Lacto-Fermented Pickles, No Canning

Straight Eight cucumber, making fermented pickles

UPDATE: Well, EVEN ON DAY 4, these pickles are crisp and even better than a wonderful Bubbies pickle! Slices ferment faster than whole pickles!!! Test them. ONCE TO YOUR LIKING, REFRIGERATE THEM IMMEDIATELY. THAT STOPS THE FERMENT-ATION!

This is an excellent explanation of how fermentation works (and a recipe):

“Lacto-fermentation is the process that produces traditional dill pickles, kimchi, and real sauerkraut. It takes nothing more than salt, vegetables and water – no canning, no fancy equipment”.

“This simple process works because bacteria that could be harmful to us can’t tolerate much salt, but there are good bacteria that can. Think of the this process as the ‘bad guys vs. the good guys’. Lacto-fermentation wipes out the bad guys in its first stage, then lets the good guys get to work during stage two.

“The good guys on the salt-tolerant team are called Lactobacillus. Several different species within this genus are used to produce fermented foods.

“The benefits of eating food with live Lactobacillus bacteria include a healthier digestive system and speedy recovery from yeast infections. They are also supposed to have anti-inflammatory properties and be useful in preventing certain kinds of cancer.”    

I started making lacto-fermented foods after we pinned down the reason we had so many food allergies and yeast (candida) issues. Exposure to black mold (Stachybotris) in our home years before had destroyed gut linings (leaky gut) and messed with the normal digestion and absorption process in some of us.

This recipe is as basic as it comes. You can make this with only 3 ingredients OR add garlic and spices if you wish.

cucumbers clipart

 Ingredients for Lacto-fermented Pickles:

~Individual glass quart jars, a 1-gallon glass jar, or ceramic crock (with lids)

~Brine: For every 2 c water, mix in 1 Tbsp sea salt. With an abundance of cucumbers multiply that as many times as needed to cover all the cucumbers.

~Cucumbers (small to medium are perfect, but if they large, cut them into spears)

~A handful of fresh, clean grape leaves, optional (grape, oak, cherry, raspberry, & blackberry leaves  supply tannins to keep the pickles crunchy)

Optional Additions to make Old-Fashioned Dill Pickles: PER QUART

~2-3 medium cloves of garlic, peeled, & roughly chopped (to taste)

~1 tsp whole dill seed (I use 2 sprigs of green seed heads from garden)

~1/2 tsp whole coriander seed (I used ground)

~1/4  tsp whole mustard seed

~1/4 tsp whole peppercorns (I used tellicherry peppercorns)

~1/4 tsp fennel seed (optional~ I didn’t have any on hand)

~1/8 tsp red pepper flakes (I used small pieces of dehydrated hot pepper from last summer)


~Wash. Slice in wedges for large cukes or leave whole if small to medium.

cutting slices for pickles

~Pack jars  For cutting purposes your pickles need to be at the very least 1″ below the brine. I will discuss this more later.

Slice into spears…

pack jars with pickle spears

or leave whole…

left whole

~Mix brine (sea salt and water solution-see recipe) in a measuring cup. Stir well before pouring over pickles.

making pickle brine, sea salt and filtered water

You want your cucumbers (and leaves) to be completely submerged in the brine at all times. If they are exposed to the air, they will mold, so you may need to weigh them down with a sanitized rock or small jar that fits your bigger jar.

I washed my rocks in a solution of hydrogen peroxide and vinegar…the same non-toxic solution I use for my homemade bleach alternative. Rinse well before using.

[NOTE: My rocks (sandstone/limestone from Lake Michigan) started to very slowly breakdown in the acid environment, so use granite or another non-porous rock.]

I used the Old-Fashioned Dill Pickle recipe above. We made whole baby dills with the short 3-5 inchers and spears with the full sized 8 inchers..

spices for lacto-fermented dill pickles

As an experiment, I used 2 leaves from the grape vine per jar (help to submerge the spears). I have read that leaves with high tannin levels will keep pickles crunchy, but I know others that have never used them and they were just great.

grape leaves in dill pickles to keep them crunchy

Cover your jar with its lid. You may see a film of thin white scum growing on the surface of the water;  just skim it off as often as you can, but don’t worry if you can’t get it all. This is “kahm yeast”; it won’t harm you, but it can affect the flavor of your pickles if you don’t keep up with it.

Lacto-fermentation happens when the starches and sugars in the cukes convert to lactic acid by a friendly lactic-acid producing bacteria.

Your pickles will be ready after 5-8 days on the kitchen counter in the summer, depending on the warmth of your home. On day 4 do a taste test of your pickles. They’re ready when they taste done to you! Once they taste done, transfer the jar into the fridge to slow fermentation. Once fermented and in the refrigerator, you can remove the grape leaves and you don’t need to worry about the pickles being completely submerged.

And the brine is healthful, too; It’s full of good bacteria and beneficial for your digestion! Since it’s salty, it would be especially good after a hot, sweaty day of work outside.

Serve one pickle or slice with lunch and dinner every day.

These could last months in your fridge, but if you like dill pickles, they will be all gone long before that! Good health and bon appétit!

pickles in brine with spices

“The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases vitamin levels. These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anticarcinogenic substances. Their main by-product, lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine.”  ~Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions, pg 89

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Emile Munier, May I Have One, too?, painting, child with a slice of bread, eating fruit

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~ Jacqueline

This entry was posted in Food & Recipes, Raw food, Storing Food, Tutorial, Vegetables. Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Lacto-Fermented Pickles, No Canning

  1. Karen Malek says:

    Hi Jacqui!

    Do you know where I could find/purchase grape (or any of the others for that matter) leaves if I don’t have grape vines or trees? Thanks for your help.

    • Jacqueline says:

      Hi, Karen! Good to hear from you!!
      You might find them at an ethnic store that has Greek foods, but way easier would be to call Cathy G! I’ll bet they have some of these (mentioned in the post) kind of leaves or know where to get some easily and free :) I wish you lived closer so I could give you some!

  2. JES says:

    Hi there :) Yes, we are back and will have to catch up soon! Thank you for the warm welcome comments left on the blog! I tried this recipe of yours last year and with excellent results!!! Thank you for sharing this. The happy part is that we have a grapevine so the leaves were on our patio :) The only thing I did different was use a FIDO jar instead of weighing down with rocks in canning jar. DELICIOUS :) and gone quicker than I had hoped for…

  3. Candi says:

    Do I have to refrigerate them? What if I wanted to make more jars than would fit into my fridge? My grandmother used to make what she called “green ketchup”. I don’t remember all that was in it, but I think there were green tomatoes, cabbage, and maybe peppers. She just put salt water in the jars, tightened down the lids SLIGHTLY, sat the jars in a plastic wash pan, and put that into a dark closet. The ‘juice’ would bubble out of the jars into the pan. After a week or so, she would wipe down the jars, tighten the lids, and then store them on a shelf. Could pickles be stored on a shelf once properly fermented? What about using yogurt whey to add a little more protection?

    • Jacqueline says:

      Oh, Candi!! I am so glad you commented! I have always wanted to find someone who knew how to do that!!!! Honestly, it would be a huge blessing to be able to keep pickles, etc. without refrigeration and to be able to teach those of us who want to learn! I have used whey from yogurt (added it) and had success. I know that kahm yeast will form and that it isn’t harmful so we can just remove it and it still keeps, but as to storing it on a shelf~ well, is your grandma still alive to ask her? I DO refrigerate my pickles.
      If you have a way of finding out, please let me/us know!! It would be a huge blessing, I’m sure!! Thank you so much :)
      God bless your day and weekend!

      • Candi says:

        Sad to say, she passed away 3 years ago at the wonderful age of 98! I know when Mom was growing up, they did pickles out in the cellar house in a huge stone crock. Mom said that when they were outside playing, they would just wipe the white foam aside, stick in a dirty hand, pull out a pickle and get right back to cowboys and Indians! I’m going to have to do some more research, because I know there HAS to be a way of doing it. :)

        • Jacqueline says:

          That is great! There is obviously a great deal of good bacteria to overwhelm a dirty hand! and what great gut health that would provide our family! I will be anxiously awaiting to see what you find out :)!! You are so kind to look into it ~
          Thank you!

      • Candi says:

        Oooooo, Jacqueline! Look what I found! This is a wonderful, no-nonsense article on lacto-fermentation that sounds so doable! I do not have the rubber gasket/wire bail jars, but I could get them. Since we no longer have a basement, I’ll have to be creative in finding a storage area that stays ‘cool and dark’, maybe a closet in the spare room? But this sounds so much like Grandma. I’m sure she never even heard the term ‘lacto-fermentation’, it was just how you did sauerkraut and pickles in her day.

  4. Gin says:

    Jacqueline, I cannot thank you enough for posting this. My mother made these every summer and simply called them “grape leaf pickles.” She passed away nearly 20 years ago and did not leave a written recipe. Now my daughters and I can make this together! This is a blessing–thank you again.

  5. Cheryl says:

    I just came across your blog and am enjoying it so much.

    This summer I have done my first fermenting using the FIDO jars. The question that I have is does the liquid in your pickles get cloudy? We have eaten one jar of picles and the other jars in the refrigerator look cloudy. Just wondering if this is normal. Today started a couple jars of sliced dills to put on sandwiches. Want to try fermenting some other vegetables from the garden.

    • Jacqueline says:

      I have not noticed them getting cloudy. Did you do the fermenting that got cloudy in the FIDO jars? Just curious because I am thinking about buying a FIDO jar, but have no experience with them. Thanks :)

      • Cheryl says:

        Yes, all of the fermenting has been done in the FIDO jars and they have all turned out cloudy. I also had found a jar at a local thrift store that had the rubber ring g and wire closing and that one also got cloudy. I am using dill from the garden also. My brine has been 3Tsalt per quart of water. I have been wondering if the fact that we have a water softener might make a difference. They are cloudy after a couple of days on the counter. I do take the pickles and put them into quart jars when they are ready to be put into the refrigerator so the jars can be used again.

        • Buzz says:

          My brine is cloudy from the start. I don’t think it a problem; probably just the minerals in the Himalayan salt suspended in the water.

          One thing I did to “jump-start” the fermentation process was add a spoonful of juice from my sauerkraut. I believe you could use some from Bubbie’s sauerkraut or pickles as well.

          I really enjoy your Blog, Jacqueline. Thank you for making something beautiful to share.


          • Jacqueline says:

            Aww… thank you so much, Buzz! That is a blessing to me today (I needed it)! I think your assessment of the minerals in the salt is correct and jump starting is perfect. We do it with kombucha on every batch using a cup or so of the last batch. We can also use whey if on hand. Would love a great pickle right now :)
            Blessings on your weekend!

  6. Toni says:

    Love, love this post! I’ve never fermented cucumbers, but I did make lacto-fermented banana pepper rings last year, and they were the best I’d ever eaten. One thing I really liked about them was they were not mushy at all like the usual home-canned peppers. Sadly, our cucumbers were minimal this year, but I’m looking forward to fermenting some next year. Btw, I’m fermenting sauerkraut in a couple of Fido jars as I type and will post about that soon. Fido jars are great for longer ferments like the 30-day sauerkraut but not necessary for pickles by any means. (They are cool jars, though.) ;)

    Thanks for stopping by my neglected blog and leaving your sweet comments – I’ve been out of the loop with company visiting from afar, etc.

  7. Xeque says:

    Hi everyone, came across this lovely post doing some research. :)

    I just wanted to add some insight, I played around a little bit with lacto fermenting last year making sauerkraut and pickled beets, this year, I’m making all kinds of things for winter. From what I’ve noticed, and looked into, the cloudiness, (sometimes even looking like a white-ish sediment settling in the bring) is quite normal, and actually is an indicator that you’ve got the right bacteria flourishing. So I was nervouse when I first saw it, but many other people say its a good thing. So long as there isn’t obvious mold in there with it, of course. :)

    Also, the type of water used can be important in some cases, and may change the appearance or color of the bring or veggies. The main thing to be sure of is that you don’t use a municipal tap water source if it contains chlorine, flouride, and other chemical additives because it can harm or interfere with the bacteria in the fermentation process. Your best bet would be spring water, quality filtered water, ect.

    I made a delicious jar of pickles with little pickling cukes, but I have a ton of large slicing cucumbers that I have been wondering if I can use sliced… I’ll be using this recipe for reference!

    • Jacqueline says:

      I am very glad you shared that information here, Xeque! I also had a whitish sediment, but the pickles were absolutely the BEST, so I didn’t worry about it. so good to know that the proper bacteria was flourishing. I wish the jar was bottomless…so yummy! I would love to know how the large slicing cukes turn out! Thanks, again, and blessings to you!

  8. Lacey says:

    I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer living in Ukraine. I really want to preserve all the fresh summer vegetables using lacto-fermentation. I have questions: can I air lock lacto-fermented foods? If so, right away or after a couple of days? I want to avoid traditional canning if possible but I also want to store these foods for many months without spillage.

    • Jacqueline says:

      Hello, Lacey :) I have had the same questions. After talking to the kind lady at Pickl-It jars, I think I may buy one. They have an airlock system that uses a bubbler to let CO2 escape while keeping 02 out. The only problem is that the product still need to be refrigerated once finished. I think we just need a goodroot cellar to keep things chilled in! Good luck, friend :) Blessings!

  9. Alesia says:

    Thanks for the great post! I stumbled upon this post while trying to find out if fermented pickles need to be submerged once refrigerated (as I just made some). For the people wondering about not refrgerating fermented pickles, I read somewhere on Sandor Katz bog that in the past they used more salt then we do today. The pickles would keep a longer time but they’d have to soak them in pure water to de-salinify before eating. Hope this helps. :)

  10. Linda says:

    For those of you who want to keep your pickles crisp and don’t have grape leaves, regular old tea does the trick. Just add a tea bag (the kind without the metal staple) to your jar of fermented veggies at the time you are filling the jars and that will insure your pickles stay crisp.

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  13. Benedetta says:

    I made some lacto fermented salsa this year.
    I noticed something I would like to pass on – it may be nothing.
    I have a kefir and I used the whey for the first bunch — the stuff behaved – it did not swell up really bad in less than 6 hours and over flow the jars when I opened them. I cannot say the same for the salsa that I did not add the whey too. In that case it was very vigorous, bubbling almost like I was boiling it. So I conclude – perhpas that the kefir whey microbes got there first and did out crowd the natural stuff from my garden. On the other hand my microbes from my garden once they get started is way on more active than the kefir whey.

    Now I have a question: Since this salsa will only last 2 to 3 months in my refrig – do you think I can can my salsa and this winter get it out and put the kefir whey in it – - not sure if I should even bother to let it ferment for a few hours?

    And another question: I am going to lacto ferment some pimentos — do I also put in garlic and onions or just the peppers only?

    • Jacqueline says:

      Hello, Benedetta,
      Thank you for your question. I don’t have experience in using kefir whey to aid in fermenting, so you have more experience in it than I do at this point. Let me know what you find out. It is interesting that the batch you didn’t use the whey on acted more vigorously! You could can it and then add in kefir whey, but you may have already lost much of the bio-availability but having canned it. I’d love to know what you find out if you try it :) Lord bless your efforts!

  14. Susan Brown says:

    When you put the cap on the jars do you seal the cap tight?
    Are bubbles normal? Thinking yes, but want to make sure.

    • Jacqueline says:

      Yes, but not so terribly tight that pressure builds up and can’t escape, Susan. Bubbles are normal…Hoping you have a successful batch! I do have a giveaway going right now for a Primal Kitchen Boss Pickler. I’d love you to enter. It makes keeping out O2 so much easier. also, I’m finding better success keeping things in the dark a few days to help the LABS: (5 essential elements for fermenting)

  15. I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer living in Ukraine. I really want to preserve all the fresh summer vegetables using lacto-fermentation. I have questions: can I air lock lacto-fermented foods? If so, right away or after a couple of days? I want to avoid traditional canning if possible but I also want to store these foods for many months without spillage.

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