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DIY Kitchen: fermented pickles

2013 September 10
by Rachel Turiel


On the early September MRI of my brain you’d see the flashy billboards of my amygdala (associated with formation of emotions) parading their daily messages: bombing Syria is NOT the answer! or, Oooooh, new Facebook pix of Rebecca’s baby!, or Omg, this book! I want to hug it. And then there’s my prefrontal cortex (associated with planning ahead, delayed gratification), currently colonized with: pickle recipes, pesto ingredients, and do I have to wash food processor between batches of eggplant dip and salsa? It’s also tied up in freezing chard, kale and beet greens, and what to do with the zucchinis. Which is to say, if you thought my life lacked zesty drama before, well, welcome to September.

Dan too, is jammed up, prefrontally-speaking, in find elk, stalk elk, make precisely accurate shot to vitals from 15 yards away. Now, try Again. And the children? Well, truthfully I’ve lost track of them. What are they doing? Oh, lets see, they’ve built some lego-buckskin device they’re dangling out the 2nd story window (cover your ears dad) to clamp onto the vigas eight feet below. Now Col’s finger is bleeding from some vague knife-work project (Did I approve it? Who was supervising?) and whoops, we’re out of band-aids…but wait, here’s Rose with a stack she flourishes like the band-aid broker, asking in return only to bandage the wound. Now they’re practicing for future debate team but failing miserably, never developing their arguments beyond: You did it; did not; did too; Mom said; stop talking to me. Also, pretty sure pinching is frowned upon.


Pickles cured without vinegar – in case you were wondering what the hell this post was about.

And I stand at the stove, stirring my fragrant salsa, watching the zippy green of the cilantro merge peaceably with the red ocean of tomatoes. Or I’m at the table, packing fat little cucumber submarines into half gallon jars. And I think, cheerily, Kids need to figure out their own program of entertainment. It’s good for them! Plus, parents can’t be endlessly available. Two minutes later when Rose bursts into teary flames because it’s her turn to give Col a shot with the pencil and “he’s not letting me,” (the word “me” now having 4 syllables), I think, guiltily, Shit. They need me and I’ve been unavailable since mid-August. 


Why no, we don’t keep the hair-cutting scissors locked up, why do you ask?

Which is to say, I have no answers on how to get your household work done while caring for kids. Maybe, like my friend Melanie, you’re raising kids who want to help in the kitchen; maybe like me, your kids will slice a few tomatoes and then float off to the next thing. Maybe like us last Sunday, you will actually need to stop in the middle of it all, save children from each other, bring everyone to a dark room and read aloud chapter 11 of Lemony Snicket’s Book the Twelfth, while everyone’s blood pressure settles, even though you’ll be late to meet friends at the river.


What I do know is that these pickles, these real sour pickles, or refrigerated pickles, or lacto-fermented pickles (though fermented without whey), these raw, enzymatic, teeming with lactobacilli, old-fashioned pioneer pickles that will last in the fridge for at least four months are worth the trying to figure it all out.


Ingredients (for 1/2 gallon)

5-10 small/medium cucumbers

2 qts water

2-3 TBSP salt

3 peeled whole garlic cloves

2 dill seed heads (leaves good too)

2-4 grape leaves (oak/apple OK: for tannins to keep pickles crunchy)


Use freshest cukes possible. Wash cukes well and let sit in ice cold water bath for 1 hour (this helps them stay crunchy). Make brine by heating 2 quarts (8 cups) water and 4 TBSP salt to a simmer. Let cool. Clean 1/2 gallon jar (or 2 quart jars) well. Place a grape leaf in the bottom of the jar and start layering cukes on top vertically. Pack them in tight. Press the garlic and dill into available spaces. After cukes are packed in, add another bit of dill and a grape leaf on top. When brine has cooled, pour in jar so it’s covering the top grape leaf. Leave 2 inches headspace. Cap tightly. Let sit on counter for 3-5 days. Brine will start bubbling and turning cloudy by day 2 or 3. When bubbling settles, around day 3-7 (quicker in warmer temps), place in fridge or cold storage.


Don’t be scared of cloudy bubbles: that means it’s working.

Other tips for making lacto-fermented pickles

* “Burp” jars daily to release CO2.

* Whole, small cucumbers work best, but it’s OK to slice a few to make everything fit.

* You can add the culture of a previous batch to a new batch, or just drink it, as Rose and I prefer.

* Salt. Yes, it’s a lot. On these hot days, the salt holds off spoilage so the lactobacilli can get a foothold and start their colonization. You can try reducing salt, fermentation may take longer. It’s not overpowering in the mix of the finished brine.

* How do you know it’s done? Brine should get bubbly for a few days and then slow down. Taste it!

* The tannins in the grape leaves (or oak or apple/plum/pear) keep the cukes crunchy.

* Get creative. Add what you like: peppercorns, fresh herbs, spicy peppers.

* This recipe is the easiest of the easy in the fermentation canon. No pounding necessary (as in kimchi), no whey necessary (as in salsa).


Linked with Simple Lives Thursday and Tasty Traditions

29 Responses leave one →
  1. Rachel Kohnen permalink
    September 10, 2013

    Oh My Goodness! we have been in LOVE with these since our first batch got done last week. I wish I had a blog to shout to the world the goodness of sour pickles.
    Yesterday, while dehydrating hops for beer, Ian and I were wondering about the medicinal uses. So, just to get started, we are infusing oil and making a tincture. How do you use your hops for health? Maybe you can have that as your next blog topic :)

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      September 10, 2013

      Hops are great for lactating mamas wanting to boost and encourage milk supply, and are also a nervine, good for relaxing the nervous system. They are bitter-tasting and go down easier in a tincture than tea. Love the idea of hops oil: relaxing massage oil?

      • Rachel Kohnen permalink
        September 10, 2013

        Oooh…massage is a good idea. I was thinking about putting it in the bath for the kiddos. Lu has a tough time shutting down at night. We wish good hunting success to Dan…Ben loves me recounting his adventures. Or maybe it just makes him uber-jealous :)

  2. Bree permalink
    September 10, 2013

    I am always inspired by your veggie-ferment posts. I have tried so many ferments but always end up with the same problem. No matter how tightly I pack the veggies, within a day they are floating above the water surface and moldy before long. I throw so many of my food adventures in the trash! Your pickles look so happy under the grape leaf roof. Any suggestions for me??

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      September 10, 2013


      Floating veggies will mold because of the contact with air. The trick is keeping the veggies submerged. Veggies Must Stay Submerged. Some options: pack them down tightly with a wooden spoon, and as veggies float up daily, repack. I’ve found that once the ferment gets going and the vegetables get coated through and through with the bacteria-rich brine, even floating veggies will remain mold-free. You can place a small clean rock inside your jars (use wide mouth jars always) to keep veggies below surface. I’ve done this and it works just fine.
      Also, if you do find mold on surface veggies, just remove. No biggie. Underneath should be fine. Rooting for you,

      • Bree permalink
        September 11, 2013

        Thank you Rachel — I didn’t know it was okay to open it up and re-submerge those floaters. Your tips (and confidence in me) will definitely help!

  3. September 10, 2013

    I had major pickle fail with my batch of fermented pickle cucs this year. However, my mexican mini-gerkins have fermented like a champ, so I’ve got a few batches of those shoved in some dark corners of the fridge.

  4. September 10, 2013

    First, definitely do NOT wash the food processor between batches if you can help it. Second, it’s reassuring to know I’m not the only one fumbling with my september rush/kid balance.
    On a side note, since you have so much time to answer detailed comment questions, have you successfully fermented tomatoe sauce? I ran into a few problems–something like Bree mentioned int the comment above–with a batch I started recently. The sauce bubbled out of the olive oil barrier as it (the tomatoes)filled with CO2, and got moldy. Just curious if you figured a way around that.
    Oh, and the cukes look great!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      September 10, 2013


      I haven’t ever fermented anything with oil in it. Did you use whey? I wonder if oil is incompatible with fermentation?

  5. Sara permalink
    September 10, 2013

    Fermenting is my next experiment. I printed out your ginger and carrot directions but haven’t gotten around to starting. My cukes are done (except that late growing volunteer in the lower garden, so maybe something will appear), so pickles will wait until next year.

    Thank you for reminding me to freeze my greens! I did it as a latch ditch right before the frost effort last year and didn’t have much left to work with. I intended to do more, but haven’t yet. Will wait out this storm and then get on it.

    Your tomatoes look lovely, by the way.

  6. Milla permalink
    September 10, 2013

    Awesome! You are always so inspiring when it comes to this stuff. I have such fatigue around even thinking of canning. Have you done lacto-fermented salsa ever? If so, care to share the tips ;) Happy Fall!

  7. Ania permalink
    September 10, 2013

    Love those pickles dearly! In days when I had my own garden I’ve been making them (and a lot of them) just like you – the only difference, I used walnut leaves. Sooo good.

  8. Caraway permalink
    September 10, 2013

    Thanks Rachel! I just started making these pickles anyway from a similar recipe but yours explains some things I was wondering about. I also can’t wait to try your lacto-fermented salsa, and thanks for explaining the easiest way to get some whey from the yogurt I already have in the house!
    I love seeing the updates about what you and your fam are up to. My love to all of you,

  9. Jessica permalink
    September 10, 2013

    Thanks for posting this recipe! I’ve been wanting to try to make my own pickles. Hopefully, I won’t mess these up! I can be a bit challenged in these endeavors.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      September 10, 2013

      you can do it. you can do it. you can do it. I am holding your hand, virtually.

  10. September 10, 2013

    Oh I miss those pickles… but I don’t miss not having enough time to care for the children. This is one of the main reason we sold our farm… I had to come to the conclusion that I could not do it all. I had to grossly neglect my little girls while milking, making cheese, sourdough bread, lacto-fermented veggies and all sorts of amazing food to last us over the winter (how I miss my sungold tomato jam over some of my aged raw cheddar)… Sometimes, I think about living off the land again and if we should jump back into the farmers/food growers wagon… if we haven’t become too self-centered as travelers… but I find much more joy in being more present these days instead of trying to accomplish all that needed to be done while juggling a family life. I dropped too many balls…

  11. September 11, 2013

    thanks for this post! I just tried to lacto-ferment some pickles, and it worked, except they came out WAY to salty. Time for another recipe! I will give yours a go!!

  12. Andrea permalink
    September 13, 2013

    I love how you always inspire me to ferment! If only I got off my ass and actually tried it.

  13. September 14, 2013

    i’ll have to try the ice water soak trick. my notes:
    brine does not need to be heated. and rather than “burping” with a tightly closed lid, just leave open. we place a small jar on top to hold the veggies under water. closing the lid is asking for trouble, especially if you forget to burp.

  14. September 14, 2013

    i must add that you can do almost any vegetable this way, including cabage. no “pounding” required. just veggies+saltwater+a few days open to the air.

    • October 1, 2013

      of course, once it is sour enough for you, you can then close the lid tightly and store in the fridge.

  15. September 14, 2013

    I’m making these tonight. A couple of thoughts. Almost all cuc pickle recipes I have ever seen have you cut off the blossom end of the cuc, as it contains an enzyme that can make pickles get soggy. Don’t know which end is the “blossom end”? Just cut about 1/4 inch off of both ends. If you are using pickling/canning salt, no heating of water is necessary. It is designed to dissolve in cold liquids. And love the idea of another (pint) jar on top to hold the pickles under the brine. Brilliant. My husband hates cucumber pickles, so I’m making a small batch just for me. But he’ll eat pickled jalapenos on just about anything. Go figure. Love thinking of you and Rose drinking the brine. Cheers!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      September 15, 2013

      All good suggestions. I have cut the blossom ends off when making vinegar pickles, and not with these fermented ones. I am almost always happy with the crunch.

  16. July 12, 2014

    Hey lady!! Once made, how long do these last in the fridge??

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      July 13, 2014

      can you believe, 4-6 months? Yahoo!

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