Fermented pickles, one jar at a time.

My constant efforts to learn from prior years’ mistakes is finally starting to pay off, if only in a small way.  This year I planted my cucumbers early enough that they did not succumb to Powdery Mildew before I’d gotten more than five or six of them!  Last year I tried them as a succession crop after my peas.  I had enough deformed cukes to turn into a few pints of relish, but that was about it 😦  The year before that I’d gotten them in early enough that the individual plants produced well, but since it was my first year with the garden, I’d gone small (only four plants), and didn’t have enough for preserving.

This year I’m still not quite where I want to be (I don’t think), but it’s definitely an improvement!  I’ve got maybe 28 plants, and at the moment I’m averaging 2-4 pickle-sized cucumbers a day.  This is still well off of the several pounds that most recipes call for, but since I’ve been getting this yield for about two weeks now, it’s still an improvement!  I may not be able to put up pickles to last us the year, but I’ll certainly be able to provide us with enough for the summer.   

I know I could’ve gone with classic refrigerator pickles, but I’ve been wanting to try fermented pickles, and since they also lend themselves well to very small batches, I went with those.  I adapted Sally Fallon’s recipe from Nourishing Traditions.  As far as I can tell, the main difference between her technique and the classic fermented pickle technique is that she adds a few tablespoons of whey to the saltwater brine as a kick-starter, and to ensure that the right kind of bacteria gets a foothold before anything nasty has a chance to set in.

  • As many cucumbers as will fit in a quart mason jar (sliced, spears, or whole)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2T yellow mustard seed
  • 1 head of dill seeds or rough equivalent
  • 2c water + 2t salt 
  • 4T whey

Pack everything into the jar.  If you think it will stay in layers then go ahead and add ingredients in layers – I find everything settles to the bottom anyway, so I don’t bother.  Add whey, then salt water, leaving about 1 inch of room at the top of the bottle.  Cap tightly, and leave at room temperature for two to three days, or until you like the flavor.  Loosen the cap once or twice a day to “burp” the jar, or you may end up with a mess of broken glass!  When it’s where you want it, put it in the fridge.

So far I’ve had really good luck!  Mine have been ready to go into the fridge in about two days, because it’s been so hot.  It really is important to let the excess gas out periodically, because even if your jars don’t explode, you end up with carbonated pickles – and that’s just weird.  Also, expect the brine to start getting cloudy after the first day.  With vinegar pickles cloudy brine is a sign of spoilage, but with fermented pickles it’s normal.  It’s interesting to watch the progression!  The first day they’re still bright cucumber green.  The second day the color starts to change.  By the time they’re done they’re pickle-colored!  The jar on the left has just been started – the jar on the right is about to go into the fridge.  I’m happy eating the spears right out of the jar, but my son only likes them on sandwiches.  Give them a shot and let me know how they turn out!


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