Saturday, September 22, 2012

Naturally Fermented Dill Pickles

There is a little bakery (Vintage Baking Co.) in Glen NH that sells the most amazing bread.  They also have available a wonderful selection of cheese, wine, and other things to compliment said bread.  One thing they almost always have are jars of the most delicious pickles; they aren’t cheap but we always get at least one jar when we visit.

These pickles aren’t anything like the ones you get at the grocery store.  These are naturally fermented pickles  . . . i.e. lacto-fermented pickles.  And they are as close to a perfect pickle as I’ve ever tasted.

Lacto-fermentation is an ancient form of preserving foods . . . think sauerkraut, kim-chi, and yes . . . pickles (among many other things). 

All you need is salt, water, spices and the naturally occurring yeast spores floating around in the air.

So, I wanted to learn how to make these mouth watering wonders.  And I did!  This is how . . .

Naturally Fermented Dill Pickles
(Lacto-Fermented Pickles)

6-8 small (3-4 inches long) un-waxed cucumbers. I used pickles fresh from my garden but you can find pickling or “Kirby” cucumbers in your grocery store that will work just as well.
1 1/2 cups filtered water
2 tablespoons sea, kosher or any salt without additives
4 - 8 sprigs of fresh dill
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 Tablespoon peppercorns
1 Tablespoon Mustard seeds
1 -2 Grape, Oak or Cherry Leaves

This recipe makes 1 quart sized canning jar of pickles.  I made more than that by multiplying the ingredients accordingly.

Sterilize your jar or jars in boiling water and allow to dry.

Combine salt and water in a saucepan.  Heat on stove, stirring until salt dissolves then cool.

After washing cucumbers, cut the tips off on both ends.  It is especially important to remove the blossom end as the blossom contains enzymes that will soften your pickles.  You can leave the cucumbers whole or cut them depending on how you like your pickles.

Arrange a washed grape leaf (oak or cherry) on the bottom of the jar.  Why the leaf?  Because the tannins found in these leaves inhibit the enzymes that cause the cucumber to soften . . . thus crunchier pickles!

On top of the leaf place sprigs of dill.

Without crushing them, tightly pack the cucumbers in the jar. Add remaining dill, garlic cloves, mustard seeds and peppercorns.  I cut a cucumber in half and pushed it under the curved top of the jar to keep the other cucumbers submerged in the brine.  You can also top with an additional grape leaf.

Another method is to place a boiled stone on top to keep your pickles from floating up above the water when the pickling process causes them to shrink.

Pour the salt water into the jar; completely covering the cucumbers.

Cover the top of the jar with cheese cloth or similar to allow the yeast spores to enter the jar that aid in fermentation.  I use an ankle stocking and slip it over the top . . . its elastic so it stays in place.

Let the jar sit undisturbed at room temperature. In a few days you will notice the brine start to get cloudy and bubbles will begin to form.  You may also notice a thin white layer forming . . . this is natural.

The fermentation will take from three to ten days.  Mine took ten days, but I was using a ½ gallon jar.  Start sampling around three days.  When they taste the way you like them then put a lid on them and place them in the fridge.  They will continue to ferment but at a slower rate.  After a month in the fridge they tasted very close to the pickles we were paying a premium for at the bakery.

Pickles will keep for several months in the refrigerator.  Just be sure to keep them submerged in the brine.

These pickles are perfect for a Dill Thrill!

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