Matter that exists on a scale too small for us to visually experience has always intrigued me. Bacteria are one of those things. They’re quite amazing. So, naturally when I learned that they weren’t all evil, microscopic, disease spreading monsters, I was nothing short of awe struck.
Funny enough, the first time I had ever heard of a beneficial bacteria was from my dad. He’s not really the type to be passionate about tiny organisms or their effect on us humans, but I remember him telling me how his doctor told him to get Lactobacillus acidophilus supplements for some GI woes he was experiencing years ago. Personally, I’ve struggled with unpleasant digestive symptoms since I can remember, so his mention of this “good-for-you” bacteria enticed me back then.
Long story short, I chose to study nutrition and ended up getting accepted into Cal Poly. While I was there completing my undergrad, I developed a deeper love and appreciation for microorganisms during a microbiology course. Single-celled organisms’ ability to influence human health (for better and for worse) is something we can gain invaluable knowledge from through scientific research. Imagine if we could cure common ailments with prescriptions for specific bacterial strains! How incredible that would be.
Now for the part you’re probably anxious for — how to turn small cucumbers into yummy, sour pickles via anaerobic, lactobacilli fermentation.
Fermented Dill Pickles
Yields: 1 quart Mason jar of pickles + extra pickling spices
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes + 3 to 6 weeks
- 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp pure salt (pickling salt works best, I used Pink Himalayan salt)
- ~7 pickling cucumbers (I used Persian cucumbers)
- 3 Tbsp whole mustard seeds
- 1 Tbsp ground allspice
- 1 Tbsp whole juniper berries
- 2 tsp coriander seeds
- 5 whole cloves
- 2 bay leaves, crushed
- 4-6 pieces fresh turmeric, thinly sliced
- 3-4 pieces fresh ginger, thinly sliced (I put a little extra — I love ginger!)
- 1 small cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
- 1 whole star anise, broken into pieces
- 1/4 small white onion, thinly sliced
- 1/4 small red bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and slightly smashed
- 1 medium tuft fresh dill (use your own judgement here — I love herbs so I used a fair amount)
- 2 quarts distilled water
- 1-2 wide mouth quart sized Mason jars
- 1 wide mouth Pickle Pipe
- 1 glass weight (optional)
1. In a large Mason jar, combine 1 quart distilled water and 1/4 cup salt. Shake until well dissolved. Pour mixture (brine) in a large bowl. Wash the cucumbers very well and place them in the brine and place the bowl in the fridge. If you don’t have space in there, make sure to use cold distilled water.
2. Next, prepare the spices! In a small bowl, combine 2 Tbsp whole mustard seed with all dried spices including allspice, juniper berries, coriander seeds, cloves, crushed bay leaves, cinnamon stick and star anise. Mix well. Set aside 1 Tbsp of this mixture for use now, save what remains for a future batch (you will need to add fresh ingredients like turmeric, ginger, garlic and dill to the future batch)!
3. Carefully wash a 1 quart Mason jar (you may use the one you mixed up the brine in, just wash well) with warm soapy water. Do not dry with a kitchen towel, just shake most of the water out. Pack the onion, red bell pepper, garlic, dill, 1 Tbsp spice mix and the remaining 1 Tbsp of mustard seed into the jar. Make sure it’s tight down there!
4. In a medium bowl (or separate Mason jar), combine 1 quart distilled water with 2 Tbsp salt. Shake or stir to dissolve. Drain the saltwater soaking cucumbers and place them into your pickle-ready Mason jar. Pour the freshly made brine over the cucumbers until well covered. I recommend using weights to make sure your product stays submerged. This helps ensure lactic acid fermentation takes place and mold and yeast growth does not. I also suggest investing in some wide mouth Pickle Pipes to allow for CO2 release with out letting O2 in.
5. Lastly, place the prepared, properly weighted and lidded jar in a cool dark place. Ideal temperatures are between 60 and 70 degrees F. A closet can serve just fine, or a basement if you have one and don’t live somewhere too cold. Check on your creation every few days. Make sure there’s no signs of molding (discolored cucumbers) or yeast (white filmy layer on top). If you notice this, unfortunately you’ll need to toss it and try again.
Note(s): First off, if you have quart sized Mason jars with regular (non-wide) mouths, please purchase appropriate weights and Pickle Pipes! The mouth size is important to acknowledge. Secondly, if your batch develops yeast on top, you can technically scrape it off and still consume your pickles. However, the taste may be altered due to the presence of the yeast. Lastly, fermentation time is variable and depends on your personal preference for sourness. Typically the process takes 3-6 weeks, with ending earlier resulting in mild sourness and ending later resulting in fully developed sour flavor.
Recipe adapted from Serious Eats.
This is the first food I have fermented and I am so giddy! I love this stuff. I love the sour, active, tangy, can’t-get-enough foods. Sourdough. Sauerkraut. Kiefer. Yogurt. It’s all amazing to experience on the taste buds and wonderful for the health of our gastrointestinal tracts and beyond.
If you try out this recipe, please leave a comment and let me know how it went! I’d love to hear about your personal lactic acid dill pickle fermentation trials. I hope you enjoy.