Brining Kosher Dills

All of the sudden, we have cucumbers. And not just one or two. Today I picked 5 1/2 pounds of the most perfect pickling cukes we've ever managed to grow. 

And it just so happens that five pounds is the perfect amount for our gallon crock. Time to brine some pickles!

Brined pickles are fermented, and we made our first batch last summer. Up until then we had always done a fresh pack with vinegar and canned them. Those are good, too — I do love vinegar! — but the flavors of a fermented pickle are much more complex. Fermented foods are also good for you, which make our pickle and sauerkraut crocks suddenly more trendy than Dutchy

We liked last summer's brined batch well enough, but the seasoning wasn't our favorite. The recipe we used called for pickling spice, and the generic one we found was pretty heavy on the cinnamon. So this year I am determined to get the best spicy, kosher flavor with our brined pickles. I'm hoping for a classic here.

Although we are a good month away from a taste test of this recipe, here are the steps I followed:

1. Clean out a gallon crock, which will hold about five pounds of cucumbers. (You can skip the part where you break the handle of the basket and drop them on the floor.)

2. Gather the seasoning. I have 2 giant fistfuls of dill (stem, flower, and all), 8 grape leaves (to keep the pickles crisp), 5 small heads of garlic (this is a great use of ones that are too small to bother storing — the ones here are newly-harvested Spanish Rosa, and each one is like a very large, single clove), 6 dried cayenne peppers (from last year), and pickling spice. 

I made my own pickling spice, and it's about 3 tablespoons of black peppercorns, 1 tablespoon of coriander, and 1 tablespoon of dill seed. By the way, the only thing in these pickles not grown here is the black pepper. I could have added other things, but I decided to stick with our own terroir by using our own ingredients.

3. Line the bottom of the crock with half of the grape leaves, followed by a half of the dill, and then half of the garlic, cayenne, and pickling spice:

I used kitchen shears to snip the dried peppers into small bits (using seeds and all — I like them spicy!). Small cloves of garlic went into the crock intact, but larger ones I slice in half or maybe thirds.

4. Layer in the cucumbers:

I think we should pause here and admire them — so uniform! So beautifully formed!

5. Pour in the brine. This is made according to the brining directions in the Ball Blue Book. It's very easy: just 1 gallon of water, 1 cup of white vinegar, and 3/4 cup kosher salt. Stir until dissolved and pour into the crock. 

6. Layer in the second half of the ingredients, in the reverse order of the way you did it to start: spices, garlic, peppers, dill, and grape leaves:

7. Things will be floating now, so you need to weigh it down — the cucumbers must stay submerged in the brine. I use a salad plate weighed down with a brick. I wrapped the brick in foil just to keep things clean:

Sorry for the terrible photo of that last bit. Kirk carried the crock down to the basement before I could snap the last picture. It's been very hot here, and 80-90 degrees in the afternoon is too hot for this project to go well — fermentation will be slower at cooler temperatures, so we're keeping this in the basement for now. 

The only trick will be to remember to check on them, so I put a daily reminder in my phone (the not very Amish part of this enterprise — thanks, Siri). Every day we need to take a peel under the towel to see that the fermentation is going (should be bubbly) and to skim off any scum that may form on top of the brine. It's a bacterial process, after all, but you still need to keep it clean so the flavors are good. 

The final step will be to jar them up and give them a taste, but that won't be for about a month or so. I'll have an update on the flavor come August.


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