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Making Traditionally Fermented Pickles

July 30th, 2011

Traditionally fermented food are super healthy. It’s always nice when you can make something using these methods. Not only is it quick and easy to make, the end product is healthier than it’s more time-consuming processed counterpart. Pickles are a prime example. I make one kind of vinegar pickles that are canned. The rest of the pickles I make are fermented. Basically you put the pickles in a jar with whatever herbs you want to flavor them and cover them with salt water. A few weeks later you have a probiotic feast! Adding fermented pickles to your meals will help with digestion and increase the amount of nutrients you can absorb from what you eat.

When it comes to making pickles there are a few things you want to consider. First of all, you don’t want the cucumbers to be too large. The smaller the cucumbers the crisper the end product with be. You want the cucumbers to have distinct warts or bumps and no yellow on them. The smaller they are the less developed the seeds will be inside as well. Freshness also counts, if you can process them the same day you pick them that’s best. If you can’t process them right away make sure to put them in the refrigerator to keep them cool and process as soon as possible. The cucumber on the left is perfect for pickling, the one of the right is a little overmature (but you can still use it if you’d like). You can still use it for pickling, but there will be more seeds and the final product most likely won’t be as crisp.

Second you want to make sure you scrub the blossom end of the cucumber well. It is believed that it can harbor bad bacteria increasing the risks that your batch will not ferment properly. It is also thought that it can make your pickles not as crisp. Some people cut the blossom end of the pickle off, I simply scrape it with my nail until I can see the clean end of the cucumber. You can see the different between a cucumber with the blossom end cleaned (left) and one that hasn’t been cleaned enough (right).

Gently wash cucumbers. I usually just wipe with a damp cloth to remove all dirt. You don’t want to scrub them too much as they are delicate and they have beneficial bacteria that aid in fermentation in their skins. Place cucumbers and spices in a fermenting crock or a glass jar. Typically I avoid the use of any kind of plastic when pickling as the acidic brine encourages leeching of BPA’s and other chemicals from the plastic into the foods being fermented. I use 1 Gallon Glass Barrel Jars for fermenting pickles and sauerkraut. Wide mouth half gallon mason jars work quite well also. Depending on the size of container you use for fermenting you can use small plates, glass jars, or drinking glasses to weigh down the vegetables and keep them submerged in the brine.

I also always put my fermenting jars on a plate that has a lip to contain any brine that spills out of the jar. This seems to happen most of the time when I’m making pickles, sauerkraut or kimchi. Do not be alarmed if you see white mold or green mold floating on top of the brine when you’re pickling or in the brine that spills out of the jars onto the plate. This mold is common (some cultures even prefer it) and harmless. You will want to skim this off of the top of the brine daily, but don’t worry about getting all of it as it has a tendency to break up and float away. Since I use wide mouth pint jars to weigh down the vegetable I usually just push down on the jar, when the brine overflows out of the fermenting jar the white mold usually slides down the side of the jar. Every few days I add some extra brine if needed to keep the level up.

When fermenting you want to use pickling salt or sea salt. You do not want to use iodized table salt or any kind of salt that has anticaking agents in it. Many places will tell you to only use pickling salt, but I prefer to use an unrefined sea salt called Redmond Real Salt with the minerals in it. I purchase this salt in 25 pound bags directly from their website.

LOWER EAST SIDE FULL-SOUR DILL PICKLES
from The Joy of Pickling

About 4 pounds* of 3-5 inch pickling cucumbers, blossom ends removed
4 to 6 dill heads or large sprigs
2 small fresh or dried hot peppers broken or cut into pieces
8 garlic cloves, sliced
1 Tablespoon whole allspice berries
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 Tablespoons whole coriander seeds
1/2 cup pickling salt (4.65 oz)
3 quarts of water

Layer cucumbers in gallon jar with dill, peppers, garlic, allspice, peppercorns, and coriander. Dissolve salt in the water and pour enough brine over the cucumbers to cover them. Place something in the mouth of the jar to weight down the cucumbers and keep them submerged in the the brine (I usually use a drinking glass or pint mason jar with brine in it). Keep jar at room temperature. I keep mine on the dining room table so I can monitor it.

Within 3 days you will begin to see tiny bubbles rising to the top. If scum forms on the top of the brine skim off. Pickles should be ready in about 2 weeks when they are sour and olive green throughout. At this point, remove the weight jar, remove any scum, and top off with brine if needed. Cap the jar and store in the refrigerator. These pickles will keep for several months to a year, although they seem to lose a little bit of crispness after a few months. I have had a batch in my fridge for about 9 months and they were very good down to the last pickle.

*if you do not have 4 pounds all at once you can continue adding cucumbers to your jar until it is full. Just remember to let them ferment for 2 weeks after last cucumber has been added.


You can certainly change the spices in the recipe above to suit your tastes. Add some sliced onions and mustard seeds, or perhaps mixed pickling spices instead, some horseradish would be nice as well. When making more than one batch of pickles, always make sure to label your jar with the type and date started. I also include the page number that the recipe was on. If you’re interested in learning more about both traditional fermentation and other kinds of pickling I’d highly recommend purchasing The Joy of Pickling: 250 Flavor-Packed Recipes for Vegetables and More from Garden or Market. It’s full of all kinds of recipes from fermented vegetables to gravlax and so many other interesting things.

Do you make or enjoy any traditionally fermented foods?

57 Comments to “Making Traditionally Fermented Pickles”
  1. Wanda on July 30, 2011 at 8:01 am

    Your pictures are so helpful in showing what to look for! Thanks for these instructions. We didn’t get many cucumbers in our garden this year, but am bookmarking this for next season (or a windfall gift of cukes if they appear!)
    Wanda´s last post ..Zucchini and Red Onion on Naan Bread

    Reply to Wanda's comment

    • Joshua on July 30, 2011 at 1:23 pm

      Wanda,

      Although we grow cucumbers for pickling, we don’t grow nearly enough to support our home’s appetite for pickles. We used to buy store-bought, until we realized we could split the difference: buy pickling cucumbers at the grocery store and pickle them ourselves! It’s easy for me to get into a mode of, “I have to do it all myself OR I have to go store-bought.” There’s a happy middle ground there.

      You may have to search around to find a store that carries pickling cucumbers, but the Kroger near our home (in Knoxville) has them regularly. Oddly, the EarthFair near us doesn’t carry them, and you’d think they’d have a bigger variety!

      Reply to Joshua's comment

      • Susy on July 30, 2011 at 11:22 pm

        I’ve noticed lots of them at our local farmer’s markets. If you have a few in your are you might be able to find some good ones there – they’re always fresh when I’ve purchased them – and very good!

        to Susy's comment

  2. Teresa on July 30, 2011 at 8:22 am

    I really like the idea of fermenting food but have never tried it. This seems like a very easy recipe for a beginner.

    I also love the jars you used. Do you mind telling me where you got them?

    Reply to Teresa's comment

  3. Allison on July 30, 2011 at 8:29 am

    I am so exicted to try out this recipe and I must get that book :) I haven’t yet tried my hand at traditionally fermented foods but I can’t wait. And this seems like the perfect recipe to use since I cannot gather enough fresh pickels at once to make a large batch for canning. Thanks for sharing!!
    Allison´s last post ..Gratefully Blessed Gray Hairs

    Reply to Allison's comment

    • Susy on July 30, 2011 at 8:36 am

      You can halve the recipe above if you don’t have enough as well, or keep adding cucumbers to the jar till it fills up. I’m pretty sure in the old days they had large fermenting crocks and just kept adding cucumbers until they were full then they moved on to the next.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  4. Honey~Do…. « A Seed Inspired on July 30, 2011 at 9:58 am

    [...] just enjoy. Today amongst this list I must make more cheese and I would like to start a batch of these pickles. I tried once before, many years ago, to make fermented pickles and …well the kids called [...]

    Reply to Honey~Do…. « A Seed Inspired's comment

  5. Erika on July 30, 2011 at 10:23 am

    They look yummy. I have Burr Gherkins from Baker I have never made pickles with them. I wonder how they would be they are small and prickly all over, but very fun to grow and the chickens love them.

    I might try this with them. Thanks for sharing. I am doing the Gnowfglins ecourse and the lessons now are on fermenting foods.

    Erika

    Reply to Erika's comment

    • Susy on July 30, 2011 at 11:23 pm

      I use my tiny gherkins (Fin de Meux) and pickle them whole in a sweet & sour kind of vinegar brine.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  6. Joshua on July 30, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    We save the containers for most of the processed foods we buy–to a point. Eventually, a line has to be drawn and they go in the recycling. When we decided to start making our own pickles instead of buying them, the desire to not bring any more pickle jars into the house was a big motivator. At that time, we had three of the big 2-gallon jars that pickles come in, and we use those for all of our refrigerator pickling. Seeing that your jars run $10 each, I guess you could say we saved $30! They won’t be as cute, but it may be cheaper for some folks to go to the grocery store and spend $5 on a big jar of pickles, if only to get the jar.

    I’ve always wanted to try fermented pickles, but I’ve never got around to it.
    Joshua´s last post ..“Hey Kid! The First One’s Free!”

    Reply to Joshua's comment

    • Susy on July 30, 2011 at 11:25 pm

      You can always ask friends & family to save jars for you as well. We don’t buy hardly any processed food anymore, so my family & friends always save salsa & glass peanut butter jars for me. I find them to be perfect for storing the large quantities of spices that I dry.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  7. Joshua on July 30, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    … and in all that, I totally forgot what I actually came here to say: Regarding the blossom end of the cucumbers, I have found that it sometimes tastes really bitter when the rest of the cucumber is fine, so I make a habit of cutting them off of my cucumbers. I have never had a bitter-tasting pickle, even before I started cutting them off, but it just seems to make sense that something so bad-tasting shouldn’t go in.

    Regarding crispy pickles, you can get a product called Pickle Crisp, which is just calcium chloride granules. You put it in the pickle jar with the cucumbers and they come out much crisper. In fact, they came out so crisp, I found I liked it best if I halved the amount that the label called for. I have seen this product in the pickling and canning section of Wal-Mart and my local grocery store.

    http://www.google.com/products/catalog?q=pickle+crisp&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=shop&cid=13960392089257830321&sa=X&ei=Xz80TuH-Kae80AGXhcS8BA&ved=0CDUQ8wIwAA
    Joshua´s last post ..“Hey Kid! The First One’s Free!”

    Reply to Joshua's comment

    • kelly on June 30, 2012 at 7:50 pm

      great information! thanks, joshua!

      Reply to kelly's comment

  8. Martha on July 30, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    Can you slice the cucumbers and pickle them this way?

    Reply to Martha's comment

    • Susy on July 30, 2011 at 11:17 pm

      I haven’t tried, I usually pickle them whole and slice or quarter when we eat them.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  9. Tee on July 30, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    Well… We are going to give this a try.
    A few years ago I tried to make naturally fermented and when we went to eat them…. Well, the kids named them the Tooty pickles and no one would touch them… I wasn’t even brave enough.
    So how whatever you are doing makes more sense. So we shall see.
    Thanks,
    T
    Tee´s last post ..Honey~Do….

    Reply to Tee's comment

  10. kristin @ going country on July 30, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    Sauerkraut. We do love out sauerkraut. Our cellar seems to be perfect for the, uh, sauering. The cabbages are one of the few things that have done well this year–probably because they were planted back when we were still getting lots of rain–so I can make lots of sauerkraut this year. Good thing, since I don’t know if I’ll ever get any cucumbers. Lots of flowers, no cucumbers yet. Boo. I want my pickles.
    kristin @ going country´s last post ..What Good Timing

    Reply to kristin @ going country's comment

  11. Eleanor on July 30, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    What a timely post! I’m just about to try this myself for the first time. I read that adding a grape leaf to the jar helps make the pickles crispy. Have you ever heard that?
    Eleanor
    Eleanor´s last post ..Caving to the Craving: the Case of the Very Expensive Watermelon

    Reply to Eleanor's comment

    • Susy on July 30, 2011 at 11:19 pm

      Yes, I sometimes add a grape leaf or some sour cherry leaves (not wild cherries). I’ve read oak leaves also work and add some tannic taste – kind of like tea.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  12. Jennifer on July 30, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    Thanks for this gorgeous post! I’ve done several batches of canned pickles but I would love to invest in a gallon jar so that I could make fermented pickles!

    Reply to Jennifer's comment

    • Susy on July 30, 2011 at 11:21 pm

      We use these jars all the time. We use them for gathering maple sap, I use them to make sauerkraut, I use them for fermenting pickles and other things. I also use them to store dried tomatoes or peppers. Since I don’t use any plastic with my food, big jars like this can be invaluable for storing. I also have a large quantity of half gallon mason jars that I use for grains, salt, milk and other things as well.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  13. Miranda on July 30, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    Love love LOVE fermented pickles. My favorite, though are ferment-pickled jalapenos. That’s one thing I’m missing about Texas: heaps of jalapenos. Sigh.

    Check out my post on how i ferment my pickles: http://anaustinhomestead.blogspot.com/2010/11/more-about-fermented-pickles.html
    Pretty similar to your operation!
    Miranda´s last post ..Homemade How To: Carpet Powder

    Reply to Miranda's comment

  14. KimH on July 31, 2011 at 9:26 am

    I used to love pickles but sometimes have inflammation issues with vinegar so I rarely eat them.

    This would be a wonderful alternative and I love the looks of that salt. Yum! I’ll have to check it out!

    Thanks also for all the comments, folks.. Good stuff!

    Reply to KimH's comment

    • PickleEater on October 16, 2012 at 5:09 pm

      KimH: Fermenting food like pickles produces lactic acid, which is different than acetic acid like vinegar. These “sour pickles” and “sourkraut” taste sour due to lactic acid and contain no vinegar.

      Fermented foods are great for digestion as the helpful organisms are kind to your gut.

      Reply to PickleEater's comment

  15. Andrea on July 31, 2011 at 11:25 am

    I’ve canned lots of pickles and relish so far this season, and have the small cucumbers to do this, but for some reason I am scared to try this?
    Maybe because it’s something new to try.
    I’ll let you know how it goes :)

    Reply to Andrea's comment

  16. blake on July 31, 2011 at 10:54 pm

    this is so helpful! thanks for all the pictures. I especially appreciate the note about adding cukes as you go… in a small garden, that’s definitely the reality. can’t wait till mine are ready!

    As for your question, I plan to make sauerkraut and kimchi. If you haven’t already, would you elaborate on the kale kimchi I think you mentioned recently? Sounds awesome.
    blake´s last post ..at the table

    Reply to blake's comment

    • Susy on August 1, 2011 at 7:14 am

      I simple traded the kale for the cabbage in the Kimchi recipe in The Joy of Pickling. I haven’t tasted it yet as it’s still brewing. Kimchi is nice because it is finished much faster than sauerkraut and it’s much spicier. I love the addition of ginger!

      Reply to Susy's comment

  17. Brandee on August 2, 2011 at 11:34 am

    I made fermented pickles (from another recipe) and after I put them in the refrigerator they developed a white “scum”…on the pickles, not floating. Have you heard of this? Is it OK?

    Reply to Brandee's comment

    • Susy on August 2, 2011 at 12:36 pm

      Yep, the white scum is OK. The pickles will have a “off” flavor if they didn’t ferment properly. If they smell like sour pickles they’re good, if they smell like rotten cucumbers they’re not. White scum is a yeast that forms. Most recipes tell you to skim it off, some Eastern European cultures prefer to leave it on and like the flavor that it imparts to the pickles.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  18. lani on August 2, 2011 at 11:45 am

    So happy to find your blog. I ordered a crock a few weeks back should b coming any day now. You post is so detailed I would love to add it as a link to my blog when I try this ….thank you so much….it looks like you may have cut some ends off of some cucks? yes?
    lani´s last post ..Ok guess what I ordered

    Reply to lani's comment

  19. Dru Peters on August 2, 2011 at 11:57 am

    Fantastic! The great description and photos really help. We are over run with pickles right now, and this easy way to get them fermented sounds great. An Amish woman gave me a description of how this is done, this photos make it much clearer. thanks!

    Reply to Dru Peters's comment

  20. Denise on August 2, 2011 at 11:59 am

    How many cukes in a pound, roughly? I am in Europe and we go by kilogram, gram, etc.

    Reply to Denise's comment

    • Susy on August 2, 2011 at 12:37 pm

      It really depends on the size of cucumber, but generally 4-6 I find. Usually 4-5 pounds will fill a gallon crock. As long as you make the brine this strength you can use it to cover however many cucumbers you have.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  21. Sean on August 2, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    I’m the founder/moderator for Punk Domestics (www.punkdomestics.com), a community site for those of use obsessed with, er, interested in DIY food. It’s sort of like Tastespotting, but specific to the niche. I’d love for you to submit this to the site. Good stuff!
    Sean´s last post ..Plum Preservation, Two Ways

    Reply to Sean's comment

  22. mkassel on August 3, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    can remember my grandmother adding a slice of rye bread to brine.Cant seem to find recipe that calls for this.Do you think it might be for flavor or to speed up fermentation process?Or both?

    Reply to mkassel's comment

    • Susy on August 3, 2011 at 7:38 pm

      Yes, there is actually a recipe in the The Joy of Pickling that includes the use of a piece of rye bread on top. I believe she says it is useful for developing the right kind of yeast and to impart flavor.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  23. robyn on August 5, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    I love making sauerkraut with brine. I have been thinking about trying cucumber pickles, but few cucumbers here. I wonder if it would work with zucchini?

    Reply to robyn's comment

  24. Jim on September 1, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    I grew my own pickling cucumbers this year and just made a batch of fermented pickles. I let them ferment at around 70F for 4 days and when I sampled one, the taste was just right. My understanding was that the pickles could then be refrigerated, which would slow the fermentation process considerably. I should add that I used the glass Fido jars with wire bail-type closure

    Prior to placing the jars into the fridge, I put the rubber gaskets on the lids and closed them to form a seal. When I opened one of the jars today, some of the brine came spurting out, telling me that the fermentation had not slowed down very much. I don’t want this to keep happening, so I was wondering if I could store the jars in the fridge without the rubber gasket. That way, gases can escape, but it also allows a little air in, so I‘m not sure what to do. It seems like any kind of airtight seal will allow the pressure to build up in the jar. I’d prefer not to “process” the finished pickles with a hot brine or other canning methods.

    Any advice would be appreciated.

    Reply to Jim's comment

    • Susy on September 1, 2011 at 2:25 pm

      I don’t use tight seals on my jars in the fridge and I don’t seem to have any trouble. I use a screw on lid without a rubber gasket and I don’t screw on too tightly. The fermentation should stop, it does take a bit though. I’ve never had a jar of pickles go bad with the lightly screwed on lids in the fridge.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  25. Sharon on September 12, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    Thank you for these detailed directions! I am giving this a try and four 1/2 gallon jars are sitting on my kitchen counter as I type this. I wrote about it here, http://local.farmersmarket.com/blog/localvore-local-lore/giving-old-fashioned-pickling-a-try, pointing to your blog. It has only been five days so far. I am looking forward to the two-week mark when I can see how I did. :-) Thank you again!

    Reply to Sharon's comment

  26. Grace on May 10, 2012 at 8:55 pm

    I grew up in a Sorbo-Lusatian family. We made fermented cucumber pickles in huge 30 gallon crocks. We used salt brine, homegrown cucumbers, dill, grape leaves, and immature (green) muscadine grapes.
    The grapes were for tartness; I have since learned that the grape leaves add tannin to help make the pickles crisp. Read somewhere that oak leaves can be used for that purpose also.

    Reply to Grace's comment

  27. angie h on June 22, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    What type of cucumbers make the best pickles?

    I haven’t fermented any foods yet but I am hoping to get started this summer! Can you “can” fermented foods? This is the part I’m confused on-things you ferment you have to keep cold in the refridgerator once they have fermented?

    Reply to angie h's comment

    • Susy on June 22, 2012 at 2:45 pm

      My favorites are Boston Pickling, Kirby type pickles do very well also.

      Reply to Susy's comment

    • Jim McNulty on June 26, 2012 at 6:41 am

      Folks don’t usually can their fermented food at 145 degrees F. will kill all the probiotic bacteria.
      Once the fermented food reaches the desired “sourness” for our individual taste, we refrigerate them to slow way down this process. If you have a cold basement or a cave behind your home, you could keep them in there as they did in the old days.
      Hope this helps.
      Jim in So Calif

      Reply to Jim McNulty's comment

  28. me on July 12, 2012 at 8:52 am

    Thanks so much for the info and the pics. I have been searching for some specific details regarding fermented pickles and you answered all my unanswered questions. I should have a load of pickling cucs coming out of the garden in just a few weeks and this will be my new “putting up” project for the summer (I also plan on trying kimchi if I can score some organic cabbage). I have read a lot of posts suggesting a grape leaf to deter mushiness and plan to add that also.

    Reply to me's comment

    • Susy on July 12, 2012 at 8:57 am

      Yes the grape or sour cherry leaves seem to work for keeping things crispy (as does eating them within a few months).

      Reply to Susy's comment

  29. A Anderson on August 16, 2012 at 6:49 am

    Thank you for the detailed pictures. A few years ago before my grandfather died, he told me about how his mother made pickels in a large barrel (if you wanted a full sour just dig to the bottom of the barrel-those were his favorite). Of course I couldn’t picture it then until this post. I searched my pantry for a jar – although not a big jar, I will be planning a trip to the farm this week to look for the perfect cucumber.

    Reply to A Anderson's comment

  30. Renee on November 10, 2012 at 8:11 pm

    I’ve made your pickle recipe a couple of times, they are amazing, and a big hit with my family! Even my young grandchildren like them! Thank you for your clear directions and great pictures, it’s very much appreciated and helpful!

    Reply to Renee's comment

    • Susy on November 10, 2012 at 10:59 pm

      Thanks for the feedback, so glad everyone is enjoying them!

      Reply to Susy's comment

  31. sandra on January 23, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    My grandmother never used the pickling salt for these pickles she has always used regular salt so therefore I have always used regular salt as well. If I decided to switch to the pickling salt is there any difference in the saltiness of the pickles or anything, and I use a piece of bread on the top with mine and they are usually great.

    Reply to sandra's comment

  32. kelly on January 23, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    i made this recipe back in june and just a week or so ago found one last lone pickle in jar in the back of the fridge… it was still crispy and really yummy!

    Reply to kelly's comment

  33. Denise on October 3, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    My pickles looked great for the first week (bubbles and everything), then the next week the scum formed, so I did your method of pushing jar down a bit and having scum overflow out of large jar. Eventually instead of just having bubbles form on pickles, there was also a sort of white scum. I tried not to panic, but wondered if this was normal. When the two weeks were up I transferred jar to refrigerator (white scum and all). Today I felt brave enough to try one after about 2 weeks and I feel like they had a bit of a “moldy” taste. Or is it totally my imagination? Also the white scumminess seems to have settled in the bottom of the large jar also.

    Any input is highly valued!! I feel like I keep failing at lacto-fermentation.

    Reply to Denise's comment

    • Susy on October 4, 2013 at 1:28 pm

      The white scum you’re seeing is most likely the yeasts from the fermentation. Mine often get this layer of white.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  34. Janet Bezold on December 15, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    after 3 days my pickles seem to be getting soft and I must put them in the frig. How do you get 2 weeks?

    Reply to Janet Bezold's comment

  35. Kellie on August 8, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    thank you so much for this info. after they are pickles do you can them, or can you can them, andif so what calling method works best?

    Reply to Kellie's comment

    • Susy on August 12, 2014 at 7:51 am

      I just put them in the fridge and eat them as we need them. They will store in a cool place for a long time.

      Reply to Susy's comment

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