It’s August in Quebec and that means it’s time to preserve the amazing bounty of fruit and vegetables we have been lucky to grow and enjoy all summer. Canning jars and bushel boxes of vegetables can be found in abundance, a hint that you need to start preserving while the produce is at it’s freshest. One of my big projects at this time of year is to lacto-ferment cucumbers. There is no beating the flavour of a lacto-fermented cucumber dill pickle. I find store-bought, vinegar-cured cucumber pickles dull as compared to the robust, salty, crunchy, multi-dimensional flavour of a properly lacto-fermented garlic-dill cucumber pickle.
Cucumbers are not the easiest vegetable to ferment. I have personally had a few dud batches, but the successful ones motivated me to keep trying. I researched, learned some tricks from fellow fermenters, and have produced some truly tasty garlic-dill pickles.
While they can be temperamental, with the right tips and tricks you can easily master making your own lacto-fermented dill pickles. Make a big batch and enjoy their amazing flavour, and beneficial live microbes we get from the lacto-fermentation process.
Tried and Tested Crunchy Lacto-Fermented Cucumber Tips
- Use fresh, unblemished “pickling” cucumbers. “Kirbys” are most commonly used. They have a thick and bumpy skin, and hold up well in salt brines. Avoid using Lebanese or English cucumbers (they are too thin-skinned)
- Soak the cucumbers in ice water for at least one hour. It will help them retain their crunch.
- Trim off the ends to remove any stems or blossoms. You can slice the cukes or keep them whole. I ferment my cucumbers whole since it has always yielded me a crunchy pickle and now I’m superstitious!
- Add a tannic source. Bay leaves are the most accessible for me and have given me continued success. Grape, horseradish and oak leaves are also excellent if you have access to them. Tea leaves can also be used.
- Cucumbers are a short ferment and can be ready in as little as 3 days. I personally like mine to go for at least one week, since I like full flavour and for the brine to permeate the entire cucumber. By the end of the fermentation process, the cucumbers will have gone from a bright green to a dull olive and the brine will be cloudy.
- Find a cool place for fermentation (ideally 20-22?C/68-72?F). High temperatures make the lacto-fermenting bacteria more active and can result in mushy cucumbers or “hollow pickle syndrome”. Slow and steady works best for cucumbers. I have tried leaving mine to ferment at around 22?C/72?F for 5 days and then transferring them to the fridge for another week or 2. It worked well, with no mushy pickles!
HOW TO MAKE LACTO-FERMENTED CUCUMBER DILL “PICKLES”
Fermentation time: 1 -3 weeks
- pickling cucumbers (“Kirby” is ideal or any thick-skinned cucumber)
- 3.5 % Brine (35 grams* non-iodized salt + 1 litre filtered water)
- garlic cloves (to your liking- I usually put 3)
- dill (fronds or dill weed heads)- as “dilly” as you like it!
- 2-3 bay leaves, grape or horseradish leaves
- fermentation container
- fermentation weight
*5 grams= approximately 1 teaspoon, but it is best to weigh the salt for better accuracy
- Soak cucumbers in ice water for at least one hour. Trim cucumber ends of stems or blossoms.
- Slice or leave cucumbers whole. Pack tightly into jar, layering dill and garlic.
- Pour in brine, completely covering cucumbers, leaving a 1-1 1/2 ” space to the top
- Add weight, if necessary, and lid jar.
- Place out of direct sunlight at room temperature (ideally 20-22 degrees C (68-72 degrees F)).
- Sample after 3 days. For a more sour pickle, let ferment for at least 2 weeks.
- Transfer to the refrigerator for storage.