Dill pickles are what many of use will know of as gherkins, those crunchy sliced rounds so good in sandwiches..! Unlike those you can buy in shops, which are preserved in super astringent vinegar (and often much sugar), these have a naturally complex tang. This intriguing and palatable tang is the lactic acid bacteria that builds up during the process of fermentation. They’re a great example of the brine method of fermentation and a brilliant place to start if you’re new to it all.
These little guys are my latest obsession! I first made them for a recent supper-club collaboration with my friend Alissa Timoshkina (@borsch_and_no_tears). We hosted a two night pop-up at Our/London distillery in Hackney and celebrated cultured foods throughout our 5-course vegcentric menu. Our main course was a charred carrot dish which included kefir labneh, fermented lemon, toasted kasha, and a preserved wild garlic and carrot top green sauce… we had great fun developing it and I’m pleased to say that the guests had great fun devouring it! On the tables we served two accompanying salads, a kraut slaw, and a buckwheat & salted cucumber tabouleh… and here’s where this recipe comes in!
These dill pickles, or salted cucumbers, were the first recipe I made with my new Kilner Fermentation Set and it was a triumph. The kit is so easy to use, and the croc weights in particular are ingenious! I highly recommend starting with such a kit if you are new to fermenting, and you can check them out here.
1 Kilner Fermentation Set
set of digital scales
12 baby cucumbers
1.5 litres water
60g flaky sea salt
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon pink peppercorns
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
large bunch dill
First and foremost it’s importantly to work cleanly! Disinfect your Kilner jar, and wash your chopping board, knife and hands well.
Dill pickles are a fantastic example of the brine method of fermentation. For the brine method we use a salt solution of 4% - so for 1.5 litres of water here, that’s 60g of sea salt. (Note that different salts vary hugely in terms of ‘saltiness’ - I find pink Himalayan salt too salty, and prefer a flaky sea salt such as Maldon.)
First, prepare the brine. Tip the salt into a small saucepan along with a cup of the water. Add the fennel seeds, pink peppercorns and sliced garlic. Warm this on a medium heat, stirring often, until the salt has fully dissolved, and then mix this back into the remaining water. (The advantage of dissolving the salt in only a cup of the water, as opposed to the full quantity, is that it cools down very quickly; the advantage of adding the aromatics whilst the water warms is that the flavours infuse a little more.)
Rinse the cucumbers well, and slice into 2mm thick rounds. Pack these into the Kilner Fermentation Jar, adding whole strands of dill as you go.
Once the brine is cool (at least to room temperature) pour this into the jar, just until it covers the cucumbers.
Insert the croc weights so they neatly cover the top of the cucumbers and keep everything submerged below the water line. This is important as below the water line the right environment for lactic acid bacteria to develop; above the water line it’s possible that moulds can grow too, which will compromise the pickles.
Pop on the lid and leave the jar somewhere peaceful, out of direct sunlight. But for how long..?! This is the trickiest question to answer in the world of fermenting…
Exactly how long to leave your pickles fermenting depends on the temperature of your kitchen (or whether it’s summer/winter), and your personal preference. The longer vegetables are left to ferment at room temperature the stronger and more acidic they will taste, and the softer their texture will become. I recommend tasting the pickles each day and observing the changes – it’s a fascinating process! You’ll soon identify how you like your ferments to taste, and how to control this result each time. I made these dill pickles in July, and 5 days at room temperature was perfect.
Once you’re happy with the level of ‘fermented-ness’ (!) of your pickles, transfer them into a suitable jar for the fridge where they can then be held indefinitely. The bacteria will remain ‘live’ and they will continue to ferment, but imperceptibly. Once in the fridge the texture and flavour is more-or-less fixed.
I should say, if you are using a Kilner Jar, rather than a fermentation set with an air lock, it’s important to ‘burp’ the jar each day. This prevents too much pressure building up within the jar as carbon dioxide is given off during the fermentation process.
Please get in touch if you have any questions!