This recipe can be scaled up or down, but I wanted to give you the basic instructions for 10 pounds of cucumbers. As for equipment, have a vegetable brush handy. You’ll need a 5-gallon ceramic or glass crock or a 5-gallon bucket of food-grade plastic. Please make sure it’s food-grade; that is, it originally was used to hold food. Other plastics leach toxic chemicals into their contents. You’ll need a glass or ceramic plate that just fits inside the crock or bucket, plus an unused gallon-size zip freezer bag, clean dish towels, a fresh package of cheesecloth, a large stainless steel or other nonreactive metal pot, a carton of canning jars with lids and bands, and a narrow plastic spatula.
Note that the recipe calls for pickling spices. You can find them in the spice rack at almost any supermarket, but if you want to make your own, mix together crushed cinnamon sticks; bay leaves; ground allspice, mace, and ginger; the whole seeds of mustard, dill, black peppercorns, coriander, juniper berries, and cardamom; plus whole cloves.
*MAKES 3 or 4 QUART JARS, DEPENDING ON THE SIZE OF THE CUCUMBERS
10 pounds unwaxed pickling cucumbers
¼ cup pickling spices
2 bunches fresh dill
1 cup white vinegar
1 gallon spring or filtered water
¾ cup coarse pickling salt (not iodized) or sea salt
10 cloves garlic, peeled
SCRUB THE SURFACE OF cucumbers under cool running water to remove any incidental soil. Cut 1⁄16 inch off the blossom end of the cukes. Blossom ends contain enzymes that can render your pickles soft. Cut the stem ends back to where the cucumber flesh starts. Discard any cukes that are discolored, bruised, or soft. Put half the pickling spices and 1 bunch of dill in the bottom of your fermenting vessel. Add all of the cucumbers. Mix the vinegar and water in a large bowl. Add the pickling salt and stir to dissolve it completely. Pour the mixture over the cucumbers. Add the garlic, the rest of the pickling spices, and the second bunch of dill.
THE CUCUMBERS MUST BE fully submerged under the brine at all times during the fermentation. Use a glass or ceramic plate that just fits in the vessel to weigh them down. Fill the gallon freezer bag with more vinegar-salt-water brine, zip it tightly, and set it on the plate. Cover the vessel with a clean dish towel and place the crock in a spot where a temperature of from 70°F to 75°F is maintained. Lactobacilli work best at this temperature. Lower or higher temperatures favor unwanted spoilage bacteria or fungus spores.
CHECK THE CROCK EVERY DAY, but don’t taste the pickles. After a day or two, you’ll see some scum forming on the surface of the brine. This is yeast growth and must be removed or the pickles will spoil. Remove it every day. Keep the brine topped up with extra brine from the bag if needed. Let the cucumbersferment until they become an even olive green color, about 2 to 3 weeks. Taste a pickle. If it has good dill flavor and a sour taste, they’re done. If you want more sourness, allow them to continue fermenting, but no longer than 3 weeks. Pour off the brine into the stainless steel or other nonreactive pot through several layers of cheesecloth to remove the solids and impurities. For immediate consumption, up to 6 to 8 weeks, store the pickles in the refrigerator in jars topped up with the brine. For long-term storage, you’ll have to can your pickles.