Fermented Pickles Like My Babci Made

My Babci — “grandmother” in Polish — made the most amazing fermented pickles. I remember her big glass jars filled with pickles, dill and garlic. Everyone in the family looked forward to the sour, fresh, crunchy deliciousness.

Later in her life, when I asked her to show me how to make these wonderful pickles, Babci was too ill and didn’t have the energy. She’s been gone now seven years and I miss her terribly. Recently, I attempted to try making fermented pickles just like she used to make.

Assemble Your Materials

First thing you need is a place to put the pickles as they ferment. I bought a large ceramic pickling crock at a local flea market a few years ago. I thought it would be perfect.

Next, you need a large quantity of cucumbers. My local CSA recently had a “pickle special” offering a box of the summertime vegetable. However, the box contained a wide variety of different sized cucumbers. I had some Kirby cucumbers that were a few inches long and nicely sized for pickling. But, there were a few gigantic county-fair-sized specimens, too. These never made it to the pickling process — they wound up in a salad, instead. When it comes to pickles, size matters if you want to fit the pickles in your jar.

Time to Start Pickling

I started my pickling adventure by searching the Internet for recipes, photos and advice for first-timers. My favorite online resources came from the blog LocalGlobalKitchens.com, written by my fellow registered dietitian nutritionist Lisa Kingery, MS, RDN.

Step 1: Remove the Blossom End of the Cucumbers
The bosom end is opposite the stem end. The stem end is indented and smooth whereas the blossom end is slightly raised. Cutting off the blossom end prevents softening of the pickles, caused by an enzyme in the blossom. Some recipes also suggest adding currant, grape, sour cherry or horseradish leaves to encourage crispness in the finished pickles.

Step 2: Make Your Pickling Brine
I made my brine in my crock using salt, water, vinegar, garlic and dill. I used the following amounts:

  • 1 gallon tap water
  • ¾ heaping cups canning/pickling salt
  • ½ cup white vinegar (5 percent acidity)
  • 6 whole cloves fresh garlic
  • 6 sprigs fresh dill

Step 3: Add Cucumbers to the Brine
I fit 18 cucumbers in my brine-filled crock, but your results could vary depending on the size of your cucumbers.

Step 4: Cover and Weight
Next, I needed to use something to keep the cucumbers completely submerged in the brine. Left alone, cucumbers naturally float to the surface and out of the liquid. Many resources recommend the following method. First, put a plate on top of the cucumbers in the brine. Then, on top of the plate, place a plastic zip-top bag filled with additional brine. (The plate keeps the cucumber from bobbing up to the surface, while the bag filled with brine functions as a weight to keep the cucumbers submerged. And, if the bag should happen to leak, it would only add more brine to the crock).

Step 5: Hurry Up and Wait
Let time and good bacteria do the rest of the work. I checked the pickles daily, looking for changes and removing any scum that had formed on top. Depending on your preference, the pickling process could take up to two weeks. But, after six days, I noticed the water was noticeably cloudier. I decided to taste the pickles — they were good! Not exactly what I remember Babci making, but very tasty.

Step 6: Prep and Store
I removed the pickles from the crock and put them in clean jars. Then, I strained the garlic and dill from the brine and added that reserved brine to the jars with my pickles. I stored the covered jars in the fridge, where they should remain good for up to about three months.

If you’re interested in making a first try at fermentation, I say go for it. The worst that could happen is that the cucumbers wind up in the compost pile.

Michele Damon
Michele Damon, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutrition in New Jersey. She works in renal care, volunteers at her local farmers market, and writes vegan and vegetarian recipes for Davita.com.