Traditional Lacto-fermented pickles are really simple to make and well worth the effort for any pickle-loving person. Fermenting gives pickles that deli-style, Eastern European flavour. And cucumbers naturally ferment, which means they’re super easy, even if you’ve never fermented before.
Here’s an overview of everything you need to know to make Lacto-fermented pickles.
Types of Containers for Fermenting Pickles
There are two different ways to make Lacto-fermented pickles: open-air fermentation or sealed fermentation. Personally, I do a mix of both, depending on what else is going on in my kitchen. We love pickles so much, that I’ll stash them in whatever container I happen to have available!
There are pros and cons to each method, so choose whatever method will work best for you.
1. Open-Air Fermenting
Open-air fermenting involves keeping the cucumbers submerged below a brine and simply covering the top of your fermentation container with a cloth to prevent bugs from getting in. Here are some pros and cons to open-air fermenting:
- Con: Open-air fermenting requires a bit more work. You will need to check it every three days to skim the scum off the top of the pickles and add water as it evaporates.
- Pro: It is easy for newbie-fermenters since no special equipment is required.
- Con: There is more risk of contamination with open-air pickles. Mold growing on the surface of your fermentation crock doesn’t necessarily mean it will have affected the pickles… but it’s definitely a risk.
- Pro: Using a crock allows you to make a HUGE batch of pickles all at once.
Here are the common ways of open-air fermenting.
- Mason jars with a weight: This is a very low-tech way to ferment. All you need is a large wide-mouth mason jar for the pickles, and a jam, filled with water, nested inside the larger jar as the weight. You can also buy weights (affiliate link) that are specifically designed for wide-mouth mason jars.
- Fermenting Crock: A fermenting crock is a large stoneware container with a weight to keep the vegetables submerged. It is the most traditional way of fermenting and has the advantage of making large batches of pickles all at once. You can often find them secondhand. However, be sure to check that the crock doesn’t contain lead or heavy metals in the glaze. The long, acidic and salty ferment, could cause leaching.
- Plastic Fermenting Bucket: Food-grade plastic buckets can be used for fermented large batches of pickles. I generally don’t recommend plastic containers for fermenting, however, if you buy a fermenting bucket (affiliate link), then the plastic ought to be able to handle the acidity. Fermenting buckets can also be used for sealed ferments.
2. Sealed Fermenting
Fermenting in sealed jars is my preferred way to ferment. If you plan on doing a lot of fermenting, then it is definitely worth the investment. Sealed jars are amazing because:
- They greatly reduce the risk of contamination. If you start with a sterilized jar, there isn’t any way for unwanted mold or bacteria to get in.
- You won’t have to remove scum. Just pack your vegetables and leave them in a cool, dark location to ferment.
- A sealed jar could last for up to a year in a cool dark location.
Here are a few common sealed fermentation containers:
Read more: Can Dogs Eat Pickles?
- A fido jar (affiliate link) is a flip-top jar with a rubber seal. A good quality fido jar will be able to handle the build-up of gas during the fermentation. Don’t use low-quality fido, as they are mostly decorative and might shatter under the pressure of fermentation.
- An airlock is a way for gas to escape while keeping unwanted bacteria and oxygen out of the jar. These are usually used for homebrewing, however, you can buy mason jars fitted with airlocks.
- The pickle pipe (affiliate link) turns any mason jar into a fermentation container.
Tips for Beginners:
- If you’re doing an open-air ferment, then you will need to water bath can after fermentation for long-term storage. This is a totally traditional way of making pickles. However, I recommend eating a few right after fermenting for a boost of probiotics.
- To store sealed fermented pickles without canning, start with sanitized jars. Either run them through the dishwasher on a sani-cycle or pour boiling water over the jars and the lids.
- Avoid any cucumbers with mould or slime. The best cucumbers are farm-fresh. They’ll be firm and have plenty of natural Lacto-bacteria on their skin.