How to make Old Fashioned Crock Pickles

With the “Canvolution” underway, I am somewhat surprised to find myself being considered an expert on home preserving.  Phone interviews, radio appearances, live demos; even friends and family have questions for me.  “Are my fermenting cukes supposed to smell musty?” is my latest query.

I’ll be the first to say, expert or not, even I was skeptical the first time I made old fashioned crock pickles.  Fermentation is sort of scary.  And let me be the first to say, I’m not always successful.  I’ve got a jar of supposed sauerkraut on the back porch as I write this that has a fine film of black fuzz on it.  That can’t be right!!?!

But my Old Fashioned Crock Pickles are delicious, if I do say so.  Friends and family concur.  We’ve been devouring dill pickle and peanut butter sandwiches.  Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it; they’re my new lunch time go-to favorite.

So, based on my recent pickle fermenting success I’ve decided to post a pictorial how-to for my recipe (see bottom of page).  Believe me…the hard part is getting the gallery function to work on my blog not the actual pickle-making.  Here goes:

Old-Fashioned Crock Pickles

Crock pickles cure in a saltwater solution by means of fermentation caused by lactic acid bacteria, a cloudy film or scum that floats on the surface of the brine. Naturally, in this day and age of sanitation and concern about harmful microorganisms, this scum appears somewhat suspect. In fact, lactic acid is responsible for changing the pickles from bright green to an olive or yellow green and produces the characteristically tart, sour flavor we associate with pickles.

For every 5 pounds of cucumbers you will need one gallon of pickling capacity; for example, a 5-gallon crock will hold 25 pounds of cucumbers.  Select a ceramic crock, large glass jar, or food-grade plastic container; do not use a metal pot, as it will negatively react with the vinegar.

Season: Mid- to late summer
Yield: 4 quarts
Store: Cool, dark pantry

For every gallon of finished pickles you’ll need:
4 to 5 pounds clean, unwaxed, firm cucumbers about 4 to 6 inches long
2 tablespoons dill seed or 4 to 5 heads fresh dill weed
2 cloves garlic
2 dried red peppers
8 cups water
1/2 cup pickling salt
1/4 cup vinegar
2 teaspoons whole mixed pickling spices

Carefully pick through the cucumbers and discard any that are bruised or have soft spots; wash well. Place half of the dill, 1 clove garlic, and 1 pepper at the bottom of your clean crock. Add the cucumbers and the remaining dill, garlic, and pepper.

Bring the water, salt, vinegar, and pickling spice to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow this brine to cool completely before pouring over the cucumbers in the crock. Weight a dinner plate or a glass pie plate with a heavy-duty, food-grade plastic bag filled with water and place in the crock to keep the fermenting pickles at least 2 inches below the surface of the brine.

Store the crock of cucumbers at room temperature; fermentation will take longer to complete under cool temperatures, whereas excessively warm temperatures will result in soft pickles. Check the crock daily and skim any scum that appears. A clean cloth draped over the crock will keep out dust and other contaminants. Complete fermentation for “full sours” will take about 3 weeks; however, you can remove pickles from their brine before that if you prefer what are known as kosher-style or half-sours.

Fully fermented pickles covered with brine may be refrigerated in jars for months or canned for stable shelf storage. To can the pickles, pour the brine into a pan, heat slowly to a boil, and simmer for 5 minutes.  Fill hot sterile pint or quart jars with pickles and top with hot brine, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Brine may be strained through a clean cloth or paper coffee filter to reduce cloudiness, if desired. Place lids on the  filled jars and process in a water bath: pints for 15 minutes, quarts for 20 minutes.

From Canning & Preserving Your Own Harvest, by Carla Emery & Lorene Edwards Forkner, 2009 Sasquatch Books.

There you have it.  Spicy, dilled pickles, all you need is peanut butter!  Now, about that messy sauerkraut on the back porch.  Anyone have any idea what went wrong?

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18 Responses to “How to make Old Fashioned Crock Pickles”

  1. Madeline Gonzalez April 11, 2010 at 3:18 pm #

    OK I have had my eye on a crock pot at an estate sale. Today it will be twenty bucks. Every year we make dill pickles, last year being our biggest success! I have always wanted to try doing them in a crock. So off to go back to the estate sale for the 3rd time. Hopefully it will still be there. Wish me luck …

  2. Jennifer O'Malley March 29, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

    Had my first request to make a pickle crock. As a potter, I didn’t even know they existed. I completed a one gallon crock and a two gallon crock in the last two days. I made lids, and a disk with finger holes to weight down the cukes. They look really cool, and I am excited to see how they work!

  3. Lorene March 30, 2011 at 10:26 am #

    How COOL Jennifer… this summer you’ll have to put up a batch of crock pickles! They are super delicious and oh so easy!!!

  4. Ed Lagomarsino August 7, 2011 at 7:19 pm #

    It`s been two days since I have started my crock pickles but no scum yet is that ok?
    Thank you Ed.

  5. Lorene August 8, 2011 at 10:08 am #

    fermentation is subject to temperature and all sorts of seemingly magical nuances. I’m the first to admit my comfort level is challenged by this old-fashioned, very low tech kitchen art! Watch and see my friend… watch and see (said the little wrinkled gnome-like kitchen witch)

  6. Lynne August 23, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

    How long do Kosher Pickles take? 2 weeks?

  7. Lorene August 25, 2011 at 2:00 pm #

    complete fermentation for “full sours” takes about 3 weeks – but you can remove pickles from their brine or refrigerate them to dramatically slow the process down earlier if you want kosher-style or half-sours.

  8. Nancy September 3, 2011 at 7:44 am #

    my aunt’s recipe says to cover the pickles with a cotton cloth – absorbs the scum and then you rinse it out every day … I just crocked my cukes last night…in a five gallon crock…geeze that’s alot of pickles!

  9. Leenie March 25, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

    I have never made crock pickles so I have to ask, do I need an air tight lid on top? Or
    do I just make sure that the cukes are submerged in the brine? I can’t wait to do this!!

  10. Leenie March 25, 2012 at 9:42 pm #

    How soon in the season would I be able to find pickling cucumbers? I live in Central Fl.

  11. Lorene March 29, 2012 at 9:17 am #

    you’re on the right track – just make sure the cucumbers are submerged. A lid is good for keeping out bugs and dust but some folks just drape a clean cloth over the crock. While I’m not familiar with the growing season in central FL you should expect to find pickling cukes around the same time as vine-ripened tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are available – YUM!

  12. Jeff Patterson May 13, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

    I checked this website for insructions on how to make pickles in a crock. My mother canned just about everything we ate, and grew most of it too. Her name was Lorene too, a name you don’t come across everyday! I did a lot of canning for our family to as well as having some dandy gardens.
    Jeff

  13. Lorene June 7, 2012 at 11:24 am #

    Jeff – that’s quite amazing – your’s mom being named Lorene; although crock pickles are pretty wonderful stuff as well. Thanks for stopping by!

  14. Jim June 15, 2012 at 11:17 am #

    Hello
    I enjoyed your instructions on how to make pickles in a crock. I will be giving it a try by using the crock I have used for years to make sauerkraut. I did have a comment about the kraut it looks like you made three years ago. When my grandparents made kraut, they didn’t even cover the cabbage once they were done pounding the cabbage into the crock. This led to black mold being present on top of the kraut, which they would always remove before taking more kraut out of the crock. I found this old German method rather gross, and today I just put one heavy duty trash bag inside another and fill the inside one with water and place the bags on top of the crock, thus preventing air from coming into contact with the cabbage and better preventing mold. You probably have figured this out by now, but that’s how I do the kraut these days.

  15. Lorene June 22, 2012 at 11:31 pm #

    Thanks Jim – I need to tackle kraut again – or even better Kimchee!!!

  16. Randy Mann-Stone July 1, 2012 at 9:23 am #

    Dear Lorene, I have a question about brining pickles in a crock . when making them in a crock is it normal to have a salty crust develop on the outside of the crock ? if not what is the possible reason for this ?

  17. Lorene July 1, 2012 at 11:41 am #

    Sounds like your crock has tiny fissures that are allowing the brine solution to permeate it. Not unusual but be careful what surface you set the crock on to avoid damaging it. and always be sure to clean with non-toxic solutions so you don’t accidentally add ick to your next batch of pickles!

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