I’m standing at the kitchen counter of the cabin my husband built for us when we moved off-grid. It’s over 90 degrees, it’s approaching the lunch hour, and my three children, aged 1 – 6, are getting hungry.
A set of red headed pigtails is at my side while I chop the mid-summer vegetables that need preserving – summer squash, cucumber, and a few green tomatoes that came off the vines too early. They’re all going into a gallon jar of pickles that will contain no vinegar, will never be heated or boiled, and will not see a lick of refrigeration.
These are old-fashioned brined lacto-fermented pickles. It’s a mouthful, in more ways than one, but these are the pickles our great grandmothers made. They keep for months, if prepared properly, I really appreciate the health benefits we enjoy from them, and though I’ve made them for years, I appreciate them even more now that we’re taking a crack at this sustainable off-grid homesteading life.
Oh and they are dead easy to make.
The process of lactic acid fermentation is part art and part science. You’re probably familiar with sauerkraut and kimchi. By the same biological process we can make brine-pickled vegetables from literally whatever is in the garden.
The same beneficial organisms we find in good soil are on the surface of the vegetables we pick. Those beneficial organisms feast on the carbohydrates in the vegetables and produce organic acids as well as enzymes and beneficial bacteria.
It is the acids produced – part lactic and part acetic – that form the brine that preserves the vegetables from spoilage.
This process must happen anaerobically, outside of the presence of oxygen, which is why the vegetables are covered in a salt brine. This is the most critical aspect of the fermentation process: you must keep your vegetables covered in brine.
Beyond that, the process is unbelievably easy.
|Make Old-Fashioned Brine Fermented Pickles Like Your Great Grandmother|| || |
- Salt for brine
- Seasonal garden vegetables
- pickling spices
- leaves for crispness
- Prepare a brine using the ratio of two tablespoons of salt to one quart of water. If it is over 85 degrees in your kitchen, use one extra tablespoon of salt. Stir well and set aside.
- Chop vegetables into sticks or bite-sized pieces.
- Gather flavorings – garlic, onions, fresh herbs, or your favorite pickling spices.
- Add garlic, herbs, and spices to the bottom of your clean quart, half-gallon, or gallon jar.
- Add one of the following to keep your vegetables crisp: grape, horseradish, oak, black tea (yes the kind you drink), or mesquite leaves. Read more on why at the Cultures for Health blog.
- Place chopped vegetables atop flavorings, leaving at least 2 inches of headspace from the rim of the jar. Pour the brine over the vegetables so they are covered by at least one inch. Two to four inches is even better, but hard to achieve in quart jars.
- Weight down your vegetables so they stay below the brine while fermenting. I have used small plates that will fit into the jar opening, inverted plastic jar lids, a large cabbage leaf, root vegetable slices, or glass weights made specifically for this purpose.
- Cap the jar tightly and allow to sit at 65-85 degrees for around 10 days, or more, depending on your preference. The longer they ferment at room temperature, the sourer they become. Read more on how to tell when they are done here.
- During the earliest stages of fermentation carbon dioxide is released. Check your jars once or twice a day to see if the lids are building up pressure. If you cannot press down on the canning lid as you normally would, very quickly and carefully “burp” your jar by slightly unscrewing the lid, allowing a bit of gas to escape, and screwing it back on quickly.
- Once completed, move to cold storage – a root cellar, a basement, a cool garage, anywhere below 65 degrees, or yes – a refrigerator.
Looking at that list of 10 to-dos can be intimidating, but I promise you that once you do this a few times and understand the process, it is the easiest way of making pickles with whatever produce you have and in whatever size batches you need.
If you’re interested in more specific recipes to get started with, here are a few of my favorites:
- Lacto-Fermented Kosher Dill Pickles
- Lacto-Fermented Summer Squash
- Lacto-Fermented Southwestern Carrot Sticks
Have you tried making pickles without turning on the canner?