Fermented Pickles. The Ultimate Guide to Kosher Dills.

 I need you to put your Laura Ingalls bonnet on now because you’re going to learn how to make old fashioned fermented dill pickles in a crock.  

Overhead shot of an antique pickle crock filled with pickles on a rough, grey painted wood floor.

Only a person of very suspicious character would want to eat just one pickle.  The same kind of person who only eats one cookie.  Or one potato chip.  Or who walks around their house laughing diabolically for no reason while wearing kittens as slippers. And if those pickles are fermented pickles? Well then that person is just plain demented.

Kosher dills. Sighhhhhhh.

Regular dill pickles are O.K., but I was raised on Kosher dills and to me that’s what a dill pickle should taste like.  

What’s a Kosher Dill?

  • Kosher dills are fermented pickles that are made sour or half-sour naturally.  They aren’t necessarily kosher in the Jewish dietary sense.  They’re named Kosher Dills because they’re the style of pickle that you would get at a good Jewish deli.
  • Vinegar is what’s normally used to get the sour flavour in regular dill pickles, but kosher pickles are fermented in just water with some seasonings. You combine salt, dill, water and pickling cucumbers in a crock and let them sit at room temperature for a few weeks. Some people add garlic.
  • Homemade kosher dills that haven’t been processed are FULL of probiotics. Once you process them though, you lose those probiotics so consider that when you’re deciding whether to process them or not.

I tried fermenting pickles when I first moved into my house about 15 years ago and I can tell you I have never been so excited to rot something. O.K., fermenting isn’t really rotting something, but it sounds more fun. More daring. Less hippie, more badass.

I have no idea where I got my original fermenting pickles recipe but I’m pretty sure it must have been off of a salt box, because after waiting patiently for 5 weeks for my pickles to ferment, what I ended up with were soft squishes of pickle made up of 1% cucumber and 99% salt. They were the dead sea pickles.

I now know how to fix pickles that are too salty (you can read about how to do that here) but at the time all I could do was throw the salty mushballs out.

I now make my pickles according to the directions from Sandor Katz in his book called Wild Fermentation: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Cultural Manipulation (DIY). It’s the book I used to create my own yeast for sourdough starter. Since it is dedicated to all things fermented and the sourdough starter worked out, I figured the fine folks who wrote it would have a pretty good handle on the fermented Kosher dill. Plus the author’s last name is Katz.

And I was right. These are GREAT pickles.

Two baskets of fresh pickling cucumbers set on a white tea towel with antique crock in the background and dill laid about.

If you don’t grow your own pickling cucumbers make sure the cucumbers you’re buying from the market or grocery store are specifically “pickling cucumbers”. 

What the hell is a pickling cucumber?

Pickling cucumbers are shorter and fatter than regular cucumbers. Plus they’re bred to be more firm which helps give a nice crunch to your pickles.

Overhead shot of antique crock, baskets of cucumbers, salt and heads of dill laid on white tea towel.

THE DILL

For your dill flavour in these pickles you can use any type of dill you can get your hands on. Fresh dill, dill seeds, dill heads, dried dill (as a last resort). But chances are if you can get your hands on pickling cucumbers, you can also get your hands on fresh dill or dried dill seeds.

Close up shot of dried dill head on white tea towel.

The book. If you’re gonna buy a book about making kosher dills, you wanna go with someone with a last name like Katz. Or Steinberg. Or Greenbaum. Or anything that sounds like they’d have a good grasp on challah, latkes or brisket. Jews make the best pickles. It’s not cultural stereotyping if it’s the truth and something to be jealous of.

Overhead shot of Fermentation book resting on antique crock sitting on porch floor.

But mushy, ucky, icky! Homemade pickles are always soft and gross.

Yeah. Sometimes. But there are some workarounds that’ll help keep your pickles crisp.

How to get crunchy pickles

  • Soak them in ice cold water for a few of hours before processing them.
  • Add a handful of leaves that have tannins to the brine: Grape leaves, Oak leaves or horseradish leaves are all good choices and high in tannins.*
  • Cut the *blossom* end off of the pickle. The blossom end (it will be the more narrow end) contains an enzyme that causes pickles to soften when they ferment.
  • Add calcium chloride to your brine. Ball’s Pickle Crisp and Mrs. Wages are commercial calcium chloride product made for pickles.
  • Low temperature pasteurization (video below) is a processing method that uses low temperatures for a longer period. This method helps keep your pickles as crunchy as possible.

*If you cut the blossom end off of your pickles there’s no need to add tannins to the brine.



There are a lot of really beautiful, contemporary crocks for sale right now with the popularity of fermentation, but I like the classic, old fashioned looking crock for doing pickles.

Karen Bertelsen prepping cucumbers at butcher block countertop.

This is all there is in terms of seasoning. Salt and dill. Optional things to add are  peppercorns and garlic.

Salt, dill heads and dill fronds on butcher block countertop.

Layer everything in your crock.

Antique crock filled to the brim with pickling cucumbers, dill fronds and a horseradish leaf.

That’s a horseradish leaf on top. Cover the pickles with water that has the salt dissolved in it.

Pouring water into antique brown and cream crock filled with pickling cucumbers.

Admire the beauty that is the fledgling kosher dill.

Make sure all of the cucumbers are beneath the surface of the brine by weighing them down with something. I just used a few sandwich plates stacked on top of each other but you can buy pickle weights for crocks on Amazon.

Antique pickling crock sitting on worn, painted floor with white plate weighing down pickles on top.

Then you wait. After just one day my pickles were starting to ferment. You can see the bubbles.

Water in antique crock at the first stages of fermentation with bubbles forming on the surface.

After 3-4 weeks (depending on the temperature in your house) your pickles will be fully fermented. To test them pick 1 pickle and cut a slice off of it every few days to taste, starting after a couple of weeks.

The pickles are ready when they taste good and are translucent throughout.

You can see how clear the fully fermented pickle on the left is compared to a fresh cucumber on the right.


After reading Wild Fermentation I’ve figured out that what I made years ago must have been “full sour” pickles. That means they have a lot more salt in the recipe which makes them last longer. This type of recipe would have been popular back in the olden days when refrigerators weren’t around to keep pickles from going bad. So they used salt to preserve them.

Speaking of preserving them, fermented pickles will last for months and months in the fridge. If I’m being honest I don’t even refrigerate them but I don’t recommend you do that because I don’t want you to get sick and die. And then sue me.

One way to be 100% sure about your fermented dills lasting a long time on the shelf is to process them, but processing pickles involves boiling them in a water bath for 10 – 15 minutes (depending on the size of the jar) which will reduce them to mush no matter how many blossom ends you cut off or leaves you added.

You have another option though. It’s that low temperature pasteurization I mentioned earlier.

Low Temperature Pasteurization

This will help your pickles stay crispy even after processing. Because you’re processing for a longer time at a lower temperature they better retain their crunch.

You simply add 1/4 cup of vinegar to every 8 cups of water for your original brine mixture then follow these instructions.

  • Fill a canning pot with water and heat it to between 180 F and 185 F.*
  • Bring the pickle brine to a boil and let boil for 5 minutes.
  • Pour brine into hot jars to within 1/2″ from the top of the jar.
  • Wipe the top of the jar so it’s dry and clean.
  • Add a sealer and ring to the jar.
  • Process the pickles for 30 minutes in the low temperature water bath.

*the temperature MUST remain within this range.  I find using a a Sous Vide stick is the easiest way to accomplish this without any stress.

The recipe I used from Wild Fermentation is for a a Half-Sour which calls for a brine that is around 5% salt, as opposed to the full sour which would call for around 10% salt or even more.

Mazel Tov!

Kosher Dill Pickles

Kosher Dill Pickles like the kind you'd find at a good old fashioned Jewish deli.
5 from 3 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Canning/Preserves
Cuisine: They say it's from New York.
Prep Time: 5 hours
Fermenting Period: 30 days
Total Time: 30 days 5 hours
Servings: 9 pint jars
Calories: 224kcal

Ingredients

  • 8 pounds cucumbers small to medium size
  • 9 tablespoons sea salt* More if canning
  • 9 dill heads fresh
  • 1 handful fresh grape cherry, oak, and/or
  • horseradish leaves if available
  • 1 pinch black peppercorns
  • 16 cups water
  • 1 head garlic cloves skinned and separated

If you want to process/can add these ingredients to the brine:

  • 1 cup pickling salt This will replace the 9 Tbsps.
  • 1/2 cup vinegar

Instructions

  • Bring salt and water to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt. Let cool.
  • Wash your cucumbers and cut off the "blossom" end.  You just need to remove the blossom part.*
  • Layer your cucumbers, dill and horseradish (or grape leaves) in the crock and cover with cooled salt water.
  • Place a plate with a rock (or something else heavy) on top of the pickles to make sure they're completely submerged.  
  • Test pickles after a couple of weeks. 
  • Cucumbers will be translucent throughout when they're done.
  • Place pickles in hot pint jars with enough brine to cover them and store in the fridge for several months.

Low Heat Processing

  • Fill a canning pot with water and warm it to between 180 F - 185 F.
  • Remove pickles from the brine and stuff them tightly into pint jars.
  • Pour brine into a pot and heat until it comes to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes.
  • Pour hot brine into the jars of pickles to 1/2" from the rim.
  • Wipe the rim of the jars to make sure they're perfectly clean and put on a sealer and rim. Finger tighten only.
  • Place your jars of pickles into the warm water bath and process for 30 minutes making sure the water doesn't fall below 180 F or go above 185 F.

Notes

FOR CANNING
  • You must add more salt (than the original recipe) and vinegar to aid in the preservation process. 
  • Pickles get softer over time so for maximum crunch eat them within 6 months.
 
  • The blossom end portion of the cucumber is said to make the pickles soft, so get rid of it. I've done my own experiments with this and it seems to be true. 

Nutrition

Calories: 224kcal

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Fermented Pickles.  The Ultimate Guide to Kosher Dills.

108 Comments

  1. Ruth says:

    I dislike pickles… really. I can handle a slight ‘tang’ but anything that goes off into the sour realm, and is intended to be enjoyed without a mask of sweetness (a la lemon or key lime pie)…. Nope. Not gonna do it.

    That, however, does nothing to quell my fascination with your ‘Laura Ingalls-ness.’ You go, Laura… I mean, Karen. :D

  2. AKing says:

    These pictures are especially gorgeous! :)

  3. Angie says:

    Sandor Katz is my hero.

    I’m halfway through reading his latest book – The Art of Fermentation. Fascinating!

    Thanks to Sandor, I’ve made (just since July of this year):
    3 batches of sauerkraut
    2 batches of mixed vegetable ferment (radishes, turnips, carrots, herbs)
    fermented garlic
    kefir using grains I purchased from Fusion Teas
    heirloom Bulgarian yogurt (using starter purchased from Cultures for Health)

    This is not to mention the hundreds of loaves of sourdough bread I’ve made since I began sourdough one year ago.

    Fermentation is a fascinating topic. Did you know that kefir that you purchase in the store is not really true kefir? And that heirloom yogurt cultures can produce lovely thick yogurt indefinitely where using a bit of yogurt from the store will not (you would have to continue to use newly purchased yogurt as a starter or it will become thinner and thinner)?

    The next project will be cheese…

  4. Connie S. says:

    I Luv kosher dills, especially Strubbs too! They remind me of the ones my Oma would make . She would eat them sliced in half lengthwise…. and spread with honey- YES!!! I remember looking at her with my mouth hanging open , doubting my beloved Oma’s sanity for just a fraction of a second – until i tried it…yummm ;)
    sadly i don’t have her recipe but glad to have found this one! will give it a try. thx Karen
    ( and i agree with the others- YOU look GREAT!)

  5. Jean says:

    There is a greater than 10% and less than 100% chance I will try this. Question. Do you boil the water and salt prior to pouring? Do you can like you would tomatoes?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Jean. There’s no need to can fermented foods. You just need to keep them refrigerated after they’re done fermenting. You don’t have to boil the water, but I brought mine close to the boil in order to dissolve the salt properly. Then you have to make sure you let the water cool down before you pour it on the cucumbers otherwise you’ll cook them. ~ karen!

  6. Langela says:

    Obviously “someone” has never worn kittens as slippers or “she” wouldn’t be lumping me into the category with lonely, diabolical laughing person. I have tried walking around the house diabolically laughing. It wasn’t for me. But the kittens as slippers…ohhhhh, the pure luxury. Don’t knock ’em till you try ’em, Karen.

  7. Jody says:

    Well since we are talking about YOU making pickles here is a shout out to whoever cuts your hair (and it better not be you). It is a great cut. And back to pickles. I want to know when they are ready how closely they taste to Strubb’s kosher dills.

  8. Susan S says:

    When I worked at Food Advisory Division at Agriculture Canada (now defunct) in the 1980’s our test kitchen developed a fermented dill pickle recipe with the help of Dr. Pivnick, a microbiologist from Health Canada. These pickles were actually fermented in their individual jars so you could make as many jars as you wanted without having to get a big crock. These were really good pickles and also easy to do and they will be ready for Canadian Thanksgiving if you make them now. Here is the link: https://archive.org/stream/picklesrelishes00cana#page/16/mode/2up
    Thank goodness the food preparation booklets developed by Food Advisory Division can still be accessed.

    • Karen says:

      That’s great! Thanks for linking it. ~ karen!

    • Brad G says:

      Hi Susan S, it there someplace where we can purchase this book?
      Thank you, Brad

      • Susan Sutherland says:

        Hi Brad, unfortunately, I don’t believe that booklet is available anymore. It was a Canadian government book that was developed back in the 1980’s. And it used to be given out for free. I knew the person who worked on the booklet with the microbiologist, Dr Pivnick (Piv’s pickles are named after him). I just showed that one page but you can look at all the pages and most likely be able to download the booklet.

  9. Jane says:

    My husband loves Kosher Dills and I’ve never tried this before. Looks good in the crock kinda old fashion and I would imagine better for you.

    Have your tried making Kombucha?

    • Karen says:

      I have not Jane! And yes, fermented foods are supposed to be very good for you because of the acids and bacteria it introduces to your gut and all that stuff. ~ karen!

    • I used to make kombucha for my mother when I was a teenager in the late ’80s. She went through a fad for it. I remember the SCOBIs that it grew. Weirdly, we called it Russian Tea, not Kombucha. When I tried kombucha a few years ago, I was flooded with memories of that Russian Tea!

  10. Su says:

    agree with other posters – you do rock those jeans lady!
    I’ve never made pickles like this. I’ve done the bread and butter, the refrigerator dills (which are super delish!) and regular canned pickles, tho. I’ve also made sauerkraut in the 5 gal crock (weighed down with a plastic bag filled with water) hidden in the depths of the basement of a 100+ yr old house. It was awesome.
    I’m so glad that you share this stuff with us. Even tho I don’t ‘put up’ like I used to when my children were small, it makes me smile to know that tradition is still going strong and being promoted.

  11. Carol Hogan says:

    I, too, noticed how great you look from behind. I wasn’t going to say anything – thinking it not politically correct – but since others did, WOW girl. You look great. The fella was clearly an idiot and I am so jealous.

  12. Tigersmom says:

    Pickles, blah blah blah….salt……blah blah blah……..

    LOOK AT YOUR BUTT IN THAT PICTURE!!!!!

    I’m off to go destroy all the mirrors in my house in a fit of envy.

    • Tracey says:

      Tigersmom, well said!
      LoL, really don’t like Kosher Dills, but I read the post anyway, and all I came away with is….”damn Karen looks good!”
      I.Must. lose. Weight. Argh
      Oh ya….and I also noticed how lovely your photography is…just beautiful!

  13. Edith says:

    It’s not only the author’s last name: his first name might point to Hungarian roots. As I was born and raised for ten years in Hungary, I have known kosher dills since the day I was born (being Catholic). As far as my relatives remember, kosher dills where the ONLY thing I was willing to eat for the first 5 years of my life. In my mother’s recipe there are only two things different from Sandor’s: my mother adds a slice of white bread to the pickles, and she makes little lengthwise cuts into them . That way the whole process of fermentation is much faster an you can enjoy your pickles sooner. On the other hand: you have to eat them fast, as they actually begin to rot quickly!
    Germans use Sandor’s recipe for making Sauerkraut. I also LOVE Sauerkraut. Luckily, my home country for the last 32 years has been Germany …

    • Jasmine says:

      Yes! These are like the Hungarian Pickles I mentioned a while back on your pickle post that my Grandfather (Nagypapa in Hungarian) used to make. We actually put in several slices of bread-I used rye bread- and put them in a glass jar and out in the sun everyday. They are ready in a couple of weeks, depending on how sunny it is. My first batch was gone so fast I made another. This will be a yearly event for me. Yum!!

  14. barbee says:

    No lie-I just searched your blog today for pickle recipes.

  15. Lisa says:

    I was wondering which other pals would be hanging around here at midnight. Well done patti! :-)

  16. Nur Costa says:

    Lovely VERTICAL pictures, hehe :)

    • Karen says:

      Hah! See? ;) (Nur is referring to something I was teaching in my blogging course last night. I have to use horizontals the odd time, but only when I *have* to. ~ karen!

  17. TucsonPatty says:

    I have two pickle crocks from my grandma and my mom and I really should use them for this instead of pinecones and pretty flowers. I remember watching these being made and then eating them – I do not remember them sitting arounf in a kitchen for a month! Woonderful. I love my Vlasics!

  18. Melissa says:

    I just started fermenting this year, and I’m on my 2nd batch of pickles. First batch I used the open crock method, like you are doing, but my current batch is in a jar with an air lock. I’m excited to see how they turn out.

    I did fermented salsa as well, and it was great!

    Sandor Katz is the expert on all things fermented.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Melissa! I actually had to put a lid on my crock because of the relentless fruit flies this year! Not even a triple layer of cheese cloth could keep them out, so we’ll see how they turn out. ~ karen!

  19. Cred says:

    Oh crap, I just made a batch of dills (vinegar method though) and I forgot the grape leaves until I read this.
    Would love to know how these turn out. My 14yo daughter loves kosher dills and we were just talking about finding a recipe and having a go.

    • Karen says:

      These have only been “going” for a little while now Cred. A week maybe? And I tried my first bite last night. I couldn’t help myself. I knew it wouldn’t taste like anything yet, but I had to do it. And low and behold they tasted like pickles! So after a few more weeks they’re gonna be GREAT. As long as they don’t get too salt. That salt is a bugger. You need it for preserving and some flavour but it’s SO easy to go overboard. ~ karen!

      • Kristin Ferguson says:

        I am mid-pickle starting, and I was wondering if you could tell me a few things: Do you soak the pickles in cold water and cut off the blossom ends if you are not canning them? How much salt do you use by weight? My sea salt (from the 99-cent store lol!) might measure out differently from yours. Have you ever tried using calcium chloride? I bought some a few years ago intending to make dill pickles and never did, but I still have it and would like to use it if it will help improve crispness. I have my pickles soaking in cold water right now and haven’t yet cut off the blossom ends, and I’m waiting for my brine to cool.

      • Karen says:

        Hi Kristin! I do cut the ends off no matter whether I’m canning the pickles or not. It helps keep them crispy. My salt by weight is 162 grams for 9 Tablespoons, but a true half sour would be 134 grams of salt per 16 cups of water. I like that bit of extra salt but you can start with a true half sour ratio of 134 grams per 16 cups of water and go from there. I haven’t used pickle crisp (calcium chloride) but have always been curious about it! I tried to buy it from my local pharmacy yearssssss ago but I could only buy it in some sort of massive bag so I didn’t get it, lol. Now of course you can get it. Sorry for the late reply! You’re already well on your way to making pickles I assume. :) ~ karen!

  20. Stephanie Hobson says:

    Added to my list of favorites, ” It’s not cultural stereotyping if it’s the truth and something to be jealous of.”

  21. Elen Grey says:

    I’ve never heard of fermenting pickles, Karen! Like you, I love the kosher dill. How long can they be stored in the fridge, and what are you storing them in? Where is your crock from? Gorgeous pics for this post, by the way.

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Elen. That’s thanks to my photography lesson last week. :) See? Photos are important. ;) You can store them in the fridge for months. This kind of pickle isn’t meant to be canned. Which is why when you buy Kosher Dill pickles at the grocery store they’re in the refrigerated section. They haven’t been processed. They’re just in their brine. The more salt the recipe has the longer they can be stored, but they’re also pretty much inedible that way so you don’t want to store them so much as throw them out. ~ karen!

  22. Amber says:

    hey, you, who deliberately takes photos with odd oddments in random corners just to see if her readers will ask about them: what are the golden thingies next to the lady in blue?

    • Amber says:

      I see that the lady in blue is actually Our Lady of Kitchen Twine…

      • Denise says:

        I like the lady in blue. Do you have a suggestion on where to purchase her?? Love the fermenting, too. Takes me back to early days with my mom….smile…..

    • Karen says:

      LOL. Hey you! Who looks at random things in pictures that the photo clearly isn’t about. That’s my gold flatware which I got at an antique show for $40. forks, knives, spoons, ladles etc. LOVE them. ~ karen!

      • Amber says:

        well I wasn’t going to comment on how good you look in tight jeans because frankly, I’m jealous. Are you ever going to do a post on how you got rid of your tubular underarm tumors? I’ve been hiking all summer and mine have brought friends in!

      • Karen says:

        Uch. Nothing worse than a tumour friend. I didn’t have arm ones though. Back. Back tumours. All around my back. Big fatty ones. yeah. They’re still there. ~ karen

  23. Barbie says:

    OMG! Karen I wish you had posted this a month ago!!! I had so many pickling cucumbers this year and I canned them ALL so as not to lose any. I have ALWAYS wanted to do fermented ….because I want (like you) that kosher taste. I must have tried 5 different recipes. Last years pickles were WAY to sour and no one likes them …this year I did find one that is better…still not like a fermented pickle. I had NO IDEA it was as easy as this. We make sauerkraut every year and that is just as easy (well not quite as easy as this) a lot more work in the shredding and smashing and all… and SO good. Next year I will try this recipe. I do NOT want to go buy any cukes ….I already have so many pickles I could feed all of Spokane!

    • Karen says:

      Crud. That sucks, lol! Well there’s always next year. I’m hoping mine will be just about ready for Canadian Thanksgiving, which I host every year. My plan for Thanksgiving this year is to have everything I serve, be something I grew. But I didn’t grow the pickles, lol. I think fermenting them should count though.

  24. chris aka monkey says:

    dam woman is there anything you can’t do?? i am so impressed… and next year i am raising another cat hopefully monarch lol xx

  25. Patti says:

    Looks Lovely !!! Can’t wait to see the progress !

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