Pickles are one of the greatest metamorphosis from cucumber to pickle, if you asked me. As a kid, my family would keep at least 3 jars of pickles in the house, so that we would never have a shortage. One jar in the fridge, 2 in the pantry. They are so diverse in their flavors, textures, saltiness, spiciness, sweetness. Pickles are even more fun to experiment with if you decide to take on the pickling of pickles which is what I have learned to love.
I grew up preferring the massively sour pickles. The ones so sour it nearly made you sweat. But as I got older I learned to love and respect the classic dill pickle and even the occasional sweet or bread and butter pickle. As long as they always provided the crunch I craved. Whether it was in a potato salad, relish on a hot dog, side pickle with my sandwiches, or an odd pairing with buttered popcorn I still love to eat at the movie theaters today.
After moving abroad, I struggled to find the perfect pickle, I tried countless pickles and just wasn’t satisfied, either they were too sweet, too sour, too soft or too watery. I began to research and experiment and came up with my favorite pickle. After creating it, I realized how easy it was to make and how cheap it was. As a treat to myself, I would occasionally buy the expensive kosher dill pickles found in the deli that would cost maybe $5.00 per jar. However, this recipe probably costs around $2.00 per jar, if that much, and is just as good if not better!
Picking out the perfect Pickles
The best cucumbers I have found are the smaller ones or dwarf pickles, they tend to be more crunchy and soak up the brine very nicely. With the larger pickles I found they tend to taste more cucumber, if you like that, go for it, but I love the brine flavorings. The cucumbers need to be a dark green color and firm. If there are striations or warts on the pickles, that is fine too, but you want to stay away from the lighter colored cucumber or the yellow colored cucumbers.
Once you get your pickles you want to make sure you clean them properly. Scrub the pickles under warm water and trim off any stems if they are present. Stems on the pickles contains an enzyme that softens the pickles, so its best to remove that.
Keep in mind creating pickles takes a minimum of 3 days! If you are a pickle-maniac, like myself, I would suggest making 2-3 jars initially and replacing each jar as one gets eaten. But initially I started with just one jar when finding out how exactly to make the pickle I liked the most. So the following recipes are for a 1-quart pickle jar serving. I hope I have taken out all the experimentation so that you will fully enjoy the pickles you have produced. As Alton Brown once said, “It’s time, brine, and bacteria make honest to goodness pickles”.
When I make pickles I use my old pickle jars that I had saved over the years. I like the jars because once you pour the hot liquid in and the jars cool it somewhat seals the jars. However, you don’t have to use old pickle jars, you can buy new jars that have a clasp like lid, or a jar with a screw on lid, and I also recently found out that the traditional (oldest) way to make pickles was in a clay crock. If you are using a clay crock, a lid is not necessary. If you double the brine mixture and place it in a ziploc bag, and place the ziploc bag on top of the pickles within the crock– to keep the pickles submerged and also if a leak in the bag were to occur, it would not make the pickles too watery, if the bag were filled with water for instance. I have never used a crock, but bubbles or white scum may appear on the sides of the crock or on the ziploc bag, if you see this that means fermentation is taking place and just remove the scum with a spoon and rinse off the ziploc bag, that is completely fine and normal. Note: I have never seen this when pickling with airtight jars.
Pickling salt vs. Table salt and Filtered water vs. Tap Water
So there always questions that pop up or you wonder if pickling salt is truly necessary. Pickling salt is always the go-to for a few reasons. First, when creating the brine it helps to allow the proper bacteria to culture and ferment, whereas table salt may allow other bacteria to culture allowing the pickles to spoil faster. Secondly, pickling salt can dissolve in cold water, and stays dissolved more consistently. I have used table salt to create pickles before and I did not die, when leaving my pickles out I kept them out for the 3 days, no more, no less. If you are using a larger jar or a large crock, bigger than 1-quart, I would definitely make it a point to use pickling salt only. Tap water tends to have amounts of chlorine within the water, which kills the bacteria needed for fermentation, that is why you need to use a filtered water to create the best pickles.
And now the dill-icious part of the article.. PICKLE RECIPES!
Here are two very popular homemade pickles recipes that you must try:
Kosher Dill Pickle Spears
- 2 cups of distilled water
- 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
- 2 Tbsp pickling salt
- 1 pound of Israel cucumbers or pickling cucumbers
- 2 large heads of dill or 4 Tbsp of dried dill
- 2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
- 1/4 Tbsp of whole pickling spice or 1/4 Tbsp mustard seed
- A pinch of red pepper flakes
- 5 black peppercorns
Cut each cucumber to desired pickle size, I prefer to quarter them into spears because they are easy to pack and work easily as a snack or can further be cut up into a relish or what not. At the bottom of the jar, place 1 head of dill or 2 Tbsp of dried dill and 1 clove of sliced garlic. Pile in cucumbers vertically, this allows for even absorption of the pickles and efficient packing of the jar. Keep in mind, once the hot brine is poured into the jars, the pickles will somewhat shrink, so do not be afraid to pack the jars as tightly as possible. Once the jar is packed, at the top of the jar, place another head of dill or 2 Tbsp of dried dill, the pickling spices, and another clove of garlic, sliced. Bring the water, vinegar, and salt to a boil in a saucepan over medium high heat. Stir the mixture to make sure that the salt is completely dissolved. Once the brine is prepared, pour the hot liquid into the jars. To make sure all the air bubbles are removed slightly spin the jar and fill in more brine if necessary. Close the lids to seal them, or take the excess brine, place it in a ziploc bag and cover the pickles (if using a crock). Place the jars in a cool and dry place for 3 days. On the third day, place the jar in the fridge, and they are ready to eat!
Note: You can modify each jar to your own taste, if you like your pickles more spicy, add a bit more red pepper flakes or pepper to each jar, more dilly, you can add more dill, more sour you can add more vinegar to the mixture and so forth.
Bread and Butter Pickle Slices
- 1/2 cup distilled water
- 1 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
- 1 cup of sugar
- 1 tsp of kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
- 2 pinches of red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 2 pinches of celery seeds
- 1 pound of Israel cucumbers or pickling cucumbers
Slice each cucumber to desired thickness discarding the stems and round parts, I normally like to go for about 1/4-inch slices. Pack the cucumbers in the jar as tightly as they will go, it is easier to line them along the sides of the jar with the widest part against the side of the jar alternating them, like bricks. It can be somewhat tedious and at times frustrating, but it allows the most pickles packed in with less air space. In a saucepan over the medium flame, bring the water, sugar, vinegar, mustard seeds, salt, turmeric, red pepper and celery seeds to a boil. Stir well so that sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat and let the pan simmer for five minutes so that all the flavors integrate well. Take the jar and pour the hot liquid into it and seal it. Let the pickles sit out on the counter for 3 days for fermentation and flavors to develop. Place in the fridge after the 3rd day, and they are ready to eat!