Re-creating Grandma's Kosher Dill Pickles

Image Victoria Pickle Art

I am a recipe tweaker, seldom creating the same dinner entrée twice. A little extra spice here, a different protein there, turns the same-old recipe into a new creation.

Thankfully, my family has an adventurous spirit towards food, our youngest child dubbing me his“personal Iron Chef”. His acceptance of all-things-food didn’t come easily because of his “self-limiting” behaviors, preferring high-carb foods.

Authentic, barrel-cured dill-pickles, bought at a local butcher-shop, were key to turning off his carb-cravings. At $2.75 per pickle, though, I was motivated to master the art of creating naturally-cured cucumber pickles!

My goal was to re-create a my grandmother’s kosher dill recipe which she learned from her mother, who learned from her mother, who learned from her mother – eight generations back in time.

My mother’s generation opted out, thinking distilled-vinegar embalmed, dead-nutrient, pasteurized pickles were a good trade-off, and discouraged me from “wasting my time learning “the old-country-ways”.

While I lacked hands-on knowledge, I did have a well-developed taste-memory of what made Grandma’s cucumber pickles special – heads of dill, garlic, onions, mustard seed, bay leaves, peppercorns and clove. Lacking my grandmother’s tools – a root cellar and large covered crocks – I used glass canning jars with screw-on two-part and plastic lids, tightening them as much as possible as recommended by Sally Fallon and Dr. Mary Enig in a Weston A. Price Foundation article –

Lacto-fermentation is an anaerobic process and the presence of oxygen, once fermentation has begun, will ruin the final product.Lacto-Fermentation article

The best thing that could be said about the early batches of half-sour dills, was said by my husband: “Love the brine, Honey! I think you’ve got great flavors going!”

White Streaks, White Spots, Yeast and Mold

Image Pickle Slices White Spots The pickles, on the other hand, had some problems. One small trick I picked up from my grandmother was that slicing a pickle in half could tell you an awful lot about whether the pickles were properly fermented.

If they were uniformly-colored – a nice even-green from one end to the other – they were “done”. Unevenly-colored flesh, with white streaks or white spots, meant more fermentation time was needed. Even after several weeks, many of mine still had white streaks, while others had large air pockets, yet another sign of poor fermentation.

One batch swelled more than the others – a natural part of fermenting – pushing the brine up and out the sides of the lids. That was proof that we didn’t have a tight enough seal: if liquid could get out, oxygen was able to get in.

That explained why I was battling kham – a waxy, harmless, oxygen-fed yeast described as “pancakes” that floats on top the brine. It also explained the slow fermentation, as well as mushy pickles and even the development of oxygen-loving mold.

Next, we switched to wire-bail jars, but that meant “burping” them every few hours to release the carbon dioxide that built up. That was not only tedious, but it was obvious that oxygen rushed into the fermenting vessel – the very thing we were trying to avoid!

Image Kosher Pickles First-time Pickl-It Success!

Merging wine-making airlocks with our wire-bail jars, as well as having an expensive food-grade grommet created – important for creating a super-tight seal – was key to our Pickl-It kosher-pickle success.

Unlike the screw-top canning jars, the Pickl-It pickles were evenly fermented in less than two weeks, developed no mold, and were clean, crisp and “fresh” tasting.

Many Hands Make Light Work

Best of all, Pickl-It is easy enough for my children to learn about lacto-fermentation, right along with me. Creating cultured-foods with the screw-on lid/canning jar system was tedious, needing monitoring – not exactly child-friendly to use – but the Pickl-It takes away the fuss. Tasks for little (or big) hands that are fun for working together, include –

The sense of accomplishment that my children have, when involved in the fermenting process from beginning-to-end, is evident when they announce, “That’s the one I helped create!” Each little hands-on experience adds up to a lifetime of developing good eating habits, which I hope they’ll pass along recipes, like the Pickl-It pickles to future generations.

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To Learn More Graphic

Long-version Kosher Dill Pickle recipe
Short-version Kosher Dill Pickle recipe
Open Crocks are a Crock – Reviews why modern open-bowl, open-crock lacto-fermentation techniques are not traditional.
Simple Brine Recipe
Pickl-It versus Harsch Crock – Pickl-It wins by a landslide!