Fermented pickles are an easy way to preserve cucumbers for up to a year. They have a different flavor than canned pickles because there is no vinegar in them, but they pack a salty, delicious punch. With only a few minutes to get started and some patience while they ferment, you can have tasty pickles that feed your gut, too!
What are fermented pickles?
Fermented pickles are cucumbers that are fermented in a saltwater brine, rather than cooked in vinegar, to pickle and preserve them.
Lacto-fermentation provides the environment for bacteria to break down the sugars in food and convert them into lactic acid. This produces a distinct desirable flavor and natural carbonation. It also preserves food. Fermented vegetables can be kept in the fridge or a root cellar for up to a year. The salt used in Lacto-fermentation allows good bacteria to flourish and kills harmful bacteria.
Fermentation has been used for ages to preserve fresh produce, but it has recently become popular again due to its health benefits. Fermented food is alive with all kinds of beneficial bacteria that feed your microbiome and promote gut health. Fermented food is an easy and delicious way to add probiotics to your diet.
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Fermentation spring: This presses the pickles down so they are fully submerged under the brine. It’s important for the pickles to be kept out of oxygen to prevent harmful mold from developing. A glass fermentation weight also works.
Fermentation lid: These are jar lids that have one-way valves on them. The valves allow gas that’s formed during fermentation to escape without letting air in the jar.
Cucumbers: I like to grow pickling cucumbers in my garden every year for this very purpose. They grow a good size and shape for pickles. You can usually purchase pickling cucumbers from the farmer’s market as well. If you can’t find any pickling cucumbers, you could use regular ones as well. I recommend growing your own and harvesting them while they are small, but if that’s not an option, you could cut full-size cucumbers into spears.
Peppercorns, red pepper flakes, and mustard seed: These are spices that add a complex and delicious flavor to your pickles. You can adjust the spices based on your preferences. They even sell premade pickling spice at the store if you desire something easier.
Pickling salt: This is a very important part of fermentation and should be treated as such. You can substitute Pink Himalayan salt or sea salt. Do not substitute iodized table salt for this recipe and don’t alter the amount of salt in the recipe. The salt used for this is the proper amount to keep the bad bacteria from growing in your fermented pickles. Cutting back on the salt could cause harmful bacteria and molds to grow in your pickles.
Dill: I prefer to use fresh dill in this recipe, but if that’s not an option, you can substitute 4 teaspoons of dried dill.
Garlic: This adds to the delicious flavor of these fermented pickles! If you desire, you can reduce or omit the garlic, but I really recommend giving it a try.
Grape leaves or bay leaves: These contain tannins that keep the pickles crisper. If you want a good crunch in your fermented pickles, don’t skip out on this ingredient. I like to use fresh grape leaves when I can, but dried bay leaves from the spice cupboard work perfectly as well.
How do I know when the pickles are done?
After 3-5 days, the pickles are fermented. You can allow them to keep fermenting for up to four weeks! Do a taste test every few days until they are your desired sourness. Once you like the flavor, pop the jar into the fridge. This will drastically slow the fermentation process and maintain the flavor you like.
How do you make fermented pickles?
Making fermented pickles is very easy and doesn’t take long to get started. It simply requires a little patience while the pickles ferment.
Gather up a bunch of pickling cucumbers and remove both ends. Get the cucumbers soaking in an ice water bath for 15 – 30 minutes while you prepare the brine.
To make the brine, pour 1 pint of dechlorinated water into a clean saucepan and add 3 tablespoons of pickling salt. Don’t use iodized table salt for this recipe. Heat the saltwater on the stove until the salt dissolves, then remove it from the heat and allow it to cool to almost room temperature. Add the other pint of water and set it aside.
Chop the garlic and assemble the spices.
In a 2-quart jar, layer half of the garlic, spices, and dill. Pack in half of the cucumbers, nesting them together as much as possible so you can fit a lot of pickles in the jar.
Add the rest of the garlic, spices, and dill, then layer the rest of the cucumbers in the jar, filling it with 1-2 inches of space below the rim of the jar.
Pour in the saltwater brine until it’s ½ inch from the top of the jar.
Place a fermentation weight or spring on top of the pickles to keep them submerged, then top the jar with a fermentation lid.
Store your jar in a cool, dark place until fermented. You’ll notice the brine gets cloudy and bubbles form while the pickles are fermenting; this is completely normal. It’s also common for a thin, white substance to develop on the layer of the brine. This is called kahm yeast and it’s completely safe. If you notice mold of any other color, or white mold that looks raised or fuzzy, throw the whole batch of pickles away. This isn’t common if you’re using the right amount of salt and not letting your pickles ferment for too long, but it can happen on occasion.
Start tasting your pickles after 4 days and allow them to ferment until they are the flavor you prefer. They will get sourer the longer they ferment. You can leave them to ferment for up to 4 weeks.