Photo by Getty Images/GMVozd
Enterprising individuals who prepare dozens of jars of tomatoes and strawberry jam are easy to spot. You’ve probably seen them at the farmers market, arms full of baskets of cucumbers, smug in the satisfaction that they won’t go hungry if the world’s food supply ends. They’ll have pickles.
For years, I thought I should pickle too, but somehow I convinced myself I didn’t have the time, energy, or expertise — that is, until the year I learned 52 homestead skills. That year, I became a real homesteader and buckled down on pickling. I can’t believe I hadn’t tried fermenting pickles before then! It’s so easy that my kids can do it.
All you really need to make fermented pickles is water, salt, and cucumbers. If you want to get fancy, you can add spices. Place the ingredients in jars, and then simply observe. It ferments all by itself! Just stand back and watch as your cucumbers turn into delightfully crunchy pickles.
Photo by Kimberlee Bastien
What Is Fermentation?
Fermentation is one version of the ancient art of pickling, a technique used long before canning existed. It promotes natural probiotics to form in foods, and the health benefits of probiotics are well proven. These beneficial bacteria have been shown to boost the immune system and aid in healthy digestion, among other positive effects. Plus, I think I feel better after I eat a fermented pickle, don’t you?
Before I started pickling, I regularly bought jars of expensive fermented pickles at a local health food store. Those pickles must’ve been made with gold dust. But for the price of seeds and a little hard work, you can grow and ferment your own cucumbers instead of purchasing them already pickled. Since water and salt are cheap, the cost savings is huge. Forget about investing in the stock market — start making pickles!
Crunchy Fermented Pickle Recipe
- Pickling jars and lids (I use 1-liter glass canning jars)
- Pickling salt, to taste
- Unchlorinated water (let your water stand overnight, and the chlorine will evaporate), enough to cover the tops of the cucumbers in each jar
- Small pickling-style cucumbers
- Grape or oak leaves, 1 per jar
- Spices of your choice (dill, parsley or lemon balm, mustard seeds, hot chiles, onion, garlic cloves, and so on), to taste
Photo by Getty Images/Diana Taliun
- Wash and dry canning jars.
- Make a brine by dissolving the salt in a pot of unchlorinated water. I wanted a really salty, sour pickle, so I measured out 2-1/2 tablespoons of salt per 1-liter jar.
- Wash cucumbers, and set aside any that are bruised or questionable. Freshness is one of the keys to crunchy pickles, so if in doubt, try soaking them in ice water for a couple of hours.
- Cut off the cucumbers’ blossom ends, as they contain enzymes that can soften the pickles during fermentation. You can also pierce the cucumbers with a fork a few times to allow the brine to better penetrate.
- Grape or oak leaves can help maintain the crispiness of the pickles, thanks to their natural tannins. I placed 1 leaf in the bottom of each jar, along with a tablespoon or two of spices. I’ve tried all kinds of spice combinations: dill and garlic; bay leaves and onions; cinnamon and cloves; and lemon balm and lovage, a perennial herb that tastes like celery.
- Loosely pack the whole, trimmed cucumbers into the jars. Cover their tops with brine, leaving about 1 inch of headspace. The brine should cover the vegetables at all times, or else they’ll start developing mold, and your pickles will be ruined. They’ll be fine as long as they remain under the anaerobic safety of the brine. NOTE: To prevent any herbs or spices from floating to the surface, I use whole herbs and wrap smaller spices, such as cloves and peppercorns, in a grape leaf, and then stuff them in the bottom of the jar. This is only necessary if you’re not using a weight to keep your fermenting vegetables submerged.
- Screw on the jar lids, but not too tightly, as you want to let some of the fermentation gases escape. Set the jars in a location at room temperature, out of direct sunlight. Soon, you’ll see bubbles of carbon dioxide gas forming in the brine, which means your ferment is successful, and the brine has started to acidify.
- Here’s the tricky part: There’s no cut-and-dry date as to when fermented pickles are done. It depends on the temperature of your home and how sour you like your pickles. On average, full sour pickles usually ferment at a cool room temperature for 6 days. After a couple of days have passed, open the jars every day to release the built-up gases, and to taste the pickles.
- When the pickles have fermented to your liking, store the jars in the refrigerator or other cold storage area to slow any further fermentation. Open the lids every once in a while to release any further buildup of fermentation gases. Your pickles should keep for about a year.
Kimberlee Bastien traded her suburban life for a century-old farm where she and her husband challenged themselves to learn 52 homesteading skills in a year. Follow the family’s adventures at The Old Walsh Farm. Kimberlee’s book, 52 Homestead Skills, is available in the GRIT store.