Making lacto-fermented pickles.

I had wanted to pick mullein flowers today in order to get some cough syrup started, but it was raining, so I made pickles instead.

Mason jars were invented in the 1850s, but the canning jars with sealing lid and rings that we use today actually didn’t exist prior to 1915 (source: A Brief History of Common Home Canning Jars).   So what did people do to preserve vegetables before that?

One method they used was salt brine lacto-fermentation.  Chances are your great grandmother or great-great grandmother had a crock similar to this one to use for “pickling” vegetables in:

From Make Old-Fashioned Brine Fermented Pickles Like Your Great Grandmother:

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.

I have lots of pickle cucumbers ripe now, and I’ve found some that have gotten a tad overgrown.  They taste a bit bitter raw but they are fine to use to make sliced pickle rounds.


First, I sterilized this glass one-gallon jar.


Then I assembled my ingredients:

  • about 8-10 overgrown pickle cucumbers
  • 6 large cloves of garlic
  • 6 T kosher salt
  • 6 c water
  • fresh dill

Those darn wild rabbits decimated my garden dill so I had to buy some.

I mixed the salt into the water until dissolved to make the brine, then put it aside.image

I scrubbed and sliced the cucumbers into rounds, then peeled and chopped the garlic.


I started with a layer of dill and garlic, followed by a layer of cucumber slices and kept layering until I was about 3 inches from the top.  Then I poured in the salt water brine all the way up to the top of the jar:


Next I took a little walk in our woods in order to pick two wild grape leaves.


A word of caution: wild grape vines like the same shady, woodsy areas as poison ivy, and you do NOT want to put grape leaves that have spent their life cozied up next to poison ivy into your food, for obvious reasons.


Note how the poison ivy is touching the grape leaves here.

I washed the grape leaves well in cold water, then pressed them down into the top of the jar.  The reason to add grape leaves is because they will give you nice crunchy pickles instead of soft, soggy ones.  The reason vegetables are crisp is because of the pectin they contain; over time, the pectinase enzyme will break down the pectin in the cucumbers and you’ll end up with un-cripsy pickles.  However, grape leaves contain tannins which inhibit pectinase.


Finally, I weighted down the top so that everything stays submerged in the brine.  This is very important because it’s all going to be sitting around at room temperature for a number of days, and any vegetables that float above the level of the brine will mold.  I used a little jelly jar that I had sterilized, but you can use a stone that you’ve sterilized too:


Finally, I put the lid on but did not screw it shut and placed the jar on top of a kitchen cupboard to begin fermenting.  I’ll check it periodically and skim off any scum or mold that forms on the top of the liquid; this scum on the top of the liquid is okay and not a problem provided you skim it off.


In about ten days I’ll taste them to see if they are sour enough (if you’re new to fermenting vegetables, read this: How to Know When Your Fermented Vegetables Are Ready for Cold Storage).

Lacto-fermented pickles are easy to make and very nutritious, plus you don’t need to use any electricity or propane to make them!


10 thoughts on “Making lacto-fermented pickles.

  1. I think that your pickles are safe from bears. We like things fresh ans sweet. However, you have kids and they do get curious.


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      Yet another reason I would prefer to live under monarchy.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. One thing I forgot to mention is WHY I just sit the lid on but don’t screw it shut (also, when I put the jar up on the cupboard top, I set it in a large saucer first). The reason is because as the cucumbers are fermenting, carbon dioxide gas is released, and you want a little of it to be able to escape if the pressure builds up too much. The brine might bubble over a bit, so have it sitting on a saucer.

    I just opened the jar I made to see if it needed skimming (it didn’t) and the top was nicely fizzy with little carbon dioxide gas bubbles. When I opened it, a delicious fizzy pickle smell wafted out.


  3. Thank you for showing how you ferment pickles, Sunshine. After the fermentation is complete and you can tighten the lids, is it okay to store them on the pantry shelf at room temperature? Is that ‘cold’ enough? Also, have you ever used a fermenting crock? Can you ferment the pickles in a crock, then transfer them to jars for storage? I’m full of questions and hope to try this if my cucumbers ever grow big enough to produce. They washed away several times in our record rainfall and are just now about a foot tall. We’ll see, I have my fingers crossed. Thanks again.



  4. Pingback: Remember to teach your children the home arts (plus a recipe for strawberry rhubarb jam) | The Sunshine Thiry Blog

  5. We opened the first jar of pickles today and they were very tasty – slightly sour, salty, and fizzy but still nice and crunchy! Yummy. Now they will be stored in our basement pantry where it is cool.

    Many more jars of pickles are in progress! Hooray!


  6. I’m hoping you can answer a question (actually 2 questions): Regarding pickles cucumbers, does using lower salt brine such as 3% vs 5% and aging longer at higher salt brine make a difference to final outcome? For example, using 3% and fermenting 2 weeks vs using 5% and fermenting 4 weeks end up with the same result or different result? The second question, kind or related: Is fermentation done once the CO2 bubbles stop rising? Is there any benefit to aging in brine longer than that or is it done changing once the fermentation has stopped?


    • I think the general rule is that if you use more salt, the pickles ferment more slowly, so they will take longer to be done fermenting. You might want to do that when the weather is very hot – use more salt and slow the rate of fermentation down so that you don’t get soft or moldy pickles.

      The faster the pickles ferment, or the less time they ferment, the less flavorful they are (in my opinion). But if you are looking for that very “new” pickle taste, fast and short might be the way to go. It kind of depends on personal taste I think.


      • that is very helpful. I like a real heavily fermented taste, so temperature being equal it sounds like a higher salt brine with longer fermentation would be what Im looking for.

        Is the fermentation done once the bubble stop forming/rising, or is there any gain in leaving the cucumbers to cure longer? So If Im planning on leaving them out for 2 weeks, but bubbles stop after 3 days, is it maximally fermented at 3 days or does keeping it out for the rest of he time change the pickles (other than just getting softer)


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