Fermented or brined products, such as dill cucumbers, cure for several weeks. Curing changes the color, flavor and texture of the product. Lactic acid produced during fermentation helps preserve the product. Satisfactory products can be obtained only when quality ingredients are used and proper procedures followed. Correct proportions of vegetables, salt, vinegar and spices are essential.
Cucumbers—Select fresh, firm unwaxed cucumbers about 4 inches long. Cucumbers deteriorate rapidly, especially at room temperature. For best results, use varieties developed for pickling, pick early in the day, and use within 24 hours. Be sure to remove and discard a 1/16 inch slice from the blossom end of fresh cucumbers. Blossoms may contain an enzyme that causes excessive softening of pickles.
Salt—Use non-iodized canning or pickling salt; iodine can prevent the bacterial fermentation and may darken pickles. Other salts contain anti-caking materials that can make the brine cloudy. Canning or pickling salt can be purchased at most supermarkets. Changing salt proportions or using a reduced-sodium salt substitute in fermented products is not recommended because the product will not ferment correctly.
Vinegar—Use 5% acidity (50 grain) bottled vinegar. Do not use homemade vinegar or vinegar of unknown acidity in pickling.
Spices—Use fresh, whole spices for best flavor in pickles.
Water—When brining pickles, hard water may interfere with the formation of acid and prevent pickles from properly curing. To soften hard water, boil it for 15 minutes and let sit for 24 hours, covered. Remove any scum that is formed. Pour slowly to avoid using sediment that will be on the bottom of the container.
Firming Agents—In pickling, if good quality ingredients are used with up-to-date methods, firming agents are not needed to crisp pickles. According to the National Center for Food Preservation, “Alum may be safely used to firm fermented pickles. However, it is unnecessary and is not included in the recipes in this publication. Alum does not improve the firmness of quick-process pickles. The calcium in lime definitely improves pickle firmness. Food-grade lime may be used as a lime-water solution for soaking fresh cucumbers 12 to 24 hours before pickling them. Excess lime absorbed by the cucumbers must be removed to make safe pickles. To remove excess lime, drain the lime-water solution, rinse, and then resoak the cucumbers in fresh water for 1 hour. Repeat the rinsing and soaking steps two more times. To further improve pickle firmness, you may process cucumber pickles for 30 minutes in water at 180 degrees Fahrenheit. This process also prevents spoilage, but the water temperature should not fall below 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a candy or jelly thermometer to check the water temperature.”
The fermentation equipment must be washed in hot soapy water and rinsed well with very hot water before use.
Suitable Containers—A 1-gallon container is needed for each 5 pounds of fresh vegetables. A 5-gallon stone crock is the ideal size for fermenting about 25 pounds of fresh cucumbers. Food-grade plastic and glass containers are excellent substitutes for stone crocks. Other 1 to 3 gallon, non-food grade plastic containers may be used if lined inside with a clean food-grade plastic bag. Be certain that foods contact only food-grade plastics. Do not use garbage bags, trash liners, or plastic buckets intended for non-food purposes.
Covers and Weights—Cucumbers must be kept 1 to 2 inches under brine while fermenting. Insert a dinner plate or glass pie plate inside the fermentation container. The plate must be slightly smaller than the container opening, yet large enough to cover most of the cucumbers. To keep the plate under the brine, weigh it down with 2 to 3 sealed quart jars filled with water. Covering the container opening with a clean, heavy bath towel helps prevent contamination from insects and molds. The plate also can be weighted down with a large food-grade plastic bag filled with 3 quarts of water containing 4½ tablespoons of salt. Be sure to seal the plastic bag. Freezer bags sold for packaging turkeys are suitable for use with the 5 gallon containers.
Scales and Utensils—Household or food scales will be needed if the recipe specifies ingredients by weight.
When heating pickling liquids, use unchipped enamelware, stainless steel, aluminum, or glass utensils. Other metals may cause undesirable color changes in the pickles or form undesirable compounds.
|Fermenting temperatures and times|
|below 55 degrees Fahrenheit||—||product may not ferment|
|55–65 degrees Fahrenheit||5–6 weeks|
|70–75 degrees Fahrenheit||3–4||ideal temperature|
|above 80 degrees Fahrenheit||—||product may soften or spoil|
Fermented Dill Pickles
Use the following quantities for each gallon capacity of your container:
- 4 pounds of 4 inch pickling cucumbers
- 2 tablespoons dill seed or 4 to 5 heads fresh or dry dill weed
- ½ cup canning or pickling salt
- ¼ cup vinegar (5 percent)
- 8 cups water
- One or more of the following optional ingredients: 2 cloves garlic, 2 dried red peppers, 2 teaspoons whole mixed pickling spices.
Wash cucumbers. Remove blossom end and discard, leaving ¼ inch of stem attached.
Place half the dill and spices on bottom of a clean, suitable container. Add cucumbers, remaining dill, and spices.
Dissolve salt in vinegar and water, and pour over cucumbers. Add suitable cover and weight.
Ferment pickles. Check the container several times a week and promptly remove surface scum or mold. If the pickles become soft, slimy, or develop a disagreeable odor, discard them.
Fully fermented pickles may be stored for about 4 to 6 months in the refrigerator.
Canning fully fermented pickles is the optimal way to store them. To can them, pour the brine into a pan, heat slowly to a boil, and simmer 5 minutes. Filter brine through paper coffee filters to reduce cloudiness, if desired.
Fill hot jars with pickles and hot brine, leaving ½-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and wipe jar rims. Adjust lids and process as shown on table, or use the low-temperature pasteurization treatment.
|Process time for Fermented Dill Pickles in a boiling-water canner|
|Style of pack||Jar size||0–1,000 ft. altititude||1,001–6,000 ft. altitude|
|Raw||Pints||10 min.||15 min.|
Low-Temperature Pasteurization Treatment
This treatment results in a better product texture but must be carefully managed to avoid possible spoilage. Place jars in a canner filled halfway with warm (120 degrees Fahrenheit to 140 degrees Fahrenheit) water. Add hot water to a level 1 inch above jars. Heat the water enough to maintain 180 to 185 degrees Fahrenheit water temperature for 30 minutes. Check with a food thermometer to be certain that the water temperature is at least 180 degrees Fahrenheit during the entire 30 minutes. Temperatures higher than 185 degrees Fahrenheit may cause unnecessary softening of pickles.
- Andress, E. and J. Harrison. So Easy to Preserve, 6th Ed. Athens: University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service, 2014.
- Pickling Vegetables, PNW Publication 355. (2015). Oregon State University.