by Cliff Cohen
My grandfather ran a small grocery store in Brooklyn for many decades. He would naturally ferment cucumbers for his customers, and I remember hearing stories about his “famous” pickles from family members who would talk about how incredibly delicious they were. One of my earliest memories is of him showing me how to make them. I seem to remember that the below recipe was not unlike what he taught me…and I am happy to share it with you, so that you can bring some of that “emesdike” New York City flavor into your home for the enjoyment of friends and family.
What You Will be Making
- ~3 dozen delectable and nutritious organic fermented cucumbers (pickles)
- Pickle juice that can be used in numerous ways or simply sipped as a tonic.
A Few Quick Notes:
- This recipe describes fermentation, and NOT pickling, the latter of which is a separate process wherein cucumbers are soaked in vinegar
- The recipe described makes a full sour dill if fermented for 14 days. I believe a less sour dill (tasting like a genuine New York half sour) can be accomplished by fermenting for between 7 and 8 days. If you decide to experiment with this, please let me know if it works! [Please note that whatever the sourness of the pickle when you decant the pickles from the crock, once the pickles are stored in their own juice in the refrigerator, they will become full sours with time.]
- The below recipe is based upon the following excellent recipe: https://www.feastingathome.com/fermented-pickles/. However, I have modified this recipe in various ways.
- The amounts shown are for making 3 dozen pickles in a large (2-1/2 gallon) crock. You can adjust the amounts based upon the size of the crock you are using.
I have a large fermentation crock made by Hadar Iron. Hadar’s crocks are amazing and they have consistently enabled good ferments, so I would highly recommend buying one of these to make the pickles. I would suggest considering buying a 2-1/2 gallon crock, as you will find that having the extra capacity will not only enable you to make many pickles at once (believe me, you’re going to need them once friends and family find out how good they taste!)—but also the larger crock will provide extra room to make a useful amount of any large vegetable (e.g., cauliflower) that you wish to ferment.
How to Make a “Mean” Pickle
- Ceramic Fermenting Crock
- Large Colander
- Large Stainless Steel Bowl
- 8-Cup Measuring Cup
- Kitchen Food Scale
Brine - 7 grams of salt to 1 cup water
- 24 cups water
- 168 grams salt
- 36 Organic pickling cucumbers medium to large in size
Flavoring Ingredients (All Organic)
- 4 bulbs garlic cloves peeled
- 6 bunches fresh dill
- whole coriander seeds
- whole peppercorns
- whole yellow mustard seed
- bay leaves
- Rinse the pickling cucumbers (normal cukes never work); remove the flower end of each cucumber and place them in an ice-water (or cold water) bath, to crisp them up (10-20 minutes). Leave them completely whole (there should be no way that air or liquid can reach the inside of the cuke).
- Wash plenty of fresh dill, cutting away the heavy stalks but leaving the finer stalks and fronds.
- Make the brine: On the food scale, weigh 7 grams of non-iodized sea salt for each cup of fresh spring water. Important: do not use water that might be chlorinated or otherwise processed (unfiltered tap water will NOT work). Start with 56 grams of salt for the 8 cups water in the measuring cup. Mix well so that the salt is completely dissolved. (Note: You will likely need to do this 2 - 3 times to fill the 2-1/2 gallon crock with brine (see below)).
- Make the spices: I recommend using whole organic peppercorns, coriander seeds, and mustard seeds. I avoid any spice that is powdered, ground, or otherwise not whole. I never measure the spices out, but use about equal parts of each. I make a large amount of the mixed spices, storing whatever I don’t use for the next ferment. The important thing is that there be enough of the mixture to be reasonably generous when adding to the crock.
Layer Ingredients and Initiate Fermentation
- Place a bed of dill along the bottom of the crock.
- Sprinkle the mixed spices on top of the dill.
- Sprinkle the fresh garlic on top of the dill and mixed spices.
- Place the cucumbers flat on top of the above.
- Place dry bay leaves on top of the cucumbers in the below pattern, so that all cucumbers are touching at least one bay leaf.
- Repeat the above process until the last layer of bay leaves is at the top of the crock, leaving two inches for the weights and a little air.Place the weights on top of the pickles and pour in the brine (making more as needed) to cover to about a 1/4 inch above the weights. Place the lid on the crock.
- Let the crock sit for a couple of hours.
- Place the crock in a “coolish” place where the ambient temperature is consistently not too warm or cool (~ between 65 degrees and 75 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Fill the lip of the crock with some water to create the seal and check the water level every day; add water if/as necessary. If the water should suddenly disappear, this is natural and not a problem - the fermentation causes gas pressure fluctuations that will cause the water level to “breathe”. When no water is showing, simply add water (not too much) to maintain a clear, but minimal seal. The reason for this is that when the gas pressure changes, the water that was drawn into the inside of the lip of the crock will be pushed back out.
Decanting & Straining
- After 2 weeks the pickles will be ready. Decant the crock as follows:
- Place a fine mesh strainer inside of a large stainless steel bowl. Place aside.
- Remove the pickles from the crock, pushing aside the dill, garlic, and spices.
- Pour the entire brine contents into the strainer to catch the dill, garlic, and spices. Retain the brine (pickle juice) that is in the bowl and discard (or compost) the dill, garlic, and spices.
- Place the pickles, along with all of the brine, in a large glass mason jar and refrigerate from then on.
- Finished pickles