REAL FOOD 101: How to Make Lacto-Fermented Pickles

Lacto-Fermented Pickles | OUR NOURISHING ROOTS #pickles #cultured #ferments #realfood This post is part of a series.  To see more about the book, and the other Real Food 101 tutorials, click HERE: Real Food 101: Traditional Foods, Traditionally Prepared.

Salty, savory, crunchy, cool.  I have loved pickles since I was a child.  Always.  We always bought the store pickles made with vinegar and yellow #5, and they tasted like the best thing evar! In fact, when my mom The Birthday Fairy would come every fall to my room to leave a trail of goodies, zesty dills were always in the mix.  I would eat several that day, and then one or two every day subsequent until the jar was gone and I would drink all the pickle juice.

Does it sound like someone’s body was craving real pickles?  The kind we ate for thousands of years, traditionally?  Beautiful lacto-fermented cucumbers brined with whey and real salt and teeming with probiotics?  I think so, too.

Our bodies are smart.  Do I know for sure what my body was craving for all those childhood years as I consumed jar after jar of zesty dills?  Not really.  But I do know that the more I listen to and trust my body, the better I tend to feel. So looking back now, and knowing what I do about nutrition, here is my best guess as to what was happening as I craved the commercial version of real pickles:

  1. Sea salt: Salt is a vital part of traditional food preparation.  It was used in curing meats, vegetables, fruits, and other foods in season.  When I craved jars of pickles, I was probably craving real sea salt because I grew up not only with iodized salt but not enough salt.  Did you know that a low salt diet is actually bad for your health? . And that when you read Diet Recovery and start following it, one of the major points is on our cells and our salt intake?  After all, at the cellular level, we are water, salt, and sugar.  So drinking water isn’t necessarily the best idea unless you’re thirsty.  Instead, try drinking watered down juice with a pinch of salt.  That will keep your cells happy and balanced! .
  2. Lacto-fermentation: Lacto-fermentation is a process that uses whey and salt to keep “bad” bacteria at bay while good bacteria can flourish.  This process is what I use in many recipes in Real Food 101, from sauerkraut to water kefir.  Lacto-fermentation is also thoroughly explored in Jenny’s Get Cultured! online class.  Both are worth your time.  Especially since this lost art is something our bodies are crying out for. .
  3. Vitamin content: When a lacto-fermentation process takes place, it is said that the vitamin content increases.  For example, I have heard that sailors used to take sauerkraut (fermented cabbage and salt) on long journeys to avoid scurvy from too little vitamin C in their diets. . And I have also read that lacto-fermented foods are rich in vitamin K2.  They don’t have as much as say, butter oil or natto, but they are still a good source.  And we can use all the vitamin K2 we can get!  You can find out more information on lacto-fermenting and the nutritional aspects in this class.

Equipment Needed:

Simple Dill Pickles

4-5 cucumbers, or several gherkins, preferably organic
1 tablespoon whey (how to make whey)
1 tablespoon sea salt (get unrefined sea salt here)
1 teaspoon mustard seeds (get organic spices here)
1-2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped (OR 1 teaspoon dried dill)
filtered water (get water filters here)

  1. In a clean jar (you can boil your jar first if you want to), pack the cucumbers or gherkins in until filled but with an inch remaining at the top of the jar.  These cucumbers were taller than usual, so I used a half gallon jar.
  2. Spoon the whey, sea salt, and mustard seeds over the top of the cucumbers, and cram the dill down the sides of the jar.
  3. Pour the filtered water over the cucumbers until it fills the jar with a half and inch to spare on top.  Screw on the lid tightly and gently shake to combine the salt and the water.
  4. Set on the counter at room temperature for 3-7 days, tasting as the time goes by until your brine and pickles taste just as you’d like them.
  5. When you want to stop the fermentation process, put the jars in the fridge.

Garlic Dill Pickles

4-5 cucumbers, or several gherkins, preferably organic
1 tablespoon whey (get to make whey)
1 tablespoon sea salt (get unrefined sea salt here)
1 teaspoon mustard seeds (get organic spices here)
1-2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped (OR 1 teaspoon dried dill)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and whole filtered water (get water filters here)

  1. In a clean jar (you can boil your jar first if you want to), pack the cucumbers or gherkins in until filled but with an inch remaining at the top of the jar.
  2. Spoon the whey, sea salt, and mustard seeds over the top of the cucumbers, and cram the dill and garlic cloves down the sides of the jar.
  3. Pour the filtered water over the cucumbers until it fills the jar with a half and inch to spare on top.  Screw on the lid tightly and gently shake to combine the salt and the water.
  4. Set on the counter at room temperature for 3-7 days, tasting as the time goes by until your brine and pickles taste just as you’d like them.
  5. When you want to stop the fermentation process, put the jars in the fridge.

When they are done, then look a little something like this.  And they taste less like cucumbers and more like yummy yummy pickles!

Lacto-Fermented Pickles | OUR NOURISHING ROOTS #lactofermented #ferments #cultured #diy #fourthofjuly

 

This post is a part of Monday Mania, Weekend Gourmet, Slightly Indulgent Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, The Mommy Club, Real Food Wednesday, Allergy Free Wednesday, Full Plate Thursday, Pennywise Platter, Simple Lives Thursday, Fight Back Friday, Fresh Bites Friday.

PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog.
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Comments

  1. Is it possible to use the whey off of organic plain store bought yogurt? I’m just starting this “real” way of eating and not quite into making my own everything yet (though I’m getting closer)

  2. Can I then “can” these or will that cause them to ferment too long?

    • With lacto-ferments they are alive and will continue to ferment. You can slow the fermentation waaaaay down by chilling them in the fridge, but if you can them I’m afraid the canning process would either kill the probiotic aspect of the pickles OR they would keep fermenting and build up pressure in the can. It’s best to just make a couple of jars at a time and leave them in your fridge. Hope this helps!

  3. Ashley C. says:

    First of all, this recipe sounds exactly like what I’ve been looking for in a pickle! I was wondering if I could make it with cucumber spears rather than whole cucumbers? The ones I just harvested from my garden are quite large. Thank you and I love your site!

    • I say use the spears! I bet they would fit nicely into the jar too. I have heard that spears can sometimes turn out less crunchy than whole cucumbers. But my guess is that if you are using really fresh cucumbers then you’ll be good!

  4. Have you tried using other veggies with this pickling recipe? If so, what has worked well for you?

  5. I have three mason jars of these on my counter fermenting. In one of the jars the liquid has become a bit cloudy. When I open the lid there is a LOT of bubbling so it appears to be fermenting great. The others are clear and not really bubbly. Not sure which I should be concerned about, if either. Any advice?

    • Interesting. The liquid should get cloudy, in my experience. It’s possible your clear ones are just taking a little longer? Keep an eye on them, watching for mold. The fermentation process can take anywhere from 3-7 days, depending on the warmth of your kitchen, etc.

  6. I love your step-by-step pictures. They are so helpful because I often don’t want to read a lot, so I can skim through your pictures to get a sense of the process and decide whether or not I’m up to it!

    Keep them coming!!
    Sarah

  7. Are these pickles crunchy?

    • Yes!

      • Heather says:

        I make this recipe from Nourishing Traditions, and my pickles are hardly EVER crunchy– some are downright mush. I have heard that grape leaves help, so I added 5 large to the jar, yet still the pickles do not have that awesome crunch. Any advice?

        • I read a lot about the crunch factor, and it seems that grape leaves and oak leaves are hit and miss as well (even though a lot of people swear by them). The only thing I can think matters is to make sure that you have fresh cucumbers, as well as pulling off the stems right before placing them in the jars to make the pickles.

        • Lee Family says:

          I had read on-line this fall that you can add a few grape leaves in the top of your cultured pickles for the “crunch”. It worked!

  8. I’m interested in one thing: you COVER your fermenting pickles…. A. i’ve never added whey to my pickles, though i do add whey to my kimchi B. i always use an uncovered crock with a weight to hold the veg down under the water (covered with a towel)
    Don’t you have bubbling/pressure issues by covering? Isn’t air a necessary ingredient in this? Also, i usually mix up my salty brine first and pour it over, but this technique would be even easier.
    I’m going to try fermenting with whey next time!

    • Yes, these ones I cover. They don’t explode or anything, but you can always let a little pressure out if you like each day. I fill my brine up as high as possible and then put the lid on so there’s minimal air.

  9. I love this but am curious when you say to taste them do you mean the liquid? Also after you eat them all can you re-use the liquid for another batch of pickles? Thanks

    • You can taste the liquid, but I meant to taste a pickle. Just a piece should do. I’ve never reused the liquid. That’s a great question! Hmm, I say try it, and it will probably be like the second batch of beet kvass that I make (a little less strong, but still delicious and healthy).

  10. Hi Kendahl,
    Your presentation of this tutorial is just beautiful, I could just reach through this screen and have one of those awesome cucumbers. Hope you are having a great week and thank you so much for sharing with Full Plate Thursday.
    Come Back Soon!
    Miz Helen

  11. Has anyone had any experience with lactose intolerance and lacto-fermented food? I’ve recently developed lactose intolerance and I’m worried that the lacto-fermented food might set it off. Thoughts?

    • If you use whey from raw milk, it’s your best bet for avoiding lactose intolerance symptoms. But ultimately you’ll have to try it and see how you do. I recommend having all raw dairy products to see if your lactose intolerance gets better.

  12. Would you recommend using a dairy free whey? Such as from coconut yogurt? Or should I just add some more salt? Would love to make some pickles, but my son has an extreme dairy sensitivity

    • Oh wow, that’s a good question. I know that there is coconut yogurt, but I don’t think it’ll separate into whey and solids. You can try that and see.

      But it’s a whole lot easier if you just use more salt in the pickles and skip the whey. They may be a little salty, but I don’t mind that so much :)

  13. This sounds awesome! I am going to try this next summer. I like pickle slices better than whole pickles, so I think I am going to try a variety of different ways. Right now I make refrigerator pickles, don’t even bother canning, they will last the whole year if we don’t eat them before then!

  14. Kendahl, dahling! I found your blog via random drive-by. I ran out of yogurt, got stressed out, and I have mouth sores. I was searching for naturally fermented pickes in scrutiny of the industrial jar in my fridge.

    Anyway, my dad is into sauerkraut these days, but I have been shy to taste it. Maybe I can get him to do some pickles.

    Talk to you later.

    Tom

  15. I make yoghurt cheese, and have lots of whey left over. Can I cover them with whey and omit the water? Also, I have well water, can I use it straight from the tap?

    • Sherrie says:

      If your water system is set up like most people who are on a well (me included), you have a filter right off of your pump. I do not filter my water anymore than that…but I have great water.

  16. Has anyone tried the plain coconut yogurt yet to see if it worked? I also have problems with dairy, very severe problems with dairy and want to try this recipe.

  17. laura schooling says:

    if not using whey, how much extra salt do you suggest?

  18. Dava McKay says:

    Hi! We made 2 jars of these today with our kids. We have a question. We added the brine & whey etc, 1 inch over etc. All seemed fine, nicely covered in brine. Just checked now, several hours later and the cucumbers no longer are under the water, but some have floated up and the tips are right at the brine edge or very slightly above. The jar is closed, but is this okay? Will they still pickle? How do you keep them below the brine?

    • My jars were so packed full that they stayed submerged. If that doesn’t work, try filling it up a little bit more. But they should be fine!

  19. Crystal says:

    Hello! I so hope you still get these comments, cause I just found this and want to try so bad! Anyway, I didn’t read all of it before hand and I thought it was still “canning” so I bought 10 pounds of cucumbers. What I am wondering since you said to store in the fridge once done, do they have to be in a fridge, or probably a cold place? If I do end up making all 10 pounds, how long will they stay fresh in the fridge? Thanks so much :)

  20. Sadly there is no raw dairy of any kind available here. Which would be better, using whey from an organic source or skipping and adding more salt? If salt, how much extra do you use, double the amount? Also, while fermenting on the counter top is a warmer or cooler environment preferred? We have A/C in the summer so the pantry is warmer (but dark, not sure if that matters). Thanks for your clear step by step instructions. Looking forward to trying these soon!

  21. Hi, I’ve briefly skimmed through all the comments and didn’t see my question… First off, I LOOOOOOOVE these pickles!!!! By far the easiest and tastiest recipe for fermented pickles that I’ve tried, so thank you so much for posting it! My question has to do with the left over brine. After you’ve devoured, er rather eaten all the pickles, can you reuse the brine for another batch? Maybe adding more whey to activate it again? Beyond drinking it, I thought maybe you can use it again? Thanks :)

    • Oh, good question. I think I have never thought of this because we are such pickle-juice-drinkers around here! I believe that you could use this to start another batch, with a little fresh whey added in again (maybe half the amount?) Let me know if it works!

  22. Technically, you don’t need to add whey. Cucumbers (and all other vegetables) naturally have bacteria on their skins that will start the lacto-fermentation process. The simplest way to make the pickles is to take good, fresh cucumbers, lightly wash them, pack them in a clean jar and then add your brine solution (as well as any spices, dill, garlic, etc) and let ferment for 3-7 days. I’m not exactly sure what they whey adds (my guess is more and/or different types of bacteria), but it’s definitely not a requirement for good, homemade pickles.

  23. Dorothy says:

    I just attempted my first batch and they taste terrible! They tasted like I didn’t use enough salt. I salted one and it tasted much better, should I add more salt to the jar? Also when I tried to open it, it was really hard to open and was fizzing so much and releasing this almost rotten egg smell. Now that its open I don’t smell that and they don’t taste like that, they just taste like when you haven’t salted something, is that normal?

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