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Crispy Sour Pickles (Like From the Old Country)

Close your eyes and imagine the pickle barrel.  That’s what the taste of these crunchy tangy cukes will evoke.  We add lots of garlic and dill, and more spicy seasonings than is traditional (heck, we like things hot), and they hit the right note after a week or so of fermenting.  Adjust seasonings to your taste.

In addition to being delicious, don’t forget that lacto-fermented foods are loaded with health benefits and some people even drink pickle juice for gastro health.  For all the locavores, this is also the perfect time of year to give pickling a try since cucumbers are fresh and abundant.

Pair these with any sandwich, slice and serve with falafel, or just enjoy them with a cold drink.


3-4 pounds small pickling cucumbers (2-6” max), the fresher the better (and no wax).

Handful of oak or grape leaves

1 bunch fresh dill, chopped in 4” pieces

3 heads (not cloves) of garlic, with cloves peeled

2 tbsp. black pepper corns

2 tbsp. dill seed

2 tbsp. crushed red hot pepper (optional – fresh jalapeno, cayenne or other hot chilies)

1 tbsp. pickling seasoning (usually contains cinnamon, Cloves, coriander, mustard seed, or similar)

Kosher salt (or other non-iodized salt for pickling brine)

Fresh water (ideally filtered – chlorine/chloramine-free)

How to Make it:

Prepare the Cucumbers — Wash cucumbers and inspect for any soft spots, remove residual flowers at stems and trim stem but do not cut off tops or bottom of cukes.  Soak in icy cold water (in the fridge) for one hour to crisp them up.

Make the Brine – Mix in 3 tablespoons of salt to four cups of water.  This is a salty brine but not overly salty once the pickles are done.  You may need more brine to cover but use same proportions.  NOTE:  To make a less salty brine, such as for half-sour pickles, use 2 tbsp. of salt to each four cups of water.

Select a Container — Use a stone crock or other food-safe non-leaking container — it can be stone, plastic or even wood (remember the pickle barrel) but metal is probably not great.   Some people use food-safe plastic buckets and report great results. Hardware stores are increasingly stocking crocks (which are heavy to ship from afar), still our container of choice.

Layer the Ingredients — In the bottom of the container, place the leaves if you can find them, followed by the fresh dill, garlic, and all the remaining ingredients.  Layer the cucumbers with the largest ones on the bottom.

Allow to Ferment –– Add enough brine to cover by an inch or so then place a small plate or other clean object to keep the cucumbers fully submerged.  You can weight with a water-filled glass bottle or jar or even a clean rock.  Cover with a clean cloth (to keep dust out) and set aside.  Check every day for done-ness and in a few days, the mixture will start to bubble.  How quickly the ferment occurs depends upon the temperature.  Cool rooms mean slower fermentation and warm rooms speed things up.

Skim off any scummy bits when you check done-ness, washing plate and weight.  In the summer, we find a week is the right time but it can be a few days more or less.  In cooler months, it can be two weeks or even longer.  Taste and decide for yourself.

When the pickles are ready, place in canning jars, making sure to put some garlic and spices on the bottom of each jar.  Cover with brine, refrigerate and enjoy.

They will keep 4 weeks easily in the refrigerator (and may get a bit more done) but ours never last that long.