Mastery of Dill Pickle Varieties
Mastery of Dill Pickle Varieties
Recipe Multiplicity: From a single master recipe you will learn to make Half Sours, Full Sours, Bread & Butters, and Relish!
Pillars of Brine Pickling • Better Dill Pickles • Searching for Mr. Good Cuke • Seasonal Cuke Search • Un-Cucumber Dill Pickles • Towards A Kinder, Gentler Pickler • Persian Sour Pickle Recipe of the Month
"D-I-L-L P-I-C-K-L-E-S" — these two words don’t even need to reveal the vegetable and POOF! a pop-up image of cucumbers appear. Our mouths begin to water. Does Pavlov ring a bell?
Like a baby doctor I have assisted legions of first-time pickle makers in delivering their first batch of dill pickles. After umpteen deliveries I began to connect the dots with similarly channeled questions: most people have their own specific imprint on what a dill pickle should taste like. It's a regional, clannish thing. Even though we rarely know what’s in them, we ADAMANTLY know how they should taste... until we bite into our first homemade dill pickle.
In fact, this iconic food—which is the topic of our newsletter—has rarely been tasted in its pure essence by pickle eaters anywhere. Most of the dill pickles in the marketplace are actually hot, vinegar-brined cucumbers, also known as “full sours.” These are pasteurized, “put-up” pickles, jarred and preserved and stored in the pantry or store aisles.
Sightings of Half Sours are Rare
Fresh brine, dill pickles, also known as “half sours,” because the pickling brine uses salt without boiling vinegar, are also known as “kosher dills.” They are uncooked, and preserved by refrigeration. Rarely is there a source to buy these Old World masters.
"Pickle" comes from the Dutch "pekel," meaning to brine. Brine means a solution of water and salt.
Reader, if you continue you will not only taste them, you will make them. The added bonus: these gentle giants are teeming with probiotic bacteria and all things good for you. And those cukes are climbing out of the patch, so let’s get started.
I was weaned off full sours when I discovered a pickling itch and it was scratched by Ronnies Restaurant, a venerable Jewish deli, now closed, where people came for decades for a meal of classic deli fare along with a bowl of their famous garlicky dills. I found their recipe and have featured variations of these half sours ever since. The recipe, like all half-sours, is simple, but having fielded so many questions and feedback over the years about how it’s suppose to taste, I realize there is some artisanship to work out the recipe. Let’s go to half sour pickling school....
The Pillars of Brine Pickling
One thing about the art of the dill—the results are mostly in our favor—but there is no surety in the final flavor profile. Like other artisanal fermented foods, I'm sure beer recipes have been ditched, and cheese that wanted to be camembert turned up limburger. But, you know, it is only food and you get to create on another day! If you are wanting the out-of-the-jar taste of childhood, you will need to work a little at it. But then again, that’s the artisan touches you are accumulating, dear pickler.
Pillars of Brine Pickling
Clean Fermentor + Fresh Food + Moderate Temperature1 + Enough Good Salt
Once these are established, please get out of the way....
1Modest temperature means around 70 degrees. Ferment for a minimum of four days. If cooler, ferment about an extra day for every degree under 70. Taste and determine if sour enough, add another day or so until it tastes sour to your liking.
- (Alternate finishing method—Use a pH test to determine the pH is below 4.7.)
- Don’t pickle above 74 degrees; yeast and molds are waiting at your fermentor’s door.
Half sour pickles are always in a state of fermentation, although much slower under refrigeration. So flavors will change over time. If the recipe becomes too sour for your taste, introduce a little sweetener—agave nectar, or honey, or good sugar—and introduce a sweet-sour dimension. Make lemonade out of lemons, kind of....
Searching for Mr. Good Cuke
We want small pickling varieties, about the size of your thumb: Kirby, Gherkin, Mini-English (a new hydroponic variety found year round in larger supermarkets and big-box clubs).
Skip the big, fat common varieties used for salads.
Fresh is most important for half sours—and it is hard to tell a three-day-old cucumber from a 13-day one. And it matters! One rotten cucumber can spoil... But there are ways to know. Cucumbers should have:
- Dry skin with some goose bumps. (Exception: Mini-English have no goose bumps and are slightly shiny.)
- Either stem or flower end still attached: the stem still has some green to be seen
- No yellowing
- No inward puckering or sink holes
- No sweatiness or shine
- Feel firm and have heft for their size
- Never assume a package or bunch of cucumbers are all from the same field and time. There is an old craft in vegetable vending: average out your unsold stock with your new stock. This might work in making salads, but not in making dill pickles
Best Seasonal Sources
- Summer-Late Summer: your garden, farmers market, local growers, U-Picks
- Any other time of year: mini-English (hydroponic), or unwaxed, small imported cukes. For those of you who live near a Publix supermarket, they have packages labeled “salad cucumbers” that are unwaxed and are oversized Kirby’s from Mexico. They work well, but you need to look carefully through the packages and eliminate any oldies. Open just enough packages (they allow you) to gather one pound fresh cukes per quart if using a canning jar fermentor. For crock fermentors, follow their directions.
Un-Cucumber Dill Pickles
If you can’t find fresh cukes, please don’t make dill pickled cucumbers (see pillars of brine pickling, above). Instead, make Dill Pickled:
Vidalia Onion, or
Giardinieri (mixed vegetables.)
These veggies produce the same great mouthfeel of dill, garlic, and salt. (Is Pavlov ringing your bell again?)
Towards a Kinder, Gentler Pickler
Becoming a newly purposed cook and pickler, please go to market and find the freshest ingredients and then return home to plan the meal or the pickle recipe. With canning jar fermentors, such as the Perfect Pickler, you can now make small to medium size batches, using fresh vegetables any time of year. But it does not play well if you use old vegetables anytime of year. Fresh is as fresh does!
Keeping Cucumbers Crisp
It goes with the supermarket territory that you are going to mostly be exposed to crisp, store-bought, unrefrigerated, full sour pickles. This might be more than you bargain for, as the chemicals used to make them crisp are also found in chemistry labs. Yet, with half sour, brine pickles crispness can be enhanced, but not maintained for the life of the pickle. Here’s how:
- Fresher cukes will make crisper pickles
- Don’t slice the cucumbers before pickling them (there are exceptions to this; email me)
- Make a strong, temporary brine and soak the untrimmed cukes
Use 1/3 cup inexpensive sea salt dissolved in 1 quart of water
Soak the untrimmed cucumbers for 30 minutes then discard the brine
Rinse them and trim just the very tips on both ends (a mold spore hideout)
Pack them into the fermentor, unsliced
- Ferment for four or more days, then refrigerate
- Eat them young and often
Half Sours into Full Sours into Bread & Butters into Relish
What’s great about being a home pickler, much like a bus driver, is you get to choose where you are taking everyone on the trip. Take suggestions, but you’ve got hold of the wheel. When you make a full batch of half sour pickles, you can also take little trips to please your crowd. Divide up the finished recipe into jars and proceed with any number of flavor excursions:
Master Dill Pickle Recipe
Making dill pickles is also much like house painting: ninety-percent of the job is in the prepping. The painting is the easiest part. There are just a few ingredients in true dill pickles. But, again, the ingredients matter. Don't use dried dill weed in this recipe (it's like putting a million pin feathers onto your batch). You need fresh dill—find at supermarkets. You can add dill seed as part of some pickling spices, but it will not suffice for the dill taste alone. Bruise your fresh dill stems lightly, it boosts flavor.
I suggest starting simple and building your own artisanal flavors once you have the basics down. It's important to have success as a tenderfoot pickler. The baby doctor in me wants you to have a healthy, happy first batch, and sometimes that means not starting with cucumbers; only because if they are not really fresh, the results will not be like that stored up taste memory you have.
Half Sour Dill Pickles - Makes 2 Qts.
(For more info, review the Perfect Pickler Instruction-Recipe Booklet)
fresh pickling cukes, 2 LBS.
fresh garlic, 8 cloves, sliced
fresh dill, 2 cups, packed, stems lightly pounded
pickling spices^ (opt.), 2 TBS. (Find in grocery stores )
^ Here is just one blend you can make ahead: 1 tsp. each: mustard seed, celery seed, dill seed (not dill weed), coriander seed, and cracked peppercorns, crushed bay leaves
brine solution, 2 TBS. coarse, unrefined sea salt dissolved into 4 cups filtered water
Follow Perfect Pickler® directions to load and activate
Full Sours - After fermenting the half sour recipe, add enough raw apple cider vinegar (another live fermented food) to taste. Start with 2-3 TBS. per quart. Wait a day and taste.
- For color, add a 1/4 tsp. turmeric per quart for any of these varieties
Bread & Butters - Use the same method above, but add equal amounts, 2-3 TBS., of sweetener and vinegar (agave nectar, honey, or quality sugar). Taste and adjust after a day.
(Take notes so you can repeat and nail down your own bragging rights.)
When the dill pickles get too mushy (they will, and you didn’t eat them fast enough), then chop them into relish. The relish can be half sour, bread and butter, or you can even add a flourish with hot chile peppers, and maybe some chopped capers to gild the lily.
Let’s leave the schooling right here. There is always more to learn as an artisan. What I hope I was able to undo and rearrange is your idea of what a dill pickle should taste like. And you need to create some half sours so you know what I’m talking about. In the Perfect Pickler instruction booklet we have our standard Garlicky Dill Pickles adapted from Ronnies Restaurant. Or you can use our asparagus recipe on our website and substitute cukes for the asparagus.
You will feel good about taking the driver’s seat and heading down this wonderful world of brine pickling. Here’s another side trip you can head out on:
Recipe of the Month:
Let’s leave Central and Eastern Europe—birthplace of the half sour, dill pickle—and travel to the Middle East via Seattle to meet a pickle meister. Let’s get this bus in drive!
Persian Sour Cucumbers
Torshi-ye Khiar Shor
Makes 2 Quarts
While traveling in Seattle, I had lunch in a soup-and-sandwich shop owned by a Persian who, much to my dismay, advertised but did not serve soup. He said it was too expensive to take the “soup” off his storefront sign. But I noticed he displayed jars of “torshi” or Persian pickles, which went well with the delicious handmade calzone he served us. Yes, culture travels in wide circles. - Recipe adapted by B. Hettig
pickling cucumbers, 2 LBS., soaked in heavy brine, ends trimmed
brine solution, 2 TBS. sea salt dissolved in 4 cups filtered water
garlic cloves, 8 (2-3 TBS.), sliced
tarragon, 2 sprigs, fresh or 2 tsp. dried
parsley, fresh 1/4 cup stemmed, packed
coriander seed, 1 tsp. cracked
anise seed, 1 tsp.
peppercorns, 1 tsp., cracked or coarsely ground
bay leaves 2, crushed
After Fermentation: Before putting in the fridge
vinegar, up to a 1/2 cup or to taste, raw is best
1 Prep cucumbers by soaking in a temporary brine using a quart of water and a 1/3 cup of table salt. Soak for 30 minutes, then rinse well and discard brine. Lightly scrub the cukes with a soft brush and trim off both ends and give a final rinse. Don’t slice the cucumbers. Slice them when prepping to serve.
2 Crush the bay leaves and add to a clean pickling vessel. Add the spices and dried herbs to the bottom along with a sprig of tarragon (if using) and some parsley leaves.
3 Lay the pickling vessel on its side and lay in the cukes, packing as tight as you can without crushing them.
4 Add the remaining parsley.