safe kosher-style dill pickles: fermented and non-fermented

This post contains two recipes: (1) a tested recipe for vinegar pickles, which are canned immediately and therefore called “Quick Kosher Dills;” and (2) a tested recipe that takes more time for fermented full-sour dills that you can either store in a cool place in a crock or can.

See my fermented half-sour dill pickle notes if you’d like to develop your own recipe for that kind of pickle.

There is a certain art in making fermented dill pickles, since the environmental conditions matter so much.  We don’t have central air conditioning, so my house is subject to the vagaries of time and place.  But it’s pickle time, and the pickle eating masses demand a good recipe!  Most people aren’t as grumpy as I am about too-vinegary pickles, and the MFP in me feels slightly obligated to distribute a plain pickle recipe that people can use, especially after my own mom had to rely on an old recipe with no directions.

So please find herewith two reliable, safe recipes from the Pacific Northwest Extension brochure called “Pickling Vegetables,” annotated and modified with my notes in green.

If you’re interested in long-term storage, please follow these instructions carefully, as cucumber pickles are large enough to cause problems with the brine not penetrating and creating a haven for microorganisms.  You will soon see why people don’t post these recipes — what a fussy pain!  :)  But I think we need an annotated, vetted pickle recipe on the interwebs, since there really doesn’t seem to be one.  I don’t want to be the pickle nazi — we all have the responsibility to take our own risks with food and other activities, but part of that choice is to know what has been tested and recommended by food science folks.

The first recipe allows you to put up dill pickles in pint or quart jars instead of a crock.  You won’t have to refrigerate these if you process or low-temperature pasteurize them.  What I like about this recipe is that it doesn’t use pickling lime or any hard-to-find spices, like mace.

The second recipe is a more standard old-fashioned fermented pickle recipe.  It is more fussy but will make better pickles, in my opinion.  You have the option of either storing them in the refrigerator or boiling the brine and processing them for longer storage.

When selecting cucumbers for pickling, don’t use the waxy supermarket variety, of course, and select the freshest, firmest, youngest, smallest cucumbers you can.  Scrub with a very soft brush, since dirt tends to cling to them, especially in the crevices, and trim off any blemishes.  If you can, pick them in the morning and put them up the same day.  Try to have them all the same size, so they process evenly.

Also of crucial importance is the length of the cucumbers.  If you use pint jars, they will barely fit, and you’ll have to slice more off the end.  You want the cucumbers to be no longer than one inch from the top of the pint jar (just under the lowest ring stamped in the jar), since you will fill it with brine to one-half inch from the top of the pint jar.  You’ll be able to fit in 5-6 cucumbers per pint jar.  For quart jars, you will have more leeway, but make sure the pickles don’t float to the top.

Quick Kosher Dills

  • 4 lb. pickling cucumbers (4-inch)
  • 14 garlic cloves, split
  • 1/4 cup pickling salt [note: regular salt has a non-caking additive that will cloud the brine; sea salt has impurities.  You can buy canning/pickling salt at most grocery stores in season.]
  • 2 3/4 cups vinegar (5%) [note: European vinegars have more acidity, so they’re ok to use, but don’t use 4% vinegars, which are also on the market.  Standard white vinegar is usually 5%]
  • 3 cups water [note: if you have hard water, use bottled water.  Soft water is ok.]
  • 14 heads fresh dill [note: frozen heads of fresh dill taste better than fresh, since the cell walls are broken down by freezing.  Stick your dill in the freezer after buying it at the market and harvesting the heads]
  • 28 peppercorns
  • 2 tsp hot red pepper flakes (optional)
  • [note:  I also add a teaspoon of Penzeys pickling spice and a half-teaspoon of brown mustard seed per pint jar]
  • [note:  6-8 fresh, washed grape leaves can be added to the jars if you have them, to retard softening.  Concord are best.]

Yield: 6 to 7 pints or 3 to 4 quarts

Procedure: Wash cucumbers.  Cut a 1/16-inch slice off blossom end [note: i.e., not the stem end.  It’s usually the smaller, lighter-color end of the cucumber], but leave 1/4 inch of stem on the other end.  Cut in half lengthwise [note: this isn’t necessary and they’re prettier if whole].  Heat salt, vinegar and water to boiling.  [Wash and heat jars — I usually run the dishwasher immediately before canning, and leave the jars in the heated dishwasher.  If you are particularly careful, you can boil the jars for 5 minutes before using.  The lids and rings shouldn’t be boiled, but should be washed and brought up to 180 degrees in simmering water, then allowed to sit for 5 minutes before use.  Use only new lids to ensure a good seal.] Pack cucumbers [as tightly as possible] into pint or quart jars, adding [one grape leaf per jar at bottom of jar,] 4 garlic halves, 2 heads dill [note: if large heads, use only one], and 4 peppercorns.  Add 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes per pint, if desired.

Pour hot vinegar solution over cucumbers to within 1/2 inch of top.  [Gently tap or roll jar on counter to release air bubbles inside brine.] Adjust lids and use conventional boiling-water canner processing [note: this might soften pickles, but you can boil for 10 minutes for pints, 15 for quarts, following standard waterbath canning procedures] or [what I recommend] lower temperature pasteurization.

[For lower temperature pasteurization, you use your waterbath canner (or a large stockpot that can cover the jars with at least an inch of water).  You’ll need a candy thermometer to check the temperature.  Heat the water to 120 to 140 degrees, then add jars and more hot water to cover, if necessary.  Heat water to 180 degrees, then start a timer, processing the jars for 30 minutes.  Be sure the temperature stays between 180-185 the entire time.  Remove the jars after processing and let cool on a rack or towel with air circulating between the jars.]

Dill Pickles

[This is a recipe for fermented kosher-style dills.  It only uses a little bit of vinegar to inhibit microorganisms.  I recommend buying a Gärtopf crock if you like to make pickles and sauerkraut regularly.]

Use the following quantities for each gallon of your container’s capacity.

  • 4 lb. pickling cucumbers (4-inch)
  • 2 Tbsp dill seed or 4 to 5 heads fresh or dry dill weed [note: dill heads are superior to seed.  Frozen heads of fresh dill taste better than fresh, since the cell walls are broken down by freezing.  Stick your dill in the freezer after buying it at the market and harvesting the heads]
  • 2 cloves garlic (optional) [note:  NOT optional :)]
  • 2 dried red peppers (optional)
  • 2 tsp whle mixed pickling spices (optional)
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1/4 cup vinegar (5%) [note: European vinegars have more acidity, so they’re ok to use, but don’t use 4% vinegars, which are also on the market.  Standard white vinegar is usually 5%]
  • 8 cups water [note: if you have hard water, use bottled water.  Soft water is ok.]
  • [note:  a few fresh, washed grape leaves can be added to the container if you have them, to retard softening.  Concord are best.]

Procedure:  Wash cucumbers.  Cut a 1/16-inch slice off blossom end [note: i.e., not the stem end.  It’s usually the smaller, lighter-color end of the cucumber], but leave 1/4 inch of stem on the other end. [Poke cucumbers with a knitting needle or thin chopstick to aid pickling.] Place half of dill and half of other flavorings on bottom of a clean, suitable container [i.e. a crock or food grade plastic or glass containers, preferably 3 quarts or larger.  DON’T use small jars for this recipe, as they won’t allow proper fermentation].  Add [grape leaves,] cucumbers, remaining dill, and flavorings.  Dissolve salt in vinegar and water and pour over cucumbers.  Add suitable weight [if you don’t have a crock with a weight in it, I recommend a gallon-sized Ziploc bag filled with brine (1 1/2 tablespoons of salt per 1 quart water) that you close up and place snugly in the container after filling it.  Double-bag for security, but if it leaks, the brine is the same concentration as the brine in the container.] and cover [with a clean towel.  Do not seal the container or the fermenting may make the lid blow off.  If you are using a crock, follow the manufacturer’s instructions about the lid].

Store where temperature is 70 to 75 degrees F for about 3 to 4 weeks.  Temperatures of 55 to 65 are acceptable [and in my opinion, make much better pickles], but the fermentation will take 5 to 6 weeks.  Pickles will become too soft if temperatures are above 80 degrees during fermentation.

Check the container several times a week and promptly remove surface scum or mold. [I find that with a Gartopf crock, I don’t get mold, since the seal is air-tight, so I don’t check it that often.]

Caution:  if the pickles become soft or slimy, or if they develop a disagreeable odor, discard them.  [Without tasting them!!!]

Fully fermented pickles may be stored in the original container for 4 to 6 months, provided you refrigerate them and remove surface scum and molds regularly.

Canning is a better way to store fully fermented pickles.  To can them, pour the brine into a pan, heat slowly to a boil, and simmer 5 minutes.  Filter brine through paper coffee filters to reduce cloudiness, if desired.  Fill pint or quart jars with pickles and hot brine, leaving 1/2-inch headspace.

[Gently tap or roll jar on counter to release air bubbles inside brine.] Adjust lids and use conventional boiling-water canner processing [note: this might soften pickles, but you can boil for 10 minutes for pints, 15 for quarts, following standard waterbath canning procedures] or [what I recommend] lower temperature pasteurization.

[For lower temperature pasteurization, you use your waterbath canner (or a large stockpot that can cover the jars with at least an inch of water).  You’ll need a candy thermometer to check the temperature.  Heat the water to 120 to 140 degrees, then add jars and more hot water to cover, if necessary.  Heat water to 180 degrees, then start a timer, processing the jars for 30 minutes.  Be sure the temperature stays between 180-185 the entire time.  Remove the jars after processing and let cool on a rack or towel with air circulating between the jars.]

23 thoughts on “safe kosher-style dill pickles: fermented and non-fermented

  1. 79sparrows 27 August 2008 / 8:33 pm

    This is awesome! My friend’s gonna love this, her dad competes in the pickle contest, won 2nd place this year.

    thanks

    Like

  2. Alan 28 August 2008 / 1:13 pm

    I have a “red-wing” crock (no lid), and I can make good pickles in it, but I get a lot of surface scum and yeast which I must remove daily. Do you think I could make it work more like a Gärtopf crock if I placed the crock in a tray of water and inverted a bucket or something over the whole crock?

    Like

  3. Eugenia 28 August 2008 / 2:59 pm

    79sparrows, thanks!

    Alan, I don’t know — you could certainly try it out. Sounds like more hassle than it’s worth to me, though. I don’t think you’re going to get the same kind of protection. You should be sure to use a food-grade bucket.

    Like

  4. Susi Anna 18 June 2009 / 3:44 am

    Thank you for the detailed directions. This is the first year I’ve grown a garden and I have tons of cucumbers. I never knew I would be making pickles and I appreciate all the help I can get!

    Like

  5. Georgia 8 July 2009 / 12:41 pm

    Hi,
    Thanks for the recipe. Do you know if the cucumbers will still pickle if I don’t poke them? Also have you ever tried them without vinegar? Is that a bad idea?
    Thanks

    Like

  6. Eugenia 9 July 2009 / 7:14 am

    Georgia: Take a look at the link above for fermented pickles. It talks about not using vinegar. There are some risks involved. Poking the pickles allows brine to reach the inside of the cucumbers faster — it’s another technique for discouraging bacteria growth. Good luck!

    Like

  7. Lynne 16 August 2009 / 7:20 pm

    HI, where can I buy fresh dill weed in Eugene? Need is ASAP. Thanks,
    Lynne

    Like

  8. JNKCMD 20 July 2010 / 2:16 pm

    I am a newbie to canning anything that isn’t jam but we are growing cucumbers this year and I desperately want to pickle. Can a pickling veteran tell me how many cucumbers (of the roughly 4 inch variety called for) make up 4 lb of cucumbers?

    Like

  9. Eugenia 20 July 2010 / 2:25 pm

    JNKCMD: If you’re a newbie, I’d recommend buying pickling cucumbers, honestly. They’re so much more uniform and picked at just the right time. Pickling cucumbers is much harder and error-prone than pickling beans or asparagus, so you might want to do your very first canning with one of those vegetables.

    Cucumbers vary so much in water content and thickness, it would be inadvisable to estimate weight for pickling. My advice about the weight is to (1) buy a cheap scale, or (2) use canned food (which has the weight printed on it) to estimate an equivalent amount of cucumbers.

    Good luck!

    Like

  10. Casey 3 August 2010 / 9:55 pm

    Hi, we followed the above and everything worked great. Except, we have some what looks like drainage as they cooled that ran down the sides. The jars are sealed and seem fine, but we were worried about the drainage…is it okay? We did about 10 jars.

    Like

  11. Eugenia 5 August 2010 / 1:21 pm

    Excellent, I’m so glad to hear things went well! It looks like you experienced some siphoning. How much liquid was displaced in the pickle jar? If it’s a little, I’d worry less than if it were a lot. It’s very hard to tell without looking at it, but if the seal held and it was a little (say, 1/4 or 1/2 inch) then you should be ok. Important, though: carefully wipe down the jar lid and jar, as the salt from the siphoning brine may corrode the outside of the lid otherwise. And never store your pickles with the rings on them because they will rust. Good luck!

    Like

  12. cdsinclair 16 August 2011 / 9:08 am

    Dear Eugenia:

    I just canned some of your quick kosher dills. after processing, the liquid level went down from 1/4″ to maybe an inch. Am I going to die of botulism?

    Also, I had to process them on their sides since I didn’t have a tall enough pot for my quart jars. Am I going to die of botulism?

    Thanks!

    Like

  13. Eugenia 17 August 2011 / 7:33 am

    Dear Chris,

    #2 has a causal relationship to #1. Processing quarts on their sides?! Go get yourself a tall stockpot at Goodwill, man, for Chrissakes. You’re making at least minimum wage as a UO professor. What happened was the liquid siphoned off because the jars didn’t have a seal when you put them in the pot on their sides. I’d say refrigerate these to be absolutely safe, but wouldn’t worry too much if there’s a seal and you really did use my recipe so the vinegar is at a significant level — how many did you make?

    cheers,
    Eugenia

    Like

  14. Eugenia 17 August 2011 / 7:33 am

    P.S. You’re lucky the jars didn’t break on their sides. Then you would have been in a pickle, indeed.

    Like

  15. cdsinclair 17 August 2011 / 3:37 pm

    Yes ma’am. I’ll go get a big stock pot. I did buy a bigger one before processing, but it still wasn’t tall enough to cover the lids sufficiently (what with the bubbling and splashing of the boiling water).

    I made 5 quarts. And I may have messed with the spices a bit, but I definitely used your ratio of vinegar/water/salt. They all formed a good seal.

    I have another batch of cucumbers coming up in a few days. Who knew two vines would sock me in with this many cucumbers.

    Like

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