Looking for a great homemade fermented pickle recipe? Look no more! This recipe makes lacto-fermented dill and garlic pickles that last ages and are so full of flavor.
New to fermenting? I’ll be your guide. Naturally fermenting pickles in brine is an old tradition that I’m happy to show you how to do – it’s a very simple and easy process.
How to Ferment Pickles
Fermenting cucumbers in a brine to make homemade pickles is my favorite way to use up excess cucumbers from the garden or the farmer’s market. It’s a quick and simple way to store and save up your cucumbers to eat them the rest of the year and they are very healthy too.
I got into fermenting a few years ago as a means to preserve a very productive garden. It made sense to save some of the abundance for the winter. There’s not a great way to save cabbage and I don’t really like canned homemade pickles (too soft in texture for me), so I started experimenting with fermenting. Later I learned of all the fermented vegetable health benefits and now I’m very intentional about fermenting lots of vegetables to have throughout the year.
This recipe is not for canning or bottling cucumbers. This recipe makes lacto-fermented pickles that sit in a brine for a few weeks and then can be kept in a cellar or the fridge for many months. The pickles are full of live and active cultures, stay nice and crisp (since they aren’t heated), and taste better than the refrigerated pickles at the grocery store.
What is fermenting or lacto-fermentation?
Simply put, vegetables are placed in a brine and kept submerged there for a few weeks. While they are there, the natural bacteria, especially Lactobacillus work their magic and turn the cucumbers into pickles. After a few weeks the pickles can be stored in the fridge or cellar for months.
You can read a much more in depth explanation of fermenting here.
Is fermenting (pickles/vegetables) healthy?
Yes! As I’ve started researching gut health for my own life, the more I have come to love the health benefits of fermented foods.
Fermenting foods is a centuries old tradition across all cultures. It wasn’t until the advent of refrigeration in the 1950’s that we started moving away from this preservation method. Now that we are a few decades away from fermenting, science is showing us why fermented foods should be added back into our diets.
Eating fermented foods, like homemade pickles, adds beneficial bacteria to your gut.
Fermented food health benefits include:
- They aid digestion
- Increase nutrient availability
- Improve brain function
- Improve blood sugar control
- Reduce inflammation
This is a short list of the health benefits of fermented foods. You can find sources and a more detailed list here.
Supplies for fermenting pickles at home:
- Clean glass jar, such as a ½ gallon canning jar: This recipe calls for a half gallon canning jar. You can also make it in 2 wide-mouth quart canning jars.
- Sea salt without anything added. Your goal is to make an environment for good bacteria to live, so making sure your salt doesn’t have additives is important.
- Unchlorinated water: Again, the reasoning is to make an environment for good bacteria to thrive, chlorine and heavily treated tap water make it hard for the things you want to live. Feel free to buy distilled water if you need.
- Cucumbers: there are so many kinds and you’ll get different results with each kind. You can use garden cucumbers, mini english cucumbers (like the kind they sell in a bag all together), or Kirby cucumbers. Don’t worry too much about what type of cucumber you are using, though I do like to use organic or homegrown when possible (again, the less it’s treated, the happier your beneficial bacteria will be). Look for cucumbers that are similar in size and about 4 inches long and about as fat as a quarter. I love to make whole cucumbers. I think they have the best texture in the end pickle, so pick some that are a good eating size for you.
- Seasoning and spices: I love dill and garlic pickles, but you can play around with seasonings a lot.
- Tannin containing leaves: this includes bay leaves (fresh is best), grape leaves, oak leaves and more. Adding a few of these to your pickling process helps to make the end pickles crisp. It’s an extra ingredient compared to many recipes you might find, but it’s my little trick to making amazing pickles at home.
What kind of cap or lid do I need for my jar to ferment food?
You can get as complicated as you like for this. The goal for the lid or fermenting tool is to help hold everything in the jar under the brine (air isn’t good for this process, it’ll lead to mold, so everything needs to stay fully under the brine).
There are many, many products that are lids or tools for fermenting. I have one Kraut Source lid and absolutely love it (I’d like to get another 1 or 2 so I can have more than one jar going!). It’s easy to use and easy to clean and it works great. It fits on any wide mouth glass canning jar.
You can also use a rock that is clean and fits inside the top of your jar. If you are using a rock you’ll also want a piece of fabric and a way to secure the fabric (a rubber band or a screw on canning lid without the flat, both work great). The purpose of the rock is to hold everything in the jar down into the brine and the cover will keep out bugs and dust. The rock has to be submerged below the brine too or it will mold. Because the cloth cover is light, the gas it creates will be able to easily escape. That being said, the cloth can also let too much brine evaporate, so you just have to keep an eye on it.
I also just got some of these glass weights from a friend and they work like a rock, but aren’t a rock!
I think you should use what you have on hand. If you decide fermenting is really something you love, invest in some lids. If this is your first time, go find a rock. There’s lots of different things you can try or invest in and I think they generally work the same, so do what fits your budget.
Trouble Shooting Fermented Pickles:
- Mold: if the contents of your jar are fully submerged in the brine you shouldn’t have any mold. If some of the contents are poking out, those will mold. If it grows furry mold on something that isn’t fully submerged, you’ll need to toss the whole batch.
- Film that could be mold on the top: Be aware that you can grow kahm yeast. It looks like a cloudy film on the surface of your brine and is a normal thing. Use a clean spoon to remove the film each day. It won’t be fuzzy. Be aware that even if your cucumbers sink to the bottom of the jar in the beginning they might float a bit at the end, so use a weight (rock) or a lid even if it doesn’t look like you need it on the first day.
- Cloudy Brine: This is very normal and will normally happen within the first 3 days or so of the fermenting process. No issue there, in fact, plan on it happening, that’s how you know your pickles are live and active.
How do I know when my pickles are done?
Taste! When they taste like a pickle, they are done. Normal fermentation times are 7-21 days. I know I like most things that are fermented about 14 days, so I let things sit for 10-14 days and then starter checking them daily by tasting until the desired sourness is achieved. You won’t over ferment something, and fermenting for less time just makes them less cellar stable and they probably have a few less active cultures. So if you ferment your pickles less than a few weeks, keep them in the fridge for longer storage.
Conditions of your home will impact fermenting time (what you fermented, how it was grown (which will impact the natural yeast and bacteria on the vegetable) as well as the temperature of your home. A warm kitchen will ferment cucumbers faster than a very hot or chilly kitchen. The bacteria have ideal environments in which they thrive and outside of those ideals, it just takes them longer to do their thing. If you are fermenting year-round, you’ll find this to be the case too as seasons/weather/temperatures fluctuate.
How to store fermented pickles:
Once the pickles are to your liking, you can remove the rock or lid and place a traditional lid on the jar (I like these one piece screw on lids a lot, or just use a canning flat and screw on lid). Pickles can be stored in cold storage or a root cellar or kept in the fridge. I just got a second fridge from a yard sale for my basement to keep my ferments in since I don’t have cold storage in my home. I’m so excited.
If you are storing your pickles out of the fridge just be sure to “burp” the jars (unscrew the lids to release built up gas) every few weeks or so.
More preserving and pickle recipes:
- How To Pickle Peppers (Hot Water Bath Canning Method)
- Grandma’s Quick Pickled Cucumbers: Refrigerator Pickles
- Quick and Easy Refrigerator Pickled Banana Peppers