Simple, delicious dill pickles made the old fashioned way
My wife collects cookbooks like some people collect glass figurines. Or cats. A little too obsessively for it to be a hobby, but not so much that it could be called a disorder… yet.
Anyway, the point is she has all kinds of cookbooks, old and new. My favorites are the really old ones published back before the 1930s when a lot of people still didn’t have electricity and refrigeration. Aside from being full of delicious recipes that use mayonnaise and lard in amazing ways, they also usually have big sections dedicated to pickling all kinds of food, from fresh beans to hog’s feet.
I don’t pickle duck eggs or carrots, but I do love cucumber pickles, and these books are always loaded with multiple recipes. One of my favorites, a 1903 copy of The Settlement Cook Book: The way to a man’s heart, has 16 cucumber pickle recipes, with a specific pickle for just about every season and occasion.
Since summer is right around the corner, it seems appropriate to use the season’s first harvest of cucumbers to make summer pickles.
Unlike their fancy cousins, summer pickles are simple; just a few herbs and spices, fermented whole, finished and ready to eat in 10 days. Back before the refrigerator, these were the go-to pickle in warm weather because they could sit on the counter all day and still keep their crunch.
Here’s the recipe for 1 gallon (4 quarts / 4 liters) of summer pickles that I scaled down from the original 8 gallon recipe (they were serious about their summer pickles back then).
- 10-12 Fresh cucumbers (picklers will be crunchier, but small standard cukes work too)
- ½ gallon (2 quarts) of water
- ⅓ cup pickling or kosher salt
- 3-4 stalks fresh dill (flowering dill if possible)
- 1-2 Bay leaves
- 2 Tbsp whole peppercorns
- 1-2 Grape leaves (optional)
- ½ cup white vinegar
- Mix salt with water in a large pot and heat until salt is fully dissolved. Remove from heat and set brine aside to cool.
- Wash cucumbers to remove dirt and spines.
- In a large jar (or several smaller jars), use half of the dill, peppercorns and bay leaf to layer the bottom.
- Pack your cucumbers in the jar(s).
- Pour in enough brine to completely submerge the cucumbers.
- Top off with the remainder of the dill, peppercorns and bay leaf. Place the (optional) grape leaf on top of that.
- Weight with a plate or pickling weights heavy enough to keep cucumbers fully submerged in the brine. Cover your jar(s) loosely and place in a cool place out of direct sunlight.
- Check every couple of days. The brine should turn cloudy and darken. If you see a white mold forming on the top of the brine, scrape it off with a spoon.
- After 10 days, remove the plate/pickling weights and add ½ cup of vinegar (divided equally if you’re using multiple jars) to stabilize the pickles (this stops the fermentation).
Your pickles are done!
If you fermented your pickles in a big single jar, you can store them with a tight lid as is, or you can divide the pickles and brine into smaller jars and store.
Summer pickles will stay fresh at room temperature for several weeks, longer if you keep them in the fridge.