Call them what you want, but that big, sour, juicy dill pickle sitting alongside your hamburger was introduced to America during the late 1800s and early 1900s with the arrival of a heavy influx of eastern European Jews in New York City.
These immigrants brought with them traditions from the old country. Dill pickles were one.
- All About Pickles
- All You Need to Know to Make Your Own Naturally Fermented Pickles
- Recipes for Fermented Pickles
- My Recipe: Naturally Fermented Pickles
- Recipes Using Dill Pickles
They took fresh cucumbers and piled them in large wooden barrels along with dill, garlic, spices, kosher salt and clean water and left them to ferment for a few weeks to several months. These naturally fermented pickles were then sold on pushcarts in the immigrant tenement district of New York City. Over time, Jewish-owned shops started selling pickles straight out of the barrel as what we know today as the pickle.
Kosher Dill Pickles. Half-Sours. Full-Sours. Cornichons. Polish Pickles.
Fermented pickles are not limited to cucumbers but can be made with cauliflower, radishes, onions, green beans, asparagus and a seemingly endless variety of other fruits and vegetables. That’s for another day.
Today is for cucumber pickles.
I have successfully fermented a few jars of cucumber pickles, but since no one in the house ate them, I stopped making them. But now, I make a few batches each July when pickling cucumbers arrive at my farmer’s market. I’ve scoured the internet and have read deep into my trusty books and put together this blog post to address a common request from my readers:
“Do you have a recipe for pickles?”
This post will include just that along with techniques and tips all in one place for you to successfully ferment cucumber pickles. Plus, the recipe I developed passed my pickle-eating friend’s taste test.
She said they tasted unbelievably good.
And, they were ready in just 3 days?
I was even pleasantly surprised at the taste. I might grow to like them.
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Fermented Pickles Recipe + Tips for Success + Brine Chart
So, when you first see cucumbers in the store or at your local farmer’s market you will know it is time to ferment pickles and you will have the resources to do so.
The easiest style of fermenting is pickles or “brine pickling.” Cucumber pickles fall into this category, but so do pickled beets, pickled asparagus, pickled carrots or pickled beans or any vegetable still whole or cut into larger pieces floating in salty brine.
These vegetables do not produce their own brine, so you mix salt with water to make a brine which is then poured over the vegetables. And, as with sauerkraut, fermenting pickles is an anaerobic – without air – process. The vegetables need to be kept submerged in the brine.
These various vegetable pickles are easier to make than sauerkraut. The difference between brine pickling and sauerkraut (dry salting)?
Brine pickling is done by pouring a salty brine or whole or roughly chopped vegetables.
Sauerkraut is made with thinly sliced cabbage that is directly salted to produce its own brine. This salty, briny mixture is then packed into a jar, submerged and left to ferment as detailed here:
Most pickles are easier to make than sauerkraut however, pickles made from cucumbers can be finicky. They do not always turn our crisp and sour and you won’t always know why.
“But I want you to approach cuke pickles with a tad more caution and not feel crappy if they don’t turn out perfectly the first time. And a personal por favor: don’t start fermenting with cucumbers. They are not always an easy win and if you start with them as opposed to SO many other fantastic veggies, you may get it in your subconscious that fermenting vegetables is hard or complicated or finicky. It isn’t, I promise.”
“My advice: Start with beets or radishes or turnips or cabbage and be amazed at the simplicity of the process. THEN, move on to cucumbers, where you might need to play around to find your perfect amount of salt between needing a big rinse and being stuck with mushy pickles.”
All About Pickles
In this section, you learn about the difference between canned pickles and fermented pickles, styles of pickles and the health benefits of naturally fermented pickles.
There is a world of difference between cucumbers that you’ve added hot vinegar to and boiled in a hot water bath – or grabbed off the grocery store shelf – and the kinds of pickles I’m about to teach you how to make.
Foods that are pickled – canned – have been preserved in an acidic medium, most often vinegar. The vinegar guarantees a sour flavor and acts as a preservative. Using vinegar prevents natural fermentation from occurring and results in foods that offer no probiotic benefits. During the canning process, you thoroughly sterilize everything effectively killing dangerous bacteria – C. botulinum – but also friendly lactic-acid bacteria, and other helpful microbes.
Foods that you ferment in your own kitchen using just salt and water create their own preservative – lactic-acid – as a by-product of the fermentation process. During fermentation, the starches and sugars in the food are converted into lactic acid by the bacteria lactobacilli. The lactic acid production is what gives fermented foods their unique sour smell and flavor along with making them super nutritious and incredibly beneficial for digestion.
And here’s a quick look at 2 pickle jar labels: commercially processed pickles and naturally fermented pickles.
|Commercially Processed||Naturally Fermented|
|Vinegar||Unrefined Sea Salt|
|Calcium Chloride||Black Pepper|
|Polysorbate 80||Chili Pepper|
|Natural Flavors||Fennel Seed|
|Yellow #5||Bay Leaf|
So don’t be fooled by the unhealthy versions of pickles, both home canned and store bought. Unlike the pickles introduced to America in the late 1800s by Jewish immigrants, these modern foods have been processed by high heat and pressure destroying all nutrients and any health benefits.
For more on canned vs. fermented, here’s this article from Amanda at Phickle:
The type of pickles you make is determined by the amount of salt you prepare your brine with, the spices added and how long they are fermented.
Standard Sour Pickles (Full-Sours, Kosher Dill)
A Full-Sour Pickle is one that has fully fermented and has lost its crispness and bright green color.
A Half-Sour Pickle ferments in brine for a shorter time period and is still crisp and bright green.
Cornichons are about the size of your pinky finger, about an inch and half in length and less than a quarter inch in diameter. The French call them cornichons and they are sold under the same name in the US, but the English call them gherkins. Tarragon is a key ingredient in Cornichon pickles.
A Polish Pickle contains more spices and garlic than a traditional dill pickle. A Polish Pickle tends to be peppery and is often flavored with mustard seeds.
Polish market stands overflowing with a wide variety of pickling cucumbers. A Polish pickle fermenting vessel. Pickles available right out of the “barrel” at the local supermarket.
Bread and Butter Pickles
A Bread and Butter Pickle is made with sliced cucumbers, spices and also sugar to give them a bit of sweetness.
Pickle Relish is made from finely chopped pickled cucumbers and is a good way to salvage a batch of pickles that turned out too soft. Pickle Relish is typically eaten with hot dogs or hamburgers.
Naturally fermented pickles are packed with the same goodness as sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables. Pickles:
- Are an excellent source of probiotics.
Similar to those found in yogurt, probiotics produced during fermentation are known to have many health benefits: improved digestion, enhanced immune system, better brain function to name a few.
- Have increases nutritional value.
Lactic-acid fermentation produces and enhances the levels of enzyme, vitamins and minerals.
- Are easier to digest than raw or cooked vegetables.
Fermentation breaks down hard-to-digest cellulose.
- Are safer to eat than raw vegetables.
Raw vegetables can have E.coli on them, but lactic acid produced during fermentation kill off the E.coli bacteria. They can’t survive in the acidic environment of fermentation.
A perfect reason for making lacto-fermented pickles! For Healthier Skin, Check Your Gut, Not Your Bathroom Cabinet http://t.co/ZPqS5K3oqo
— 61st Street Market (@61market) 16 September 2015
All You Need to Know to Make Your Own Naturally Fermented Pickles
Harmonie. Kirby. McPick. Alibi. Parisienne Cornichon de Bourbonne.
Though you can pickle any cucumber, pickling cucumbers are the best. If you use slicing cucumbers, you might end up with flat, squishy and limp pickles. How to know if what you are buying is a pickling cucumber or a slicing cucumber.
Your best bet is to visit your local farmer’s market and talk to the growers or if you’re growing your own. They’ll know the variety of cucumber they grew and what it is suited for. Don’t get fooled by the size. A small, immature slicing cucumber may be tempting, but if it is not a pickling cucumber, you most likely won’t be happy with the results.
Here’s what Johhnny Selected Seeds has to say in their catalog about pickling cucumbers:
“While most pickling cucumbers can also be eaten fresh, varieties with this designation are selected with several criteria in mind. The plants should be high yielding, and the fruits must have great flavor, remain crisp when pickled, and be just the right size to fit the pickling jar. Throw in a good disease resistance package, an unusual color or shape, and Johnny’s has the right choice for you.”
Planting your own cucumbers? The following article from A Gardener’s Table might be of help.
And another recipe from the HGTV Gardens blog:
Though making cucumber pickles can be a bit tricky, here are some tips to get you fermenting pickles that make you salivate for more.
- Practice with a few small batches in jars before fermenting in a large crock.
It is much easier to stomach losing the costs of a small jar of moldy pickles than it is a large crock.
- Use ultra-fresh and blemish-free cucumbers.
Look for cucumbers that are smaller, uniform in size and with a thicker skin that is less likely to be bitter. Do not use cucumbers that have been waxed.
The best place to score pickling cucumbers is at the farmer’s market starting in late June, early July. They should feel firm without dull, wrinkly skin. Taste a few before use and don’t pickle any that taste bitter. Ask the farmer if they are a pickling variety.
- Perk up cucumbers in cold water.
If the cucumbers you’re going to pickle are not fresh-picked and are feeling a bit soft, first soak them in cold water for an hour or two.
- Remove the blossom end.
Gently scrub cucumbers in water before use, trimming off stems and thinly slicing off the blossom end. Blossoms contain an enzyme that will soften your pickles.
- Add tannin.
Tannins help strengthen the pectins in the cucumbers and keep pickles crispy. Grape leaves are most commonly used, though oak and horseradish work too. Some recipes also call for black tea. Your easiest option might be bay leaves, available in the spice section at your grocery store.
The One Ingredient You’ll Need for Crunchy Lacto-Fermented Pickles
- Season with a heavy hand.
Perhaps it’s because they’re often left whole, but cucumber pickles require more seasoning than other pickled vegetables.
- Use additive-free salt.
“Pickling” Salt should be fine. Check the label to make sure it does not contain iodine and other additives that can interfere with the fermentation process.
I like to use Himalayan Pink, a mineral-rich salt I use when fermenting sauerkraut.
- Use unchlorinated water to make your brine.
Chlorine can interfere with the fermentation process.
What is the Best Salt to Use When Making Fermented Sauerkraut?
- Watch for signs of fermentation.
Bubbles rising to the surface and air pockets forming.
Skin color changing from bright green to a darker olive green.
Brine turning cloudy.
Pickles sinking in the jar, rather than floating. (As the pickles absorb salt from the brine, the cucumbers’ specific gravity increases while the brine’s decreases.)
Pickles tasting tangy.
Interior of pickle changing from white to translucent.
- Ferment for just 3-6 days.
Check daily starting day 3, immediately moving to the refrigerator at the first hint of softness.
- Consume within 2-3 months to enjoy them when crisp.
- Don’t toss that leftover brine!
“The juice of lacto-fermented pickles? I know that makes most people squirm, but a salty swig of pickle juice quenches my thirst on a hot day more than water. Not only will that salty brine replace salt that is lost through sweating but lacto-fermented pickle juice is also a good source of electrolytes. I’d take it any day over those nasty chemical-filled sports drinks (yeah I’m talking about you, Gatorade).” – Craig Fear, Fearless Eating
- Use both the leftover brine and the pickle as a performance-enhancing snack.
“Now, athletes—from NFL players to gravel-grinding cyclists—are turning to the crunchy green treats as a performance-enhancing snack. Pickles are the next big thing in sports nutrition.” – 5 Reasons Pickles Are the Weird New Ride Snack You Need to Try, by Bicycling Magazine
Salt is the workhorse in your pickle jar. The right amount of salt is critical for creating the environment for mighty-microbes to ferment those sweet cucumbers into sour pickles.
- The right amount of salt encourages the right bacteria – lactic-acid bacteria – to thrive and grow, giving them a competitive advantage over the hostile bacteria.
- Too little salt favors harmful bacteria that can not only turn your cucumbers into mush but may cause mold or yeast to grow.
- Too much salt and the lactic-acid bacteria will not multiply. You end up with cucumbers floating in salty water, not pickles.
- Too much salt and unwanted salt-tolerant bacteria and yeasts will grow. Not what you want.
What is the right amount of salt?
To make cucumber pickles, a ratio of salt to water is used. For cucumber pickles, the recommended brine ratio is in the range of 3.5% to 5.0%. This is different than the 2% ratio typically used to pickle other vegetables.
This is due to the fact that there are enzymes in cucumbers that break down and soften the cucumber. To counteract this, more salt is used and cucumbers are fermented for short periods of time.
Most recipes do these calculations for you. Use the chart below to mix up a specific quantity of brine or to do your own calculations.
Also, if you’re wanting to achieve a certain style of pickle or are fermenting in hot weather – who isn’t – you can use the chart to make adjustments.
For Half-Sour Pickles – eaten when they are still somewhat bright – a 3.5% brine is recommended.
To ferment Full Sour Pickles, use a 5% brine.
French-Style Cornichons Pickles use a 5% brine and are typically spiced with tarragon, garlic and peppercorns.
“Although brining recipes vary widely, 5 percent is a good brine strength to use as a starting point. While 5 would be extremely high in sauerkraut or kimchi, it is important to understand that 5 percent brine yields a much lower-salt product, because once the vegetables go into the brine, they absorb salt and release juices, thereby diluting the salt concentration by more than half. “ – Sandor Katz, The Art of Fermentation
And for a discussion on measuring salt with vs. weighing salt, see my blog article:
Here’s what happened or what to do if you end up with:
- Mushy or slimy pickles.
Undesirable microbes grew due to too little salt, too high of fermentation temperatures, blossoms not removed or not keeping the cucumbers submerged. Discard.
- Pickles with a hollow middle.
The cucumbers grew this way, especially if they are larger and more mature. You can pick out cucumbers like this when you wash them – they float! Perfectly safe to eat.
- Shriveled pickles.
Too much salt was used when preparing the brine or the cucumbers were held too long before brining.
- Dark or discolored pickles.
Hard water – water too high in iron – was used to prepare the brine or discoloration from spices used, especially ground spices.
Did life hand you mushy or flat tasting pickles?
Then, make Pickle Relish!
Roughly chop pickles – adding any seasoning appropriate from the pickle jar – in your food processor.
For a bit more flavor, feel free to add a bit of ground turmeric, ground ginger and celery seed. A tablespoon or so of sugar can be used to make a sweeter relish and some apple cider vinegar will add tang.
There are many variations in pickle recipes. My recipe and the recipes I selected:
- Are naturally lacto-fermented.
The juice of cucumbers contains certain elements that encourage the growth of bacteria that make fermentation happen. Outside of salt, that’s all you need to make fermentation happen.
- Contain no vinegar.
Fermentation happens just fine without vinegar. The salt in your ferment provides the ideal environment for the growth of lactic acid bacteria. Adding vinegar upsets the beautiful and natural balance of acids in your fermenting pickles.
- Do not use whey or starter cultures.
Whey (Liquid floating on yogurt that contains beneficial bacteria.) and other starter cultures interfere with the natural progression of the fermentation stages.
- Are not canned.
Heat processing destroys beneficial bacteria.
- And are consequently rich in probiotics.
Be sure to check out the cucumber relish recipe at the end of the list.
My Fermented Pickles in Pictures
My Fermented Pickles Recipe
My Recipe: Naturally Fermented Pickles
You Will Need
- 1 pound pickling cucumbers
- 1 quart (liter) chlorine-free water
- 3 tablespoons iodine-free salt for Full-Sours, 2 tablespoons for Half-Sours
- 2-3 bay, grape, oak or horseradish leaves OR a big pinch of black tea
- 1 tablespoon pickling spices
Trim blossom end of cucumbers by 1/8 inch.
Place grape leaves - saving one for the top - and spices in the bottom of a wide-mouth quart-sized canning jar.
Quarter cucumbers lengthwise - or leave whole - and pack into jar trying to get as tight a fit as possible.
Dissolve the salt in a quart of water and pour it over the cucumbers to cover them.
Place saved grape leaf on top of the packed cucumbers, tucking excess down into the jar.
Loosely screw on lid or use an airlock system.
Set in a shallow dish - to catch any brine overflow - and leave to ferment for just 3-6 days.
Ideal fermentation temperature is 68-72° F (20–22° C). Home too warm? 11 Cool Fermentation Tips for Hot Weather
When pickled to your liking, refrigerate and enjoy the tangy crunch!
Here are two how-to videos for making pickles. The first, a small batch of pickles fermented in a jar and the second, fermenting pickles in a crock.
After the videos are seven lacto-fermented pickle recipes. The amount of salt used in these recipes vary. Either follow the numbers given in the recipe or use the Brine Chart for Pickles to mix up a batch of brine to the strength desired for the type of pickle you want.
And a video from FoodWishes on fermenting pickles in a crock.1
Fermented Cucumber Pickles from Grow Forage Cook Ferment
“Pickling cucumbers work best in this recipe, as they are less seedy and watery than regular slicing cucumbers. I’ve also used the small Persian cukes (they usually have them at Trader Joe’s) with success.” – Colleen, Grow Forage Cook Ferment2
As part of NPR’s All Things Considered’s Lost Recipes series, host Melissa Block talks with listener Joanie Vick, of Nashua, N.H. Vick wants to re-create her Grandma Minnie’s secret family recipe for Original New York Full Sour Pickles.
Note: One of her tips is to use alum to encourage nice texture. Alum is potassium double sulfate of aluminum, not something that sounds healthy to me. I have not seen it used for natural fermentation and would recommend against using it.3
Three Lacto-Fermented Pickle Recipes from Homestead Honey
“Thanks to an abundance of rain, my pickling cucumbers are growing and producing like crazy, providing us with bowls of cucumbers each day. Thankfully, I LOVE making lacto-fermented pickles, creating new recipes with each batch. This type of pickle is enjoyed fresh – no canning required – so the process is incredibly quick and easy, and the end result is crisp, delicious, and good for you!” – Teri, Homestead Honey
Three flavors to choose from. Garlic Ginger, Spicy or Classic Dill.4
Probiotic Pickles: A Fermented Year-Round Recipe from Creative Simple Life
“There’s nothing quite like a lacto-fermented half sour pickle! They are crisp, crunchy, and refreshing with just the right amount of tang! Plus they pack a hefty probiotic punch! It’s a win-win.” – Alexandra, Creative Simple Life
I noticed in the comments section of this recipe that one reader who had no access to grape leaves was able to find some quickly after posting on her Facebook status.5
Homemade Fermented Pickles and Hot Peppers from The Healthy Foodie
“The juice of lacto-fermented pickles. I know that makes most people squirm, but a salty swig of pickle juice quenches my thirst on a hot day more than water. Not only will that salty brine replace salt that is lost through sweating but lacto-fermented pickle juice is also a good source of electrolytes. I’d take it any day over those nasty chemical-filled sports drinks (yeah I’m talking about you, Gatorade).” – Sonia, The Healthy Foodie
Sonia talks about fermenting in both mason jars and the Fido-style hinged-lid jars.6
How to Make Your Own Fermented Pickles from Homestead Wishing
“A little note about store-bought pickles… Store-bought pickles, contain, yellow #5! That is on my BIG no no list! I had no idea that store-bought pickles had that in them. I just thought pickles are pickles right? I should have known better.” – Kristi, Homestead Wishing7
Lacto-fermented Cucumber Relish from AIP Living
“It is very simple to make, and contains lots of gut-friendly probiotics. It has a pleasant tangy, slightly sour flavour rather than the sharp vinegar flavour that a lot of conventional, vinegar containing relishes have.” – Salixisme, AIP Living1
Zupa Ogórkowa – Dill Pickle Soup from Fermented Food Freak
“All the Eastern Europe and other parts of the word have been CONTINUOUSLY and extensively using lacto-fermentation for preserving vegetables for all this time when the Western countries treated it with the deep contempt.
Therefore, the Eastern European cuisine comprises loads of traditional recipes that use “lacto-pickles”. We have to somehow eat all those barrels of sauerkraut and cucumbers over the long continental winter, don’t we? Most of those recipes are for cooked dishes, so they are not really in line with the current trend for implementing living bacteria into your guts.
But they are heavenly delicious and serve as the definite comfort food as well as a fabulous hangover remedy. Not being as healthy as raw ferments, they are still far from the definition of junk food.” – Anna, Fermented Food Freak2
Dill Pickle Dip from Wonky Wonderful
“You NEED to try this Dill Pickle Dip recipe! Forget about french onion dip. This dip appetizer will be a new crowd favorite! This cold creamy dip is full of fresh dill and tangy pickles. Look Out! You may eat the entire bowlful!” – Nicole Harris, Wonky Wonderful
There you have it. Everything you need to know to successfully ferment pickles that make your eyes widen in surprise and your tongue tingle with pleasure. It’s as simple as:
- Prepare cucumbers.
- Pack cucumbers into jar, not forgetting to add leaves rich in tannin.
- Pour correct strength of brine over cucumbers.
- Watch and wait.
- Enjoy the crispy goodness.
Grab the Blog Bonus PDF
Fermented Pickles Recipe + Tips for Success + Brine Chart
The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz
Ferment Your Vegetables by Amanda Feifer
Fermented Vegetables by Kirsten Shockey & Christopher Shockey
We can Phickle That – Tricky Pickle Edition by The Phickle