Lacto-Fermented Pickles Header

Make Old-Fashioned Brine Fermented Pickles Like Your Great Grandmother

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.

Lacto-fermented pickles

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.

Lacto-fermented pickles

Make Old-Fashioned Brine Fermented Pickles Like Your Great Grandmother
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Recipe type: Pickles
Author:
This is a basic formula. I have used it for cucumbers, squash, garlic, carrots, green tomatoes, radishes, asparagus, and just about any other vegetable you can eat. It works. You can make any size batch you wish. Using mason jars is common and I have fermented in quart, half-gallon, and gallon sizes with success.
Ingredients
  • Salt for brine
  • Seasonal garden vegetables
  • pickling spices
  • leaves for crispness
Instructions
  1. 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.
  2. Chop vegetables into sticks or bite-sized pieces.
  3. Gather flavorings – garlic, onions, fresh herbs, or your favorite pickling spices.
  4. Add garlic, herbs, and spices to the bottom of your clean quart, half-gallon, or gallon jar.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

Adding Liquid

If you’re interested in more specific recipes to get started with, here are a few of my favorites:

Have you tried making pickles without turning on the canner?

About Shannon

Real food, sustainability, and homesteading are inextricably intertwined on the off-grid homestead Shannon, her husband and three children inhabit. She shares the insanely beautiful and shatteringly hard of it all on her blog Nourishing Days. She also works as a content writer and blog editor for Cultures for Health.

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Comments

  1. Great pickling recipe, thanks! :)

  2. I’ve been playing around with lacto-fermented pickles ever since I read Michael Pollan’s book Cooked in the spring. So far, I’ve gotten my recipes from health blogs, not from food blogs. I’m so happy to see this here!

    And thanks for the tip about how to keep the pickles crisp. I needed that. :)
    Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy’s last post: So, my kid wants to be naked…

  3. Thanks for this recipe! I’m also interested to learn how to make pickled jellyfish. :)
    Jemma’s last post: Asparagus for Amazing Appetizers

  4. How long do they make it when in cold storage? We have a bumper crop of cukes, but not sure we could do this……but it sounds better than canning!
    Sally { with eager hands }’s last post: Blessings Unlimited grows up … and becomes Mary & Martha!

  5. This sounds AMAZING! I can’t wait to try this – I’ve made quick pickles just by tossing fresh veg into a vat o’vinegar and such, but I need more lacto-fermented food in my life. I’m going to do this with my next batch of farm market cukes!
    Amber DePixi’s last post: How to Can Tomatoes

  6. Auntiepatch says:

    How do you know when they are ready to eat?

  7. Perfect on any sandwich, thanks for a nice recipe.

  8. Ouida Lampert says:

    Shannon, thank you for sharing information with us. I do have a question: As you are off-grid, how do you store the fermented veggies after they are “done”? I am in a tiny apartment, with a tinier refrigerator (thus, no cold storage options), and have hedged at trying recipes because I really don’t know the answer to this question.

    Thanks!

    • Ouida – Refrigeration is not necessary for storing fermented vegetables. We are still in the process of building our root cellar attached to our home. Once that is complete that is where we will store them.

      We live in the south, so during the summer my only option is a cooler sunk into the ground, at least 4-6 feet. It acts as a many root cellar. In the winter, or perhaps in a cooler climate for most of the year, you could store it in a cool part of your home. Ideally the temperature would be below 70 degrees, 50-65 being ideal.

      If you have a cooler part of your home that fits those requirements, perhaps you could try a small batch, see how it fairs, and then expand from there.

      • This fermentation process is how the Koreans make Kimchee and they used to bury their crocks in the ground for fermentation and probably for preservation.

  9. Ah, you’ve cleared something up for me! I’d tried doing the lacto-fermented pickles from “Nourishing Traditions” using whey, and my pickles looked and smelled nasty. (I wasn’t about to try them, they were that awful.) I’d read so many good things about lacto-fermentation that I didn’t want to skip the whey, but y0u’ve helped me realize that the brine will still make lactic acid even without it. Thank you!

    Off to make some pickled carrots and onions now. Thank you so much!
    Katie B. of HousewifeHowTos.com’s last post: Homemade Floor Cleaner For All Types Of Floors

  10. Could I use old jars & lids from a previous jar of store bought pickles, salsa, olives, etc.? Or is having that separate rubber ring (mason style jar) necessary to doing this safely?

  11. I did not have time to sift through the comments, so you may have already answered this. But you implied a link for learning tips on how to tell if they are done – but there was no link on the “here.” Could you recommend? Thanks!

  12. So I’m at day 6 of fermentation, and I’ve been releasing the pressure in the jar as needed. But this morning when I did that, it blew like a shaken pop can. I lost about a quarter of my brine. I guess I didn’t expect it to become dramatically more effervescent with time. It’s also getting cloudy, with a white film on the bottom.
    Mama B @myediblejourney.com’s last post: Waffles with Spiced Peach Sauce

  13. I have a question here. I followed your directions except I also put a few green beans (raw) on the jars, now someone told me I can’t do that because “canned raw beans are toxic” and I could die from eating it. Is it true? If so, Can I still save the cucumbers at least?

    • Maybe this person was referring to kidney beans which are toxic if not cooked at high temperature for the appropriate amount of time.

  14. I just started playing with lacto-fermentation this summer, and am very excited about my sauerkraut and pickled veggies. However, my pickled veg turned out *extremely* salty, and I’m wondering two things: 1. Do they just need to ferment longer (I think they’ve been going about a week now) and 2. can I add fresh veg to the jar, or will that throw off the balance? Thanks! (I didn’t use this exact recipe, but I think it was basically the same).

  15. Hey Shannon, I just wanted to let you know that a) I linked to this yummy old-timey pickle post in a recent blog that I did – http://www.bhfood.org.uk/blogs/10-ways-to-save-an-apple – which was about apples, but really about ways to make food last for ages, and I hope that’s alright with you; and also b) that I just acquired 12 massive cucumbers from a local growing project and will embark on this pickling adventure tonight, along with a pit stop in cucumber-kimchi-ville. As an aside I also wanted to thank you because, as a Russian I personally insist on the superiority of salt brine pickles over vinegar pickles, and am glad you outlined their awesomeness so well.
    Vera’s last post: Washed out Summer… to the beach then!

  16. Terribleinpink says:

    I found my grandmothers old recipe for what she called Salt Pickles. I remembered we loved them. I’m assuming they are fermented but the recipe only has ingredients. This is her recipe: 8 quarts water, 1 lb. rock salt. Boil water and salt and keep hot to fill jars. To each quart of cucumbers, add dill, 1 clove garlic, 4-5 whole black peppercorns and 4-5 pieces of bell pepper. That’s it. Do you think I just follow your fermenting technique? I see she did not add the leaves or mention weighting them down. She died 13 years ago at age 90. Your thoughts?

    • The addition of vinegar lets you know this isn’t a brine recipe. This is most likely a recipe for canned pickles (once you finish the recipe as you’ve posted it, then you hot water process the pickles in canning jars). Make some and let us know!

  17. I used your recipe for brine, and your general ideas for my first attempt at lactofermentation today. Keep your fingers crossed. I found some frozen horseradish leaves in this little ethnic grocery store called Andy’s Fruit Ranch, here in Chicago. No where could I find fresh grape leaves. Can you use jarred grape leaves? I have a polish crock with a water trough that will self burp without bacteria and mold getting in.
    DoctorDiva’s last post: Grief Pickles

  18. I am using a salt brine recipe for pickles
    and using a crock, it is day 5 of 12 and there is mold on top of the brine. What did I do wrong?

    • if the mold you are referring to looks like tiny white balls, then there is NO PROBLEM. Just scoop out as much as you can and don’t be concerned about any you miss. It won’t ruin anything. Its kamfir yeast and its not harmful, toxic or anything to be concerned about. Its pretty normal.

  19. Hi,

    Just wanna thank you for the recipe, I am making 2nd batch today with homegrown cucumber. One and the only Japanese cucumber (Kyuri) I planted is very productive, 6-7 cucumbers a week!

  20. Nichelle says:

    Can you can these after the fermentation process?

  21. I was delighted to google “fermented pickles” and come across this post by one of my favorite bloggers! I have been slowly being academically convinced of the safety and health benefits of fermented foods but after trying Nourishing Traditions whey-based carrots last year and disliking the taste, haven’t returned to try fermenting anything else (I should note that they are incredibly preserved STILL, a beautiful orange color even after at least a year of storage, though we won’t eat them now, they’re just tucked in the back of the refrigerator to remind me that I really should try my hand at another recipe). I was pleased to see these just use a salt brine for the fermentation and now have four quarts of cucumbers, spices and grape leaves sitting on my kitchen table. They were quick and easy, done in an hour while my husband had the children on an errand and no hot canner running to boot and hopefully no refrigerator space necessary. Thank you for sharing the details and the links. I can’t share whether they’ve turned out, of course, having just made them, but I am eagerly awaiting the first taste to see how they come out and whether I will be converted for good! :)

  22. I was wondering if after you refrigerate them do they need to still be submerged in the brine? I tried one to see if they were good to refrigerate and some cucumbers started to float after I pulled one out. Do I need to put a weight inside or should they be okay since they are refrigerated? Also the brine level went down so do I need to add more water or brine as I pull pickle out?

  23. When making salt brine pickles ( like Bubbies pickles ) is it OK to use a 6.5 gallon food grade plastic container to ferment in ??? Or does it have to be glass or ceramic ??

    Thanks,

    Richard

    • Richard,

      You can use the larger food grade containers – in fact, you can get one of these airlocks for a big container (or you can even use one of these with a smaller container) and it prevents you from having to “burp” the container: http://www.bit.ly/airlocks. These are often used in brewing for the fermentation cycle but they emulate the type of fermentation pots they use in Europe that have water-filled rims.

  24. Hi, I am new to pickling, do you need to sterilize your jars in boiling water first before you fill them
    thanks, Tom

  25. In the recipe you mentioned ‘salt for brine’ and I was wondering what type of salt this is. I have coarse sea salt and non-iodized table salt. Would any of those be ok? In the same quantities as in your recipe? Thanks!

  26. I found your instructions AFTER I already added vinegar :( I had already put in half vinegar/half water as well as the other spices to a gallon of green tomatoes. What should I do now?

  27. hi there,
    thanks for sharing, i really look fw to try this and all the goodness of fermented veg!
    but i’m really new to this and have a few questions. when you mention black tea for crispiness, how do you mean it? as in a tea bag inside with the brine? or do i prepare a tea cup and then add it to the stuff? and for the time the jar has to sit around at room temp, can it get light? or should it stay in the dark? i’m pretty sure i remember a friend from iran doing a batch and placing them in the sun… wonder if that’s ok… because i’ve been playing with kefir for about 10 days now and that needs darkness.
    anyways thanks again!
    best x

  28. Kruna Verhas says:

    I made the salt brine poured it over the green tomatoes yesterday with grape leaves and garlic and dill but no reaction yet today.No burping or any bubles.Are they coming much later or did I do something wrong?Kruna

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