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Dill Pickle Showdown

Homemade kosher dill pickles in their cloudy brine

Homemade kosher dill pickles in their cloudy brine

I am very happy with the results from this year’s batch of wild cured pickles.  Most telling even my brothers who are usually cautious of my food experiments will eat these.  I can understand the default inclination to be wary of these pickles.  It is very unusual in our refrigerated and chemically-preserved food culture for fresh vegetables to improve their flavour and remain edible after two weeks of summer room temperatures in a kitchen that began to smell more than faintly of dill, garlic, and tangy pickle brine.  But these are really good and at a jar a week rate of consumption they’ll be gone before Thanksgiving. 

After a week in the garlicky brine the cucumbers are still bright green.

After a week in the garlicky brine the cucumbers are still bright green.

The problem, discussed in pickle post number one, about how much weight to use to keep the cucumbers submerged was solved.  One plate isn’t big enough to keep stray cucumbers from sneaking around its edge, floating to the top, and exposing itself to mold-causing air.  But two plates, slightly offset, and gently eased into the brine at the same time (for complicated reasons that I’ll be happy to explain to any fellow pickle makers who want to know) did the trick perfectly.

I enjoy conducting food-making experiments that use traditional methods and allow me to understand and experience all of the steps that transform simple ingredients into delicious food.  I am always pleased when the results are edible or good.  I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything but I think most home cooks always end up contemplating whether their products are ultimately more delicious than the best store-bought option.  To test these pickles I decided to line them up against the very good full sour kosher dills (the jars with the red lids) produced by Strub’s Pickles of Brantford, ON.

The two competitors bask in the sun.  The Strubs is on the right mine is on the left.

The two competitors bask in the sun. The Strub's is on the right mine is on the left.

As one can see in order to get a sense of how these pickles compared in a variety of applications I cut them into three shapes.  A large uncut piece to get a sense of what they are like straight out of the jar; partial spears to simulate their role playing side-kick to sandwiches; and sliced for the perfect burger.  Time for the tasting.

Cut into whole pieces, spears, and slices.  Homemade on the bottom, Strubs on top.

Cut into whole pieces, spears, and slices. Homemade on the bottom, Strub's on top.

When considering a pickle’s texture crunchiness–within reasonable limits–is the measure of greatness.  Submersing vegetables in a flavourful liquid is a balancing act; we want the flavour and preservative powers that the liquid imparts but we don’t want the extra liquid to make the vegetables soggy.  After tasting both I have to give a slight edge to the Strub’s pickles.  My homemade ones had some crunch but between the calcium chloride and the barrel-curing (I assume in oak barrels for the same tannins that mine got from the oak leaves in the crock) they couldn’t beat Strub’s.

When comparing two excellent options taste is more difficult to evaluate and judgments are usually based mainly on personal preference so keep that in mind when reading this paragraph.  Both pickles were equally sour and the Strub’s might have been slightly more salty.  The store-bought exhibited the sharper, hotter flavour of chopped garlic while mine had the earthier, more robust flavour of whole garlic cloves. They both taste assertively of dill but other than black peppercorns (in both) I couldn’t detect any of the “spices” that Strub’s lists in the their ingredients.  It took me a few highly-savoured bites to put my finger on it but what I prefer most about the homemade pickles is the fresher, more complex cucumber flavour that fills the background.  I wrote a bit about this in my post from earlier in the month about these pickles and I’m happy to see that a hint of this intriguing flavour remains in the final product.

Very tasty spears of homemade pickles

Very tasty spears of homemade pickles

I am biased but all other things being the same I would rather eat one of my homemade pickles.  And all other things are definitely not the same.  There has been some talk recently that home preserving can be much more expensive than buying from the store.  (UPDATE: Here’s the National Post story that highlights the expenses of canning http://www.nationalpost.com/story.html?id=1918742) The cucumbers cost ten bucks, say a dollar worth of garlic, maybe twenty cents of salt and peppercorns, and the dill grows wild in the garden so it is very close to free (excepting the labour and electricity to pump water to the garden).  That makes a total cost of roughly $11.25 for about six litres of pickles that would go for between twenty-five and thirty dollars if purchased one litre at a time from the store.  Of course that comparison can’t count the support for a  local farmers’ market, the pleasant (some would say pungent) brininess that fills the kitchen, and most of all a closer connection to what I eat.


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Posted in: Fermenting, Pickling.

5 Comments

  1. Caitlin says:

    Very Excited!!!

  2. [...] have done well in the garden this summer and I also included some foraged apples and finely diced homemade dill pickles (substituting for the gherkins in most recipes). Rutabaga, dried apricots, onions, and cauliflower [...]

  3. Sarah says:

    Oh… Dill pickles, another fave. Good work!

  4. foodwithlegs says:

    Thanks, Sarah. These worked out very well, and the second batch that just finished was good too. It would probably take upwards of a fifty pounds of cucumbers (probably somewhere near to 25 standard pickle jars worth) to fill that crock but I’m tempted to try next summer.

  5. [...] but in 2009 I also did a background post on my second batch of homemade pickles and then a comparison between mine and similar store-bought pickles. With my fifth batch (in four years) of [...]

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