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
4.9 from 26 reviews
Recipe type: Pickles
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.
  • Salt for brine
  • Seasonal garden vegetables
  • pickling spices
  • leaves for crispness
  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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  1. umm zainah says:

    can we add green tea leaves instead of black tea leaves?

    • Green tea lacks (almost all of) the tannins which are the reason for including the tea. The steaming process which halts the tea’s oxidation, leaving it green rather than brown, prevents its development.

      • That is not correct. To prove this, simply take some green tea and put it in your mouth. Your mouth will have a desiccated feeling from the tannins. I have used Green Tea with great success for crisping pickles.

  2. Regina Daugherty says:

    I’m going to make these. Would I be able to can these pickles even though they will keep without it? I would like to keep them on hand for the entire year. I don’t have the fridge space nor the privilege of a cellar as I live in the city. Also, I have a bunch of red onions I’d like to experiment with. I’d like to know if I can grill them first them brine them? I think it should work since they still have their carbs to feed the fermentation. Any suggestions?

    • Yes you can can them but the living bacteria will be dead. A hot water can is fine because the pH is low enough. Canned they will last a long time. Just make sure you have the leaves in there to prevent them turning too soft.

      I wouldn’t grill them. The reason is it will break down the onion and will be mushy. You can do it though, it will ferment, just no oils should be present, this will promote off flavors and encourage spoilage over the long run. What you might try is grill a few really well, like char them nicely. Blend these with the raw onions, sort of as a flavoring agent.

  3. Definitely going to try this recipe as soon as we get some of our garden harvested. I do have a question, though. What kind of salt is used? I’m thinking that salt in the old days was rock salt or sea salt, and they probably didn’t have any of the fancy salts we have today. I know some of the native Americans used to get water at salt springs and boil it down to make salt. Pioneers learned the process as well. Just wondering if iodized salt is a poor choice. What did you use?

  4. Any other ideas about what to use to keep them crisp? And if using grape leaves, how many should I use? and will horseradish root work instead of leaves? they don’t really sell the leaves anywhere in markets.

  5. First time ferment-er says:

    Sooo, I used cucumber, jalapeno and carrots in mine. The liquid has turned cloudy. Is that bad?

    • No. Completely normal and not harmful. I’ve never had a batch not turn cloudy in the 6 years I’ve been making lacto ferments.

  6. This is interesting! I’ve never seen pickles made the way you showed quartered into little pieces like that! I don’t know why i’ve never tried that before. Usually do chips or spears, but I might give that a try next time! Thanks for sharing your recipe!

  7. I make sauerkraut and cover the jar with a coffee filter while it ferments. Is it ok to do the same with cucumbers?

  8. Bonnie Freench says:

    Mine got a milky film on top, has this happened to you?

    • Yes this is some form of bacteria. Not harmful, but quite common. Not sure what it is, but it will actually produce a white sediment that persists post-ferment. It will eventually settle out of suspension given enough time. Cold shocking in the fridge helps as well.

  9. Is it important for the container to be airtight or can it be covered with a lid without the sealing o ring to rid the gases? I had a friend who said he merely left the lid on loosely.

    • Yeah don’t worry about airtight. In fact you want it to breathe a little. Just make sure nothing gets in there, that’s really what the cover is for. You want it to off-gas but not get contaminated. The main item of importance is that the liquid be above the pickles as molds, etc, will develop on the surface…but not on the liquid.

  10. Hey there! I just burped my jar of pickled cucumbers (6 days in) and I decided to taste one. The pickles weren’t salty and only had a mildly sour taste. Is there a way to make them salty at this stage of the pickling process?
    Thank you!

    • You can always add more salt to the brine. It will absorb over a period of a few days. I would caution using too much though. This is pretty standard sodium content for pickles, if you go too far it’s not good for you (fwiw)

    • Also, should have mentioned this in the first comment. Lactic acid production by lactobacter is highly dependent on time and temperature. So colder ferments will produce lactic acid more slowly. However, too high of a ferment and you run the risk of funkier flavors and poorer quality in the texture. Just keep it rolling. It will be fine, just check in on it from time to time. I am a big fan of longer ferments because I like a more sour pickle.

  11. Can I use black tea to keep it crisp instead of leaves which I can’t get and what is the amount per half gallon container?
    Not quite sure of amounts you use in your recipe?
    Will I get sour pickles with this recipe?
    How much pickling spice should I use?
    How much garlic etc.

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