It is that time of year again… pickle-making time! I’ve made a couple of gallons so far and I thought now is the perfect time to share my favorite six tips for making great lacto-fermented dill pickles.

  1. Do use half gallon jars. Unless you have teeny tiny cucumbers half (or one) gallon jars work really well. I like these ball canning jars.
  2. Do keep your cucumbers whole. I tried making pickle slices last year, but they turned mushy no matter how many grape or oak leaves I stuck in there. The whole cucumbers keep their crunch much better.
  3. Do make your brine ahead of time using boiling water. I make up a huge pitcher of brine using a ratio of 1 1/2 tablespoons unrefined sea salt to one cup water. Be sure to allow the brine to cool completely.
  4. Do use grape or other leaves to keep them crunchy. Grape or oak leaves (or horseradish, I believe) contain tannins that work to keep your cucumbers crunchy. There is nothing worse than a mushy pickle.
  5. Do NOT overfill your jars and "burp" them. Leaving headspace allows the brine to bubble up without exploding the jars. I also like to loosen the lids once or twice a day and allow some of the fermentation gas to escape. I learned this the hard way. We had a funny incident involving an exploding jar in the middle of the night. My husband searched high and low for an intruder, only to find a broken jar on the table and pickle juice dribbling on the floor.
  6. Do use various sized cucumbers. Fitting the cucumbers into the narrow jars can be a challenge if they’re all too big. I found that layering seasonings at the bottom of the jar followed by a layer of larger cucumbers standing straight up followed by another layer of seasonings and then a bunch of smaller cucumbers works well.

You can also purchase jars and air lock equipment from cultures for health to make your pickle-making experience even better.

What about you… Do you have any pickle-making tips to share?

 

32 Responses to Six Tips For Making Great Lacto-Fermented Dill Pickles

  1. Lovely photo!
    Jana

    I’ll have to try these. I don’t know that my family likes pickles but they’ve never had fresh ones before.

    [Reply]

  2. Faith says:

    I started fermenting vegetables about 3 years ago after eating some that came in my CSA share. Then I took a class from the farmer’s wife. Now I try to ferment everything that looks like a vegetable and stands still long enough for me to get my hands on it to shred or chop up. 6 weeks ago I fermented a gallon of snowpeas with chilies and garlic. Today was the day to get them out of our storage frig and rejar them into more managable pints and quarts. Of course, we tasted them and BOY were they ever pickle tasting and I think I got a little carried away with the amount of chilies I put in, but they will be good in small amounts. Today I had my 97 year old father come over to help make a batch of regular Kim Chi. He loves to help out by slicing up green onions and the boc choy stems I had been saving. I cut a huge green cabbage into pieces he could easily cut into bite size pieces. Then he helped run carrots and kohlrabi pieces through a salad shooter. We stirred it all up, covered it with a salt brine and tomorrow I will pack it into a 2 gallon jar along with garlic and chilies to start the fermentation process. He took home a pint of the snow peas and says he can’t wait to get some fermented shredded carrot I have “cooking” in the storage frig. Dad has a standing order in with me that he wants some of everything I ferment. The taste reminds him of the fermented foods they always had when he was a child. I have told him about all the fantastic health properties there are in fermented foods, but he is in love with the taste. He was born and raised in Kansas, but I tease him that I am going to turn him into an Asian because of the amount of fermented food he eats. He grins and laughs. Me too!!

    [Reply]

    Shannon Reply:

    Faith – You sound like you have a lot of experience. If you”d ever like to share your knowledge on one or various ferments I would love to have your voice here at ND. I am very limited in my knowledge as I have only been doing it a couple of years. Let me know if you’d be willing to write up a post for us!

    [Reply]

  3. I have a dumb question that I feel safe asking here. Can you *only* use pickling cukes to make pickles? We were given cucumbers in excess from friends this year but none were pickling ones. So many went to waste because I didn’t know if I could pickle the regular sized ones or not. Would love to hear your feedback on that, Shannon!

    [Reply]

    Shannon Reply:

    Megan – Not a dumb question at all. You can use any cucumber, but you may have to cut them in slices or spears. I believe pickling cukes are simply a type that only grows to a small picklish size.

    I would try spears as I find the larger the cucumber chunk, the less likely it is to get mushy. Sorry about the delay in comment reply – I was out of town.

    [Reply]

  4. Denise says:

    I’m still waiting for my pickles to grow! everything is way behind schedule here this year.

    [Reply]

  5. Thank you, thank you! Was having the same problem: mushy cucumber slices. I will definitely do the whole cucumber next time. Thanks again!

    [Reply]

  6. Joy says:

    So I’ve got sliced cucumbers in a crock – this is the second place I’ve seen not to cut them, but unfortunately, I saw both comments AFTER the work was done. They were large cukes so it seemed like the only option and that’s what we’ve always done with dill pickles that we can. Do they get mushy-inedible? Or just mushy-not crunchy like you’d get from a deli? Thanks for the tips.

    [Reply]

    Shannon Reply:

    Joy – It depends. Mine did, but then again I didn’t use grape leaves in that batch. If they do get mush you could chop them up for relish, perhaps.

    [Reply]

  7. Debra says:

    I made some pickles, they tasted almost right, but a little bitter or something weird. I wasn’t sure what it meant. Does it mean they didn’t ferment long enough before putting them in the refrigerator? I used grape leaves. I think I let them sit on the counter for 3 days as per Nourishing Traditions.

    Thanks

    [Reply]

    Shannon Reply:

    Debra – I find that they don’t taste that great shortly after being fermented, but get tastier with time. I also know that whey, if not pure, can leave a funny taste due to the possible dairy left in it. Make sure that your whey is very clear.

    [Reply]

  8. Emily says:

    Thank you for this! I lacto-fermented cucumber and zucchini slices a few weeks ago and they were NASTY. I thought about doing them whole but got a little intimidated to waste another load of them. I mean technically I didn’t waste them because the bugs are enjoying them in the compost but I was so bummed. I’m going to see what the farmer’s market has in the way of cucumbers and maybe try this again.

    What do you use besides dill? Also, where do you store them after they’ve fermented?

    [Reply]

    Shannon Reply:

    Emily – I use garlic, dill, and red pepper flakes for flavor. I store them in the refrigerator once they are fermented. Sorry about your zucchini.

    [Reply]

  9. Thanks for sharing this info! I have had a bumper crop of pickling cukes, and have thus far been timid to try pickling them. I am definitely going to give it a go and use your tips!

    [Reply]

  10. wendi says:

    I have fermented my first batch of pickles and they are cloudy. I’m wondering if that’s normal, or if I’ve done something wrong. Yours look so beautiful and clear.

    [Reply]

    Shannon Reply:

    Wendi – Cloudy is good :) . That means the salt and bacteria were working. That photo is a before photo, the first day of the ferment.

    [Reply]

  11. Linda says:

    I started a batch of sweet gherkins a couple of evenings ago. I am following the recipe in the Ball Blue Book. I am glad to read the questions and comments here as people are talking from experience. It is good to know that the cloudy brine is normal. Is it also normal for white foam to be forming at the top of the crock? I cleaned it off last night and it doesn’t seem to be foaming as actively today.
    As I have skimmed through web sites, I am confused about something. When I boil the water and salt to make the brine should I have let it cool before pouring it over the cucumbers? The recipe in the canning book seems to have one pour the boiling water over the cucumbers (which is what I did), and yet some web sites say to cool the water. Does it matter if the brine is hot or cool? Clarification would be appreciated.

    [Reply]

    Shannon Reply:

    Linda – I am guessing that what you found in your canning book is not a fermented pickle. You do not want to cook your cukes in any way. Raw = good bacteria and good enzymes. If you are going for fermented then cool your water before pouring it over. This will also keep the pickles crunchy.

    [Reply]

    Linda Reply:

    Thanks for the imput.

    [Reply]

  12. Laura Price says:

    What kind of an oak leaf for pickling? Would it be from an oak tree?

    [Reply]

    Shannon Reply:

    Laura – Yep, we use the oak leaves from the tree in our yard.

    [Reply]

  13. Jodie says:

    This is my first time in lacto-fermenting cucumbers! I followed the recipe in the Nourishing Traditions book, I wish it would have included troubleshooting info. Thank you for the helpful info you have already posted on previous comments. (Mine are cloudy and was wondering about that too!) However, I am still concerned with some issues I am having on day 2 of jars sitting on the counter before cold storage. Is the white foam inside jar normal? The lid on jars are bulging, is this due to not leaving head space? Can I open the jar and release some of the liquid? And is there any danger of botulism? Thank you!!

    [Reply]

  14. waggie says:

    I’m going to try pickles this year for the first time and am excited! thanks for the tips. I heard that you can also use sour cherry leaves instead of grape leaves to keep the pickles crunchy. Do you know if that is true? My neighbor has a sour cherry tree (they do not spray) that he said I could take leaves from.

    [Reply]

  15. Jen says:

    I had a total fail with pickles last year, and am hoping for better results this year. Last year my cucumbers were huge, and I cut them into spears. Even with grape leaves they were mushy and gross. This year, I plan to catch my cucumbers while they’re still small, and leave them whole. We’ve had such strange weather that I just now have lots of blossoms, and tiny cucumbers finally forming.

    On a happier note, I have wonderful fermented dilly beans!!! I just threw a handful of fresh dill, 3 crushed garlic cloves, and 4 peppercorns in the bottom of a wide mouth quart canning jar. Then I stuffed it with fresh green beans, and covered it with a brine of 1 1/2 T sea salt to 2 cups water. I left them for 3 days on the counter, then moved them to the fridge. They are SO GOOD!!! I’m hoping to make several more quarts. I also made fermented diagonally sliced carrots with garlic and onion, sauerkraut, and cortido. The carrots are really good too. Finally I made fermented daikon radish. I’m a little afraid to try the final product though, because I ate a fresh slice before I shredded it to ferment and it was HOT! I really love fermenting, and I hope my pickles will be successful this year.

    [Reply]

  16. Ruth Almon says:

    @faith
    “Now I try to ferment everything that looks like a vegetable and stands still long enough for me to get my hands on it to shred or chop up.”

    LOL. My daughter says she’s going to wake up one morning and find herself in a pickling jar!

    I usually pickle the cucumbers I get in my CSA box, and it’s never a lot, so I pickled them in a very small jar. I always cut them up so they’ll fit easier. They have always been crunchy. Last batch made a larger quantitey (cut up) and they were somewhat mushy. Maybe the quantity makes a difference.

    [Reply]

  17. First, your photos are always gorgeous and mine are always dorky. But the kids like showing up on my blog, even if dorky. Second, I am always meaning to get to LF cucumber having only made hot-pack. Thanks for the tips!

    [Reply]

  18. Rebecca says:

    We’ve made pickles using the info at http://www.pickl-it.com – they say the foam on top is fine and skim it off. They have a neat jar set-up using airlocks, too. I love reading the comments of what others are fermenting – esp. the flavorings added.

    [Reply]

    Shannon Reply:

    Rebecca – I just recently discovered that site and love it!

    [Reply]

  19. Can you purchase fresh grape leaves? I don’t grow grapes and don’t know anyone who does. Maybe I can find a grower at the farmers’ market? I did spy one with tiny baskets of grapes when I was there this morning.

    [Reply]

  20. Kristin says:

    Shannon,

    Thank you for your blog. I made some Kimchi last year (Nov 2010) with a beautiful head of organic cabbage plus other required organic veggies and whey from yogurt that I had made from the raw milk that we get from our cow share. I just have a teeny bit left and it still smells and tastes wonderful.

    A question… I just lacto-fermented some cucumbers from a friend of mine’s organic garden using the NT recipe. Unfortunately, I didn’t know the reason for the ice bath (though my friend had mentioned it), nor did I know about using oak/grape leaves. Anyway, after 2 days of my cucumber spears fermenting, I took the lid off to smell and taste them. The pickles smell “embalmed”. Is this normal? They taste okay, but rather bland/alkaline, not acidic. The whey I used was fairly old… I’d had it in the fridge for about 9 months. It had an alcohol smell when I took the lid off that was not as strong when the lid was off for a minute or two. I used only 1 Tablespoon of sea salt. Any advice/thoughts are greatly appreciated. Sincerely, Kristin

    [Reply]

  21. Sarah says:

    These look amazing. I started a batch, but we kept “testing” them every few days so there are hardly any left :)

    [Reply]

  22. Marla Starling says:

    I lacto fermented some pickling cucumber from my garden last week. I soaked the cukes in ice water. I used oak leaves in the jar. I filled a sandwich bag 1/2 way with water to weigh down the cukes in the jar, and place jar in closet for 2 days. I removed the water bag and put them in the frig and waited another couple of day before I tasted. The pickles were crispy, but being a fan on vinegar pickles they were a let down. Can I add more salt, or even vinegar to the jar for more tangy flavor??

    [Reply]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.