I’ve made a lot of pickles over the past 25 years: garlic dills, sweet pickles, bread and butter pickles, pickled beets, mustard pickles, and even dilly green beans. I’ve made tons of cucumber relish and salsa too, but everything I’ve done in the past has been vinegar based. That’s great if you have a huge garden and want to preserve your veggies for winter storage. However, after working for a Paleo diet expert, I’ve come to the realization that I’m not getting much nutrient value from these types of pickles.
The best way to preserve your veggies and get the most nutrition from them is to ferment them. It’s so simple to do, and fermenting has been around forever. And the best part is when you eat fermented foods, you’re adding good bacteria into your digestive system.
It doesn’t take much for special equipment to ferment your veggies. I already had a ton of canning jars (although other jars will work fine). All I needed to do was purchase some air locks (can find a variety of styles on Amazon), and I was all set.
I wanted to experiment with some cucumbers before gardening season arrived so I could decide 1) if I liked fermented pickles and 2) how much garden to plant. Wal-Mart actually had a small bag of pickling-sized cucumbers, so I snagged those and proceeded to start my experiment.
I had enough cucumbers to do 2 quart jars of fermented pickles. One I decided to do as close to my usual garlic dill pickles as possible, and the other quart jar I experimented with some pickling spice. The recipe that was closest to my usual dill pickles turned out terrific, and my youngest son told me I had to make crocks of them this summer when we’re overloaded with cucumbers. These pickles did not last long. The second jar – not so much a success. It fermented as it was supposed to. I just didn’t like the taste of the pickling spice, so the chickens got a fermented treat.
For my experiment, since it was March and fresh dill just isn’t available in Iowa, I used a combination of both dill seed and dill weed in my quart jar, but come summer, I’ll be using fresh, probably a big head of dill per jar. I like lots of dill and garlic in my pickles, but if you prefer less, feel free to adjust the amounts. The red pepper flakes are also optional. Sometimes I would make my usual garlic dills with a small piece of pepper to kick up the flavor, but the pickles will taste just fine if you don’t want the extra heat. I also didn’t have any grape leaves or horseradish leaves ready in the garden yet since it’s March, but I do add them when available. However, these pickles were perfectly crisp without them, so if you don’t have access to the leaves, don’t worry about it. Just be sure to keep the salt-to-water ratio the same so that you have enough salty brine for the fermentation to take place.
The spices and brine recipe are for 1 quart jar. Double as needed depending how many jars of pickles you want to make.
Fermented Garlic Dill Pickles
6 to 8 pickling size cucumbers (whole or slice into chunks as you prefer)
1 to 2 cloves garlic, peeled
1-1/2 tablespoon dill seed
1/2 teaspoon dill weed
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Grape leaf or horseradish leaf (optional – this provides tannin to help keep pickles crisp)
For the Brine (per quart):
3 cups water (room temperature)
3 tablespoons fine sea salt (can use canning/pickling salt too)
To each quart jar, add the grape or horseradish leaf if using, the garlic, and the spices. Pack your cucumbers in tightly. Combine brine ingredients until the salt is dissolved, and pour the brine over the cucumbers.
Add a glass weight to the jar to keep the cucumbers submerged in the brine, and place an air lock to the top of the jar. Let the jar sit on the counter for 2 to 3 days out of the sun. How fast fermentation takes place will depend on how warm the room is. Ideal temperature would be around 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, so if it’s wintertime, it will take longer, and fermentation will definitely speed up when it’s hot.
You’ll see the brine turn cloudy after a day or two. Don’t panic – that’s what you want to happen. It means things are fermenting as planned. After a couple of days, remove the air lock and the glass weight, and taste a pickle. It should be crunchy and full of dill and garlic flavor. If it isn’t, replace the glass weight and air lock, and let the jar sit for another day before re-tasting. When you’re happy with the pickles, remove the air lock and glass weight, place a different lid on the jar (I use a new canning lid and ring), and put the jar in the refrigerator. Enjoy!
Note: If you slice your cucumbers, the slices will ferment a bit quicker than if you leave the cucumbers whole in the jar. My whole cucumbers took about 4 days in mid-March before they were fermented all the way through, but my slices were ready in 2-1/2 days.