Ever wonder why one of the most popular pickles of the five million that Americans eat every day is the kosher dill? It’s partly because of the garlic that is normally used in kosher pickles, and partly because they’re so good. But what’s the story behind the brand — I mean, why are they always called “kosher” dills, whether the manufacturer is kosher or not?
One answer might be that in 1923, Heinz Foods developed, in conjunction with the Orthodox Union of that time the “Circle U” kosher symbol, becoming the first maker of processed foods to carry a kosher hechsher. So, Heinz’ pickles at the time were kosher and the pickles were made, in the Askenaz way, with garlic and dill, and Heinz, wanting to make sure their large Jewish audience knew they were kosher (as opposed to other manufacturers whose pickles were not), started giving them the brand name of “kosher dill” pickles. And a star was born!
Now, there are many, many styles and preferences in making (and eating) kosher dill pickles. Some, the “sour” types, often use only a salt brine embellished with dill and cherry or grape leaves and are usually pickled in a ceramic crock.
Others, that are pickled with vinegar and a variety of spices, are first cured overnight in salt then drained and washed and packed in sterilized jars with their spices. A hot vinegar brine is poured over them and they’re sealed up to continue pickling.
Every family or community of families has its own favorite pickle recipes, so don’t be surprised at the response you get if, after trying the recipes I’m going to give you, you enjoy one or another and you give someone else the recipe.
“Oh no”, they may say, “My bubbe never made pickles this way! She always used horseradish and dill seed and drained them evey three days!” I’m sure that some of the best pickle recipes have died with their makers because we don’t usually make pickles now, thanks to the proliferation of good (and some really bad) kosher dills. But let me assure you, not only is pickle making easy, making your own wonderfully improvised kosher dills in the summer will make you think about summer all winter long, in a proud and happy way.
The equipment you’ll need is: A box of quart, wide-mouth mason jars with bands and lids (available at all grocery stores, just ask-and they’re not expensive and box of a dozen comes with band and lids).
Pick up an extra box of lids (wide mouth) just in case of an accident or two. If you can find or have one, a two gallon straight-sided ceramic crock is wonderful to have but not necessary; they’re great for making sour dills that you plan to eat within two or three weeks. But a big ceramic bowl or a clean plastic bucket will do the trick.
So let’s start with the sours. They are categorized as “new” (barely pickled for a day or two in light salt brine), “half sour” (pickled in salt brine halfway through, with a lot of the white of the cucumber still showing in the middle), “Three quarters sour” (less white, more “pickle” color, brinier taste), and “sour dills” (pickled all the way through).
First, here’s a recipe for half-sour dills made in a crock (or use a big bowl or a very clean plastic bucket!)
Real Jewish Half-Sour Dill Pickles
24-36 small, not too ripe pickling cucumbers, gently scrubbed
3 bay leaves, crushed
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large stalk dill, cut up, or 2 Tbs dried dill
1 Tbs dill seed (optional)
6 bruised black peppercorns
2 tsp mustard seeds (optional)
1 tsp coriander seeds (optional)
1 dried red chile, crushed (optional)
1/3 cup kosher salt
9 to 10 cups boiling water
Place the cucumbers in a large bowl, crock or tub. Scatter the spices, dill and garlic among the cukes. Sprinkle all over with the salt. Pour the boiling water on top of the cucumbers and weight down with a plate with a brick (or 2 heavy cans of food) on top; the weight is to keep the to-be-pickles in the brine. Put a cloth or a cover over the top to keep bugs away. Check the pickles twice a day and skim off any scum that appears; put the weight and cover back on each time. Store in a cool, dark place for one week in warm weather or for 10 days in cool weather.
The pickles will be “done” to half-sour within this amount of time. If you think you will eat all your half-sours within about two to three weeks, just refrigerate them in containers, covered in brine. If you want to keep them for the winter, drain off the brine, strain and boil it. Pack the pickles in clean jars (add a little more dill and/or spices in the jars if you like) and cover with the hot brine. Clean off the rims of the jars with a clean, damp cloth, place the lids on the jars rubber side down, and screw on the bands hand tight. Make sure the brine is still very hot when you put on the lids and bands so the lids will seal-you’ll hear a loudish pop or ping sound when the brine inside has cooled enough to create a vacuum under the lid, pulling down the center of the lid and sealing the jar.
Here’s another excellent traditional “sour” recipe that pickles the cucumbers right in the jars and refrigerates them till they’re gone.
Kosher Dill Pickles
(From Olive Trees and Honey by Gil Marks)
24 very fresh 4-inch pickling cucumbers
8 cups soft or distilled water
1/2 cup kosher salt
12 to 16 sprigs fresh dill
8 cloves garlic
16 whole peppercorns
4 bay leaves
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp (or less) coriander seeds
1/2 tsp (or less) red pepper flakes, or for more heat, use 8 small, dried red chiles
Soak the cucumbers in ice water for between one and eight hours. Drain. Snip the end not attached to the vine. In a non-reactive saucepan, combine the water and salt. Simmer for 3 minutes, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from heat and cool.
Sterilize (in boiling water) four 1-quart mason jars. Divide the dill, garlic and spices among the jars. Pack six cucumbers upright in each jar and pour the cooled brine over the cucumbers to cover, leaving 1/2 inch of clear headroom at the top of each jar. Tightly cover the jars with the lids, tighten the bands and shake to distribute the garlic and spices.
For new pickles:
Place the jars upside down on a clean counter covered with a dishtowel and leave overnight. If any liquid seeps from the jars, tighten the bands to seal the lids tighter. Place the jars lid side up. Refrigerate.
For half sours:
Place jars upside down in a dark place at cool room temperature to ferment overnight. If liquid seeps from the jars, tighten the bands and wipe clean. After one day, turn right side up and leave for two more days After this period, bubbles will rise in the liquid. Two to three days later, bacteria begins souring the cucumbers, which remain bright green to greenish brown outside. Refrigerate to slow the fermentation.
For three-quarter-sour pickles:
Proceed as for half-sours. After one week, the outsides of the pickles will be almost uniformly green-brown. Refrigerate to slow further fermentation.
For sour pickles:
Proceed as for half-sours but leave pickles to ferment at cool room temperature for two to three weeks or until bubbles stop forming. The pickles will be uniformly greenish brown. Refrigerate.
Yield: 4 quarts of pickles
Here are some typical (and delicious) more modern kosher pickles, cured in a salt and vinegar brine.
Kosher Dills in Vinegar Brine
8 cups water
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
20 to 24 small pickling cucumbers, 4 to 5 inches long
8 heads fresh dill
8 large, washed cherry or grape leaves (optional)
4 cloves garlic, sliced
4 tsp mixed pickling spice
Bring the water to a boil in a non-reactive saucepan. Add the salt and boil for two minutes, stirring to dissolve. Let cool for five minutes, then add the vinegar and let the mixture cool, covered, for three to four hours.
When you’re ready to pickle, sterilize four quart jars and four sets of bands and lids.
Wash the cucumbers and dry with (non-linty) paper towels. Put one dill head and one fresh leaf in the bottom of each jar. Pack the cucumbers upright up to the shoulder of each jar, then add one quarter of the sliced garlic and 1 tsp of the pickling spices to each jar. Put one dill sprig on top and cover with the remaining fresh leaves. Pour the cooled brine over everything, up to one inch below the top of the jar. Cover loosely with the lids and bands and keep at cool room temperature for two to three days.
When the jar starts to bubble, let it bubble for a day or two, removing the scum daily. Then re-sterilize the lids and bands in boiling water, clean the jar rims and tops with a clean towel dipped in hot water and seal the hot lids onto the jars with the bands. Store in a cool, dry place for about three weeks before eating. Refrigerate after opening. The pickles should last several weeks after opening in the refrigerator, or indefinitely unopened.
Yield: 4 quarts