio of 2 TBL of (non-iodized) salt; 1 quart of water.  It's just salty enough for my family's taste.  The natural lacto-fermentation process gives the pickles that "pucker power" we all associate with really good deli pickles.  I learned about this process several years ago from another friend in our spinning guild.  This friend and I are both very interested in keeping ourselves and our families healthy through using organic wherever possible, eating whole foods (no processed foods) and preparing the foods we eat ourselves, which ultimately leads to getting the proper nutrition. 

Making pickles using the fermentation process produces the invaluable probiotics our immune systems need to stay strong and to help us ward off disease.  You can read more about it in Sandor Katz's books.  There is a lot of information on the web too.  Even if you don't believe in all the mumbo jumbo about probiotics, the pickles are the best you've ever had, no matter what spices you put in the jar.  The fermentation process is da bomb!

Here's my recipe which started out as an off-shoot of Alton Brown's Dill Pickles Recipe:

Melissa’s Fermented Dill (refrigerator) Pickles
Ingredients you will need (amounts are spelled out below):
Kosher Salt (no iodine is important)
Filtered Water
Approx. 18 Pickling Cucumbers, 4-6 inches long
     (size and shape will dictate how many will fit in each jar)
Black Peppercorns
Red Pepper Flakes
Dried Chopped Garlic
Dill Weed
Dill Seed
Mustard Seed
Celery Seed
Bragg’s Organic Cider Vinegar (with the mother)

If you have a crock, follow Alton’s method.  Seasonings ar up to you. (  I only have 1-quart canning jars available, so I modified the brine and spices to work in my jars.  Here’s how I do it:
1.    Wash and dry three 1-Quart canning jars.  You can use standard canning lids and rings but count on them rusting from the salt water. 
Note: I recently purchased the plastic lids to try.  So far so good except they don’t seal really well, so be careful when you invert the jars – expect some leakage.
2.    Make the brine:  Dissolve 2 tablespoons of salt in 4 cups of filtered water.  Set aside.
Note:  You can use less or more salt to taste.
3.    Rinse cucumbers and cut off blossom end.  Cut in half, quarters, or leave them whole; your choice. 
(How I decide to cut them is based on the fatness of the cucumbers.  Ex: sometimes they are very fat and quartering them allows the cukes to fit better in the jar – sometimes with the last two or three cucumbers, I even make pickle chips to squeeze in those last few and just push them down and in wherever they will fit.)
4.    In the bottom of each 1-Quart glass canning jar, add the following spices:
13 pepper corns
1/16 teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon dried, chopped garlic
½ teaspoon dried dill weed
1/8 teaspoon dill seed
1/8 teaspoon mustard seed
1 pinch celery seed
1 teaspoon Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar
5.    Start fitting the cucumbers into the jars, trying to keep them upright.  Pack them as tightly as you can.
6.    Once they are all in, add enough brine liquid to cover the cucumbers.
7.    Tightly screw on lids and invert the jars a couple of times to mix the spices through the brine.
8.    Loosen the lids and set on a clean, dry towel on the counter for the next 6 to 7 days. 
9.    Every day, tighten the lids and invert the jars to mix the spice through.  Loosen the lids so that the gasses can escape.  After the second or third day, bubbles will start to form.  Fermentation is taking place.  The brine will become cloudy... do not be alarmed, this is normal.
10.  On the sixth or seventh day, they are ready!  Place in the refrigerator.  Depending on how fast you eat them, they will store refrigerated for several months.
Note:  If they are mushy or have a funky odor, then they are spoiled and should be tossed.  (This only happened to me with one jar out of dozens I’ve made.  Actually, I think it was a bad cucumber.)


  1. I will bear witness. They are AMAZING. Melissa and I are already dreaming of making ruladen with these pickles. Maybe we should make that a Nestle Inn event.

  2. Now there's a terrific idea!!! Only problem I see is being able to keep enough pickles around until January! (I eat them like most folks eat potato chips. heh heh heh)

  3. Hey, I like that idea too. When my cucumbers get ripe I will do up some so we have them for January. Until then Melissa, I will hide them in the pantry cupboard where I'm sure you won't find them ;)

  4. I had a visit from a friend today and I gave her one of your pickles to try. She was in heaven. She said "just the right amount of salt and just the right amount of pucker". I totally agree. Your recipe is a keeper