This year was the inaugural season for our garden! We purposely planted dill and pickling cucumbers with the hopes of being able to harvest and can homemade pickles. Well, we have dill and cucumbers coming out of our ears! We’ve been working hard on creating the best pickle recipe and I think we hit it out of the park with our NY Deli Style Homemade Pickles!
The “pickling” in this style is from lacto-fermentation of the cucumber by it’s native microorganisms while submerged in the brine. Sugars in the cucumber are transformed into lactic acid. Lactic acid is responsible for the sour taste (the same taste found in yogurt and sourdough breads). Over time as the pH decreases, proteins are denatured by the lactic acid resulting in ever-mushier cucumbers. Eventually the pH drops far enough that the fermenting microorganisms can no longer reproduce thus preserving the cucumber and stopping full spoilage. Unfortunately, this point comes a while after the cucumbers become too soft to be edible.
There is no additional acidification or cooking which allows the cucumber to stay crisper longer, although if left in the solution for more than a couple weeks these will become soft and mushy as well. This method is not appropriate for long term preservation.
- Use a fairly precise salt-to-water ratio, and scale based on container size.
- Shoot for 3.5% – 5.4% solution by volume. In the metric world, 3.5-5.4 grams per 100 mL. Start with the 3.5% and increase in future batches to get the taste you want.
- Average ocean salinity is 3.5% with salinity in the Mediterranean and Red Sea closer to 4%. One could imagine early middle-eastern cultures simply putting their cucumbers in a bucket of ocean water to achieve this effect.
- Most recipes call for Diamond Kosher Salt. Here in southwest Missouri that seems difficult to find, so I use Morton’s Kosher Salt. Kosher salts are not created equally so it becomes important to weigh the salt instead of going off volume (i.e. tablespoons).
- I use 1 quart jars for my pickles so I fill one of those with water. 1 quart equals 946 mL, so to make a 3.5% brine I add 33 grams of salt.
- As the pickles ferment there can be water loss from evaporation so keeping your extra brine in fridge allows for easy addition to ensure the cucumbers are fully covered.
Spices (per quart jar)
- These are starting points, adjust to taste
- 1 sprig fresh dill
- 3 cloves garlic (smashed, skin left on)
- Premade pickling spice vs. home blend – premade in Midwest tend to have cinnamon, clove, allspice, ginger which lends itself more to the bread and butter pickle (or a shrimp boil) than the kosher dill.
- 2 Tbsp if using a premade
- The key ingredients for making your own blend of a NY deli-style spice seem to be (again, quantities are starting points):
- Dried hot pepper – 2
- 1 Bay Leaf
- Mustard Seed – 1 tsp
- Coriander – 1 tsp
- Whole Black Peppercorn – 1 tsp
Clean the jar thoroughly, can sterilize with boiling water if desired.
Inspect cucumbers and make sure stem if fully removed. Some suggest cutting the tip off the flower end stating that there is a substance in that end of the cucumber that can soften the pickle. Alternatively, adding grape leaves appears to achieve the same result through their tannins.
Wash hands with antibacterial soap. Clean the cucumbers thoroughly under cold water using only hands to rub/scrub. Then run cold water on cucumbers for 10 minutes.
- Since these pickles are not made with a sterile canning procedure, and undergo no type of pasteurization, a primary goal here is to ensure that human bacteria are not making their way into the brine to avoid potential food poisoning. While the salinity and temperature make a poor growing medium for human pathogens, some might still grow and toxins from bacteria such as Staph can still cause problems.
- No amount of water or scrubbing will remove all the microorganisms from the cucumber, but this is a good thing, we need them to ferment our pickles. Our goal here is to reduce the inoculate size to manageable levels to allowed for controlled fermentation.
Place spices and garlic in the bottom of the jar.
Pack the cucumbers tight with with some dill on bottom and top.
Fill the jar with brine, keep your extra brine in the refrigerator to add to the jar as needed.
This is a fermentation process therefore gases will be produced. One might then correctly deduce that sealing tightly is a no-no to avoid making a pickle bomb. Cover with 3 layers of cheesecloth or a lid with valve. Some simply poke holes into a standard lid.
Leave on counter out of direct sunlight for a period of 1-3 days. This will allow the fermentation process to begin. The jar then goes into the fridge which will slow but not stop the fermentation process.
- The timelines seem to be personal preference, how long you wish to wait, and how long you want them to keep. More upfront fermentation will result in less wait time but less keep time before they go mushy.
- Upfront countertop fermentation appears to create half-sours after 3 days.
- 1 day of fermentation will create “new pickles”. An additional 7-10 days in the fridge seem to be required for half sour.
- My own personal testing has led me to prefer 1 day on the counter then put into the fridge, and eat after 7-10 days. The pickles seem to get a more uniform flavor that way.
As fermentation continues make sure to remove any scum that may develop on the surface of the water. Additionally, if the brine turns cloudy this can indicate contamination. You should replace with fresh brine or discard that batch if this happens.
These pickles are full of flavor and crunch! They are the perfect addition to any sandwich or meal!