Before the jarred pickles lining the shelves today, people enjoyed naturally fermented cucumbers. Their sour taste was not from vinegar, but from lactic acid produced by healthy bacteria, which also served to preserve the pickles. When the fermentation process was complete, the vat of pickles would be stored in the root cellar where the cool temps would help them last for months and months. Today, of course, you can buy a sealed jar of pickles that will last indefinitely, but the trade-off is in the nutrition. Whereas shelf-stable pickles have undergone heat and pressure, which destroys vitamins, enzymes and other benefits of the raw cucumber, a fermented cucumber’s vitamins are preserved, and even enhanced (b-vitamins are produced by the bacteria) through the fermentation process. What’s more, the bacteria that give the pickles their taste are also beneficial to our gut health and aid in digestion.

Nutrition-related trends and products abound, and I am often skeptical that the healthy ideas of the times are mostly just food marketing, but fermented foods are whole foods – you can grow them or buy them at your farmer’s market, and you can create them at home with salt, water and a jar. So even if you’re skeptical of food trends, here’s a traditional food you can try making yourself that puts you in touch with history, health and simplicity.

Here is what you’ll need:

  • Cucumbers. Select small, firm cucumbers. Any variety will work, but those specifically identified as “pickling cucumbers” are well suited for preserving. I recommend visiting your farmer’s market – besides offering you the freshest, healthiest, most local food, it’s likely that any small, pickle-sized cucumbers being sold in large quantities are an appropriate variety. You’ll need about 2 pounds of cucumbers per quart.
  • Dill and Garlic. A couple flower heads or 3-4 sprigs of fresh dill and 2-3 cloves of garlic (per quart) will give you that yummy kosher pickle taste. But feel free to experiment with other flavors – throw in mustard seed, peppercorns, red chili flakes, horseradish and more!
  • Salt. You’ll want a salt that is free of iodine and anti-caking agents, which can interfere with the micro-organisms that go to work in the fermentation process. A great choice is sea salt or Himalayan salt.
  • Tannins. A tannin is an organic compound that serves to help keep your cucumbers crisp as they ferment. You can add this important ingredient to your batch of pickles by throwing in a couple oak, grape or horseradish leaves, or a teaspoon of black looseleaf tea (per quart of pickles).
  • Glass Jars. The recipe below is for one quart of pickles, in which case a quart-sized mason jar or saved glass jar from another food (like store-bought pickles, spaghetti sauce, etc.) works well. However, feel free to double the recipe and use half-gallon jars, which may be more efficient if you’re processing a lot of cucumbers.
  • Pint Glasses/Small Jars. An important part of fermentation is to create an anaerobic environment by keeping the food completely submerged. I have found that the easiest way to do this is to place a smaller glass or jar in the mouth of the vessel you’re fermenting your pickles in.
  • Water. Use water as free from contaminants and chemicals as you can, as these can interfere with the fermentation process. Spring water, filtered water, or even pre-boiled water are all good options.

Once you have all your items gathered, you’re ready to make pickles! Keep in mind that the cucumbers will need to ferment for 1-2 weeks before they’re ready to eat. Feel free to sample them along the way until they’re to your liking (being sure to use a clean utensil to avoid contamination).

If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of fermentation, or try fermenting other vegetables, check out these posts on fermented green beans, carrot stickskimchi, and sauerkraut! You can also find this recipe in my guest post at wholeintentions.com. Happy fermenting!


Fermented Pickles
Print Recipe
Servings Prep Time
1 quart 10 minutes
Passive Time
1-2 weeks
Servings Prep Time
1 quart 10 minutes
Passive Time
1-2 weeks
Fermented Pickles
Print Recipe
Servings Prep Time
1 quart 10 minutes
Passive Time
1-2 weeks
Servings Prep Time
1 quart 10 minutes
Passive Time
1-2 weeks
Ingredients
Servings: quart
Instructions
  1. Prepare a basic brine by dissolving the 2 tbsp salt in 1 quart of water. It helps to heat 1 cup of the water, dissolve the salt in it, and then add 3 cups of cold water to cool it down. Do not use hot water with the cucumbers, as it may kill the beneficial microbes that will help get the fermentation process going.
  2. Add the garlic, dill and any other flavoring you want to a 1 quart jar. Also add your looseleaf black tea or grape, horseradish or oak leaves (literally from a tree in your yard is fine, as long as it is not treated chemically).
  3. Wash your cucumbers and trim off the blossom end of each cucumber (the blossom end contains enzymes that soften the cucumber over time). Pack your jar as tightly as possible with the cucumbers, leaving a couple inches headspace at the top of the jar. Once the cucumbers are in, fill the jar with your prepared brine to cover the cucumbers by about an inch, leaving an inch or two of headspace.
  4. Place your pint glass or small jar in the opening of your quart-sized jar and press down until the cucumbers are completely submerged. Some overflow is ok, and you may want to place the jar on a small dish or towel to catch additional overflow that might occur during the fermentation process.
  5. Let the jar sit in a cool place for 1-2 weeks. There won't be much activity in the first day or so, but soon you will notice the brine becoming cloudy and whitish, you will see bubbles rising, and you will notice a sour pickle smell starting to develop. These are all good signs that your ferment is active and healthy.
  6. When the cucumbers are to your liking (taste testing is encouraged!), refrigerate or store in a root cellar or very cool basement. The cooler the storage, the longer the cucumbers will last before getting soft and unpalatable. But as long as there isn't mold growing or strange colors or smells, they are good to eat!
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