March 12, 2011

Making Traditional Dill Pickles

Growing up in the Barossa Valley, which has a strong German influence from early settlement, we were exposed to some interesting traditional foods and preperation methods. One of these were the traditional dill pickles prepared in a ceramic pickling crock.  The pickles were usually full cucumbers picked early at around 100 - 150mm (4 - 6") long and 25 -50mm (1 - 2") in diameter. These bump covered (burped) cucumbers were crisp to the bite and had a distinctive taste of the dill and although they may be said to be somewhat of an aquired taste, they do go well with a bitey matured cheddar cheese. Add some smoked german mettwurst, (with garlic of course) or sliced pastrami, a crusty bread roll and a glass of the local red wine and you have what became known as a Barossa ploughmans lunch. Dill pickles can add a distinctive savoury element to mixed savoury or anti-pasto type platters and can be eaten as snack at any time.

Not everyone likes them, (especially on their hamburgers it seems) but if you do, you might like to try this old recipe that I found. I don't know about you, but I don't have a 4 gallon pickle crock but what I do have is a slow cooker with a ceramic pot and glass lid. This pot would be fine for making dill pickles and the recipe just needs to be scaled down to the volume of the crock pot. The glass lid would need to be kept covered with towels or similar to exclude light and the lid should be as good a seal as possible.
(As I said, this is an old recipe, so apologies for the imperial measures only.)

fresh grape vine leaves, de-stemmed and rinsed
fresh dill leaves, chopped stems and/or seeds
2 ounces of mixed pickling spices (optional)
12 lbs. freshly picked, small cucumbers

Pickling solution:
2 gallons cold water
1 pint of white vinegar
1 lb of pickling or plain salt

In a 4 gallon ceramic crock with lid, place a fully overlapping layer of grape vine leaves. Grenache was the variety prefered in the Barossa Valley but any grape vine leaves will do, as long as they have not been sprayed or exposed to chemicals. Then add a good layer of dill leaves, stems and/or seeds. Over these, scatter 1 oz. of mixed pickling spices. (This is optional as some people preffered to add only 4-6 cloves of chopped garlic.)
Fill with evenly sized cucumbers to within 2 or 3 inches of top.

Scatter another ounce of spices, another layer of dill, and then a good layer of grape vine leaves. Over this, pour the pickling mixture of 2 gallons of filtered cold water (do not use chlorinated or treated tap water or the pickles will not ferment properly), 1 pint of white vinegar, and 1 pound of  salt.

Weigh down using a heavy crockery plate or a dish with a brick or stone over the top. If a stone is used, be sure it isn't limestone. The pickles need to be weighted down to keep them submerged under the liquid.
If the temperature is kept about 86 F, fermentation will be complete within about 2 weeks (if cooler, fermentation will take longer). Pickles should become a ditinctive yellow/grey-green, but should not be at all slimy. At the end of the curing, the pickles may be bottled in sterilized jars. Pack the jars with cured pickles. Then fill the sterile jars with fresh pickling brine, flavored with a little spice and dill. It was traditional to put a vine leaf or two from the pickle crock on top of the pickles in the jar as this would help stop discolouration and oxidatation.

This is an old recipe, which uses a traditional method of making fermented pickles and does not call for additional processing. If proper techniques and good kitchen hygene are used, the traditional method of making pickles may be used with good success. New recommendations, however, call for pickles to be processed in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes (600ml/1pint jars) to 15 minutes (1lt/1quart jars) leaving 6mm (1/4") headspace in the jars. This will alter the texture of the finished product somewhat but shouldn't alter the taste too much.

2 tablespoons of Mustard Seed
1 tablespoon of Whole Allspice
2 teaspoons of Coriander Seeds
2 teaspoons of dried Garlic Flakes
1 teaspoon of Ground Ginger
1 teaspoon of Dried Red Pepper Flakes
1 dry Bay Leaf, chopped or crumbled
1 Cinnamon Stick (2") chopped or crumbled
Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight jar or container. Use in your favorite pickle recipes.

These Barossa dill pickles are very similar to kosher dill pickles and I expect they both originate from the same regions of Europe. The types of cucumbers used were older burped pickling varieties that have a slightly thinner skin than modern salad varieties. The cucumbers were purposely picked before reaching full size. Larger cucumbers can be used but may need to be sliced or sectioned to achieve an even pickling. Smaller cucumbers can be used as well but they tend to be sharper on the pallet than the more regular sized pickle. Pickling varieties of cucumber can still be eaten fresh in salads like regular varieties if allowed to reach full size. I haven't tried this recipe yet but I think I will plant a few cucumber vines and some dill next spring and give it a try. I have tried a few different dill pickles over the years but none have ever really compared to the traditional homemade pickles I remember from my younger days.

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