The English cucumber season is upon us so what better moment to do a classic Jewish dill pickle recipe? This particular one comes from my Dad's 1992 book, The Feast of Christmas, but its origins lie with a lady called Ada Gail who was considered the finest of all the home cooks in Lexington, Kentucky when my Dad was growing up there in the 1940's. She was of Russian descent, so her version leans towards extra salt (and therefore fermentation) rather than vinegar for the pickling solution. By my Dad's own admission, this recipe has had to be adjusted a few times over the years (I have memories of tear-inducingly fiery ones infused with homegrown chillies), but he claims it is now perfect.
Pickling cucumbers can be found in farmers' markets, some Tescos and Polish delis. They are distinguishable by their coarse, knobbly skin and squat physiques. Though they may be a little hard to track down, they should be wonderfully cheap when you finally find them. Feel free to adjust the recipe to your own tastes and you can always use smaller/larger jars, just divide up the ingredients accordingly.
Makes approx. 6 one-litre jars
18 sprigs of dill
18 garlic cloves
12 mild fresh red chillies (6 dried)
36 black peppercorns
2 tablespoons pickling spice
1 1/2 teaspoons alum (this is used for crispness, but isn't necessary if your cucumbers are nice and fresh)
3kg pickling cucumbers
4 litres of water
175g table salt
125ml cider or white wine vinegar
6 vine leaves
The night before you want to make the pickle, scrub the cucumbers and soak them in a deep bucket filled with water and a handful of table salt.
The following morning, drain and rinse the cucumbers. Sterilise your jars by washing them in soapy water, rinsing them and placing them on a tray in a 140C/275F/Gas 1 oven for 10 minutes until completely dry, then leave to cool.
Place 3 sprigs of dill, 3 garlic cloves, 2 red chillies, 6 peppercorns and a pinch of pickling spice in each jar and push in the cucumbers, packing them in tightly.
Make a brine by boiling the water with the salt and vinegar, then pour the hot brine over the cucumbers, reserving any leftover brine. Cover each jar with a vine leaf and seal with a lid. After 2 or 3 days, you can expect to see some fermentation bubbles; in which case, top up with more boiling brine and seal the jars again. When the brine clears and the bubbles stop forming, fermentation has been completed, and you can eat the pickles four or five days later. A good way of checking is just to have a taste. You probably won't need any urging, but it is best to eat it them within a couple of months.