I’ve always wanted to make real kosher dill pickles, the kind that our grandparents might have bought from a barrel at their local dry-goods shop. Like sauerkraut or kimchee, these pickles get their sourness entirely from the fermentation process rather than the vinegar found in many pickle recipes.
With the crazy spring weather we had this year, it’s still rather early here for cucumbers, but the CanJam challenge — hosted by Gloria at Laundry Etc. — waits for no woman. The biggest cukes in our garden are barely longer than my thumb, and though I’d dearly love to make cornichons, we don’t yet have enough yet to fill even a single jar.
Persian and Asian cucumbers are abundant at the Ferry Plaza market already, but search as we might, we came up empty for pickling varieties like Kirby from any farm-direct sources. After scouring our local co-op grocery and more than one Whole Foods for just-ripe, unblemished specimens, we managed to scrounge up enough suitable cukes to make a small batch of kosher-style dills.
Right from the start, they smelled amazing, giving off a heady whiff of garlic atop the earthy tang of dill. But alas, something was amiss; the brine never clouded as it should have, to indicate the all-important presence of friendly bacteria. Apparently, the fermentation process never took off at all. After two weeks, our would-be pickles were merely over-salty cucumbers, fit only for the compost pile.
Staring down the CanJam deadline, I knew I didn’t have time for a replacement fermented batch before time ran out. My usual dill pickle recipe is reliable, good, and quick — a simple cold-pack, vinegar-brined thing — but nothing special. In the spirit of stretching a little, I hit the books before heading out to hunt down yet another armload of cucumbers.
I found a compromise recipe of sorts, neither a fermentation nor a one-step pickle. My interest was piqued by method I’d never seen before: The cucumbers soak for 12 hours in a superchilled mixture of ice, water, and salt — a step that many sources say keeps the pickles crisp, even after processing in a boiling water bath. Although I’d discovered the recipe in a chapter titled “2-day Vegetable Pickles”, I realized that I could shave some much-needed time if I popped them in the icy brine before breakfast and processed the jars just before bedtime.
They may not be the fermented pickle of my dreams, but they’re pretty fabulous. The crisp spears offer a strong hit of garlic and a less-aggressive acidity than your typical homemade dills. Once our own cucumbers come in, I’m game to try another batch of the real fermented deal. But for now, I’m perfectly happy with my not-quite-kosher dills.
Ice-Brined Garlic Dill Pickles
- from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
8 lbs pickling cucumbers, gently washed & ends trimmed
16 cups crushed ice
1-1/4 cups pickling salt, divided use
12 cups water, divided use
2T pickling spice
6 cups white vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
7 tsp yellow mustard seeds
10-1/2 fresh dill heads or 7T dill seeds (we used 7 sprigs fresh dill)
7 large (or 14 small) cloves garlic
- Day 1 (or early morning)
In a large clean crock (or tall ceramic, glass, or stainless steel bowl), layer the cucumbers and the ice.
In a large glass or stainless steel bowl, dissolve 1/2 cup of the pickling salt in 4 cups of the water. Pour over the cucumbers, adding enough cold water to cover the cucumbers, as needed. Place a large, clean inverted plate on top of the cucumbers and weigh down with two or three quart jars filled with water (and capped). Refrigerate or let stand in a very cool place for at least 12 hours, but no longer than 18 hours.
- Day 2 (or late evening)
Prepare canner, lids, and 7 pint jars according to the usual method; keep jars hot until needed.
Tie pickling spice in a square of cheesecloth (or use a tea-infusing ball).
In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine remaining 8 cups water, vinegar, remaining 3/4 cup pickling salt, sugar, and spice packet. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt. Reduce heat, cover, and boil gently for 15 minutes, until spices have infused the liquid.
Transfer cucumbers to a colander placed over a sink and drain. Rinse with cool running water and drain thoroughly. Place dill and a garlic clove in each jar. Pack cucumbers into jars to within a generous 1/2 inch of the rim. Add 1 tsp mustard seed to each jar.
Using a stainless-steel canning funnel, pour hot pickling liquid into hot jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Wipe rims and center lids on jars. Screw band to fingertip-tight.
Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely submerged. Bring to a boil and process covered for 10 minutes. Remove canner lid; wait 5 minutes, then remove jars. Cool, check for seals, and store in a cool, dark place for up to a year.