Lacto-Fermented Kosher Dill Pickles

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-preparing-sour-cucumbers-image10025556

I grew up eating spicy, garlic-studded “kosher” dill pickles. These pickles are crisp, crunchy, sour, and delicious – everything a pickled cucumber should be. I love them.

The so-called “kosher” pickle is not necessarily kosher in the sense that it complies with Jewish food laws. It is called kosher because of its flavor profile made popular by New York’s Jewish pickle makers, who made the pickles using the same kind of salt used to prepare meat in the kosher style.

These pickle-makers were known for their natural salt-brined pickles heavily seasoned with dill and garlic. So any pickle that is seasoned in the same fashion is referred to as a Kosher Dill.

You may notice an unusual ingredient in the recipe below: grape, oak, or horseradish leaves. These leaves are not for eating, though you probably could. The leaves are added to the brine because the tannins in them help the pickles stay crunchy, a vital characteristic of every good pickle.

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photos-pickled-cucumbers-image14088513

Ingredients

  • 5 tablespoons sea salt
  • 2 quarts of chlorine-free water
  • 4 to 6 grape, oak, or horseradish leaves
  • 6 to 9 cloves of peeled garlic
  • 2 large heads of dill
  • Spices to taste: black peppercorns, red pepper flakes, mustard seeds, etc. (Secret ingredient: for an extra bite, add a few strips of fresh horseradish to the spice mix!)
  • Enough pickling cucumbers to fill a half-gallon jar

Directions

  1. Make a brine with 2 quarts of chlorine-free water and 5 tablespoons sea salt. Mix well, cover, and allow to cool to room temperature. This brine can be kept for days before using.
  2. In a 1/2-gallon jar add a couple of the tannin-containing leaves, a few cloves of garlic, the heads of dill, and 1/3 of the spices you plan to use.
  3. Pack half of your cucumbers tightly on top of these spices. (The longest ones work best at the bottom.) Repeat a layer of leaves, garlic, and spices. Add another tightly packed layer of cucumbers and top them off with more garlic and spices.
  4. Pour the brine over the pickles, leaving 1 to 2 inches of headspace. Place another tannin-containing leaf on top of the pickles as a cover between the pickles and the surface of the brine.
  5. Tightly cap the jar and place in a safe spot at room temperature for 3 to 10 days. Alternatively, place in a root cellar or cool basement for up to a month.
  6. You will know your pickles have fermented when the brine is cloudy, the brine has stopped bubbling, and the pickles have a bubbly sourness to them. The warmer the fermenting temperature, the shorter the fermentation time, though a cooler fermentation temperature is desirable (less than 80°F).
  7. Eat right away, or move to cold storage to store for months and enjoy them all winter long.

Makes one 1/2-gallon jar of pickles.

Shannon

Shannon is a mama to four small children, homesteader, freelance writer, and picture-taker. She lives with her husband on their off-grid homestead where they make and eat kefir, kombucha, sourdough, and fermented vegetables.

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Comments

  1. Cristin says

    I love this recipe, but where the do you find grape, oak or horseradish leaves? Can you use the leaves off a regular oak tree? What happens if you omit the leaves altogether?

  2. Shawn Meeks says

    Question. I was looking for a Claussen type pickle recipe and someone sent me yours. In all the other brine pickle recipes I looked at, they said to very loosely put the lid on the jar or cover the jar with cheesecloth and let sit on the counter for 3 or 4 days until ready. What I’m worried about with closing the jars tightly is that, as you said, the bubbling and fermenting process will blow up the jars. Should I be concerned?

    • says

      Shawn – That is a good question. I have actually had a jar explode in the middle of the night, it is possible. I will be adding this to the instructions, as I somehow omitted it, but I always “burp” my jars once or twice a day. To do this I simply loosen the lid ring, allow any gas to fizz out, and then tighten it back up. In the warmer weather twice a day is a good idea.

      Eventually gases will stop being produced and you won’t need to burp any longer. How long that takes varies, though, so you just have to watch your jars.

      You could cover your jar with cheesecloth instead. I personally always use a lid just as a bit of insurance to keep good guys in and bad guys out :) .

  3. Shawn Meeks says

    Thanks! I’ll burp my jars. This will be my first ever attempt at pickles. Leaves? I read somewhere that Bay leaves are also a source of tannin and often used in pickle recipes. I’m assuming that means fresh and not dried. I found some fresh at a local upscale grocery. Also, I was going to use McCormick pickling spice. Would you please suggest an amount, per jar, I should use?

    • Rosalyn says

      The amount of pickling spice per jar varies a lot from recipe to recipe! Anywhere from 1/2 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons per quart is advised. Smell the spice and see how much of that flavor you’d like in your pickles, and adjust accordingly.

  4. Shawn Meeks says

    Well, after 4 days on the counter, I stuck a jar in the fridge to chill before I tried one and … they are delicious! Thanks for all the advice. I made 12 quarts and will make many more. I am covered up with cucumbers!

    • says

      Shawn – That is so awesome. It really is encouraging and exciting for me to hear the enthusiasm from others endeavoring with fermented foods.

      Thanks!

  5. Wendy says

    I am overwhelmed with cucumbers right now and was so thrilled to find your recipe! Quick question: is it okay to slice the cucumbers into rounds to make the pickles? Thanks so much much!

    • says

      Wendy – Sure! I have found that slices may mush more easily than whole pickles, but if you use the leaves for tannins and keep the fermenting temp in check, they will most likely be fine.

  6. R G says

    So, here is a dumb rookie question. Once these pickles are ‘done’ does one need to continue to ‘burp’ the jars? I haven’t tried this recipe yet, but want to soon.

    • says

      R G – You shouldn’t need to since the CO2 is usually produced in the earliest stages of fermentation. Once in cold storage, especially really cold refrigerators, they should be fine.

  7. Cheryl Fleetwood says

    Can the cucs be sliced before placing in the jar, are do they need to be whole? I love fermented pickles but have only seen them whole, or sliced after fermentation. Thanks

    • says

      Cheryl – You can do it either way. I have found that sliced pickles tend to get mushy more easily than large pickles, but if you can add the leaves and keep the temperature in check then this won’t necessarily be a problem.

  8. says

    I made a large jar (bigger than a qt, but I guess smaller than a 1/2 gallon) and several pints of pickles with this recipe. The large jar developed a large layer of mold over the top. One of the pints also started developing mold. I’m guessing the pickles weren’t completely submersed. I also didn’t use an airtight lid on these jars. They were just extra jars I had, but didn’t have canning lids for. Could that have contributed to the mold? I hate losing pickles, and these are particularly yummy.

    Did I understand you to say these should be moved to a refrigerator after the pickling period is over? I didn’t do that, and one jar is very mushy. Maybe over fermented?

    Thanks for this recipe and your help on figuring out my wayward jars.

    • says

      Georganne – Oh dear. I have had my share of moldy ferments and I empathize with the disappointment.

      I would guess that yes, using a non-airtight lid, especially during the heat of summer, might contribute to the mold as would having the cucumbers above the brine. For more on why mold develops and how to prevent it, you might want to see this post: http://blog.culturesforhealth.com/lacto-fermented-vegetable-troubleshooting-mold/

      Yes, once fermented you will want to move the pickles to a cold storage such as a refrigerator or a cold basement or cellar.

      I hope that helps!

  9. Jozette says

    Where does the lacto ferment come in? did I miss something? I thought lacto ferment meant whey or some other milk product…This is a recipe I would love to try!

    • says

      Jozette – It is a common misconception that lacto correlates to lactose or dairy. The lacto in lacto-fermented actually stands for lactic acid – the acid produced during the fermentation process that preserves the cucumbers. Does that answer your question?

    • says

      Jan – I wouldn’t, simply because I’m not a fan of added questionable ingredients. I can’t say if it would work or not, as I’ve never tried it.

  10. Vera Polischuk says

    Thank you for your lovely recipe. My father passed three years ago and feeling sentimental I Iooked on line and decided your recipe was the way I remembered him making them. I grew my own pickles and dill. I made a batch last week and let me tell you…they are the best most perfect match I could ever hope for. Also I added 6 cherry leaves from our tree…my dad said that’s what his mom used to use…yes they are crunchy. I used a little more dill , more garlic..threw a spoon of peppercorns and the flavour is so well balanced I am really pleased. I also used an upside down teacup in the jar to keep the pickles submerged. Oh…and just like my father I used a small plate to cover the jar opening. They were fine. Thanks Shannon…wish my dad could have tried them..he would aprove.

    • says

      Vera – What a lovely comment and sentiment. I am sorry for the loss of your late father and I think it is a great tribute to him that you are continuing in his foot steps. Blessings on you and your family.

  11. mark says

    I made a Kosher brine with water and vinegar, added dill, garlic, hot peppers in a 2 gallon crock. Will this ferment or have I done something I shouldn’t have? (using the vinegar?)

    • says

      Mark – Vinegar is not necessary for lactic acid fermentation and some find it to be a hindrance. The acetic acid in the vinegar can often overwhelm the lactic acid that needs to proliferate in order for a true lactic acid fermentation to take place.

      How much vinegar did you add? Were you following a vinegar-pickled recipe?

    • says

      Jacque – I do not boil the water. I usually heat some of it up just enough to aid in dissolving the salt, and then use cold water to make up the difference and to bring it to room temperature.

  12. Laura says

    I am getting ready to make some pickles and have a couple questions. Does the tea impact the flavor? I don’t have leaves that will work right now but have lots of tea. Also, I have read a few recipes and am most interested in trying yours. However, all the others say to use whey or sour kraut juice. Yours does not. Have you tried it with either? I have whey that I was planning to use but really don’t want to play around too much and have a bunch of pickles that no one will eat.

    Thanks so much for any help you can offer.

    • says

      Laura – I don’t believe the tea greatly impacts the flavor, but I haven’t used them in a lot of ferments so I can’t say that from a lot of experience :) .

      I have used whey in batches of pickles previously. Whey and sauerkraut juice would be use as a form of culture starter. If you are new to pickle-making and would like some added insurance then using these might be helpful. I no longer use whey in my recipes for various reasons, but having made them with whey I don’t necessarily discourage it.

  13. Marissa says

    My pickles have been fermenting for five days and are well weighted down but the cucumber seeds and some green onions have floated to the top. Has this happened to you? Do you think this could cause a whole batch to go bad? Also, how do you determine if it’s safe to eat a batch that you’re unsure about? When in doubt, throw it out? Or can I taste test?

    • says

      Marissa – I don’t think a few floaters would necessarily mean the whole batch has gone bad. You could just scoop them out and leave the rest as is to prevent mold contamination.

      I find that the smell of a ferment is quite indicative of whether it is good or bad. It should smell sour, tangy, or even weird, but it should not smell putrid or rotten. If it passes the smell test then taste-testing is always a good idea. If it tastes fine then great, if not then spit it out and throw it all to the chickens or the compost. :)

  14. Sherry says

    Shannon, when you store fermented pickles in a house basement what temperature is considered cool. Our basement is heated some but stays cool as compared to the upstairs that is 70 to 75 degrees most of the year. This is my first time fermenting. Why is whey not your choice to put in cultures. When one says keeps months is that 3,4,5,6, or what. Do all cultured veggies have same storage longevity time? Can you ever ruin a cultured veggie? Have I been corresponding with you about the kefir cultures? If so Hi

    • says

      Sherry – For vegetable fermentation a temperature range of 60-85 degrees is preferable, with the lower range of 60-70 being better, in my opinion, for avoiding mold and having a better flavor in the end.

      I don’t use whey in vegetable ferments anymore for a few reasons. For one, it’s simply not necessary. Whey was helpful when I was starting out, and I encourage others who are apprehensive about veg fermentation to go ahead and use it if it makes them feel more comfortable. I always saw it as “insurance” that my ferment was inoculated with good stuff. I prefer the flavor of veg ferments without the whey, and through quite a bit of research, which you may find in an upcoming book I’m working on, I found that whey does not necessarily encourage the natural process of lactic acid fermentation as it is supposed to.

      I have found that shelf lives vary, and not necessarily due to the “type” of veg ferment. It really depends on so many things. Doing your best to create an ideal environment for the fermentation process to take place is really the best bet.

      Yes, you can ruin a batch of cultured veg and I’ve done plenty of those in my earliest days. They will go bad, have excessive mold, etc. if not taken care of properly.

  15. Mike says

    I just made my first batch of pickles. When I remove one from the
    jar, should I make sure the remainder are still covered with brine?

  16. liz harmon says

    you say cooler longer ferment better.. I have a root cellar now after begging for years for one. wondering if leaving them down there for ferment .. I know that will be cooler than my house in the last days of summer or even summer.. no air conditioning here.. I do want to try.. also would an old crock work?? maybe cover it with a plate.. I have a five gallon one.. been reading a lot of recipes and yours explain very well so this one it is!! oh I feel like a kid with all I have wanted a root cellar for…so many things to try! pickles for sure!!

  17. Trish says

    I love this recipe and having this experience! Thank you for sharing.

    I have made one batch of delicious pickles and because we were so excited about them we ate them almost instantly. I used my crock pot stoneware liner with a plate to submerge and the clear glass lid on top and it’s working very well.

    I am wondering if you can continue to add cukes to the brine and just remove the longest “completed” pickles to the jar in the fridge? or should you do a batch until it’s completed and start over with new brine? I know with the 1st batch I did add cukes for the 1st 3-4 days and that was okay so now I’m wondering about an ongoing brine.

    When the large deli’s have their vats/barrels of pickles are they filled all at once and left alone and a new one started?

  18. says

    Hi Shannon,

    I’m having a difficult time finding the leaves you suggested. Are there any others that you can recommend that might be in a local grocery store? I was thinking maybe a variety of cabbage, but I wasn’t sure. Thanks for the help!

    • says

      Beth – The leaves should contain tannins and I would think you could find tea leaves in the grocery store. Just head to the coffee/tea aisle and look for bulk black tea leaves. If they don’t carry bulk leaves, they should have tea bags of plain black tea. You could open up the bags and use the leaves inside.

  19. Nicole Slater says

    Soooo….it’s been about 4 days since I made the pickles.
    I slacked on the whole burping schedule and today when I tried one of my pickles, it exploded and others in the jar exploded upon being touched. Is this from not burping?
    They seem to taste ok, but the pickles seemed to have filled with so much pressure that when they pop, there is really nothing left of it. Just the skin. :(
    Have you heard of this happening? Its crazy to me!
    I always have the strangest results.

    • says

      Nicole – Wow, I have never experienced that or heard of it. I am going to ask around and see if any other CFH staffers have; I’m really intrigued by this. I have had a jar explode, literally shattering and leaking pickle juice all over the floor, but never the pickles themselves. I’ll get back to you!

  20. Marni says

    I just finished two quart jars of pickle spears and followed everything suggested. Just tried my first pickle and is was SUUUPER salty :( Not sure what to do. Poor some of the brine off and add vinegar? Any suggestions would be great!

    • says

      Marni – How long have the pickles been fermenting? What is the temperature like in your area right now? Once I have a little more info I might be able to help you troubleshoot. :)

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