The Natural Pickle – sour garlic dills

I just put up a quick batch of garlic dill pickles after getting some kirby cucumbers at the farmers market from our CSA (Gazy Brothers Farm). This is a pretty straightforward naturally fermented pickle, using a 3% brine with aromats (a change from the 5% brine on Chef Pardus’s suggestion, via Ruhlman). I love this process, which I wrote about when I made sauerkraut with my biology class (and for the Super Bowl). The science of it is that you create a target environment that encourages the growth of lactic acid bacteria (which lower the pH by creating lactic acid through the fermentation of carbohydrates in your vegetables). That, along with the salinity of the brine keeps the pathogenic and spoilage bacteria away, and you end up with a great salty and sour pickle after about a week. In a vingear-based pickle (like Eric’s bread & butters) the same principles are at work, with the salt and acid working in concert for flavor and preservation, but it’s acetic acid (vinegar) that’s added directly instead of lactic acid produced by bacteria.

The easiest way to get the right amount of brine is to fill the container with your washed vegetables, then cover with water. Drain the water into a container on a scale in order to calculate how much salt you’ll need. For a liter of water (1000g), a 3% brine would be 30g of salt. For quick math in your head, for whatever mass of water you have in your container, move the decimal to the left two places (divide by 100), then multiply by 3:  for 600g of water; (1% ) is 6g; so 3% is 18g of salt. Heat the water in the saucepan to dissolve the salt and to steep the aromats. I used 6 cloves of garlic (peeled and crushed with a knife), a handful of fresh dill, 10 black peppercorns, 1/2 tsp whole coriander, 1 bay leaf, and a pinch each of crushed red pepper and brown mustard seeds. This was a pretty small batch (1/2 L water and only 6 pickles). Let the brine cool to room temperature, pour over the cucumbers, making sure to cover them completely. If necessary, weight them down to make sure they stay submerged (exposure to the air gives advantage to aerobic spoilage bacteria),  place a piece of plastic wrap right on the water, and let sit at cool room temperatures (below 70 degrees) for 5-7 days, or until you decide they’re sour enough. To store, strain the brine into a nonreactive saucepan and bring to the boil. Once cool, pour back over the pickles and stash in the refrigerator. These will not keep forever, but mine are usually gone before they have a chance to spoil; the salt, acid, and cold temperatures of the fridge are still working in your favor. This recipe/procedure is based off of Ruhlman’s post CSA Pickles: Revised Ratio! (July 28, 2010), although I’m planning to use the 3% brine for the whole fermentation process, rather than starting with 5%.

More resources on pickles:

Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s Charcuterie, David Chang’s Momofuku cookbook, and Michael Symon’s Live to Cook all have great sections and recipes on pickling, inlcuding naturally fermented and vinegar-based techniques.

Punk Domestics’ page on pickling has a wealth of information, recipes, and interesting posts from all over the country, with all kinds of vegetables.

Also check out: Food in Jars, Well Preserved, and the Ball Canning and Recipes websites for additional information.

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About Scott

occasionally-bearded teacher/musician/cook
This entry was posted in brine, pickle, recipes, vegetables and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to The Natural Pickle – sour garlic dills

  1. Nikki Brown says:

    Can’t wait to try this! I’m curious though, why you are choosing the 3% over the 5% brine? Is the 5% too salty?

  2. Scott says:

    @Nikki, the 5% is a little salty, yes. I’m curious to see what kind of difference the lower salt content makes from a flavor perspective, and I was interested by the Ruhlman/Pardus post mentioned above. Theirs does start with the 5% brine, and then they transfer to 3% for storage (and at that point the pH has dropped to a point that’s safe for preservation and storage). I’ve always used the 5%, but I’d love to hear if folks have experience with varying the salt content (especially with regard to pH change, time of fermentation, etc).

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  4. Shel Wappler says:

    Scott, so much fun making pickles for Christmas gifts. And very inexpensive too! I hope you enjoyed the little “cick” I added dropping the habanero pepper on top… A hint: slice the pepper ONCE along one spine to let the brine in… more, and you are in for it!! Thanks, and happy new year!

  5. Scott says:

    Shel, these were terrific! You weren’t kidding about the kick, either. I feel like they got hotter as the week went on and I worked my way through the jar. Thanks for passing those along. If you ever need another taste tester, let me know!

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  8. Kayla says:

    Wouldn’t boiling the brine after the fermentation process is complete kill all the good bacteria associated with fermented pickles?

    • Scott says:

      Hi Kayla.
      Yes, it would kill the bacteria in the brine. It won’t kill the bacteria in the pickles though. I see it as a way of halting the process (or at least slowing it WAY down), once you’ve got them as sour as you like them. I’ve had a few batches of pickles go a little mushy in the fridge after extended storage without boiling. The bacteria keep chomping away.
      In the case of sauerkraut, I’ve done it both ways, and I find the boiled brine for storage results in crisper kraut.
      It’s my understanding that not much can grow in a 5% brine with a pH under 4 at refrigerator temperatures, except some strains of Listeria (but most of them cannot tolerate that acidity). For the 3% brine I’ve boiled it for storage purposes (as that’s what Ruhlman and Pardus recommended).

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