My pickling cukes are starting to come on, which means it’s time to get cozy with your friend and mine – the beneficial microbe! I am a tremendous fan of pickling through lacto-fermentation. Think of it as yogurt making with vegetables.
Beneficial bacteria chomps down on the natural sugars and starches in the vegetable and converts it to tasty lactic acid. This is the traditional way to make sauerkraut, kim chi, and sour pickles.
Lacto fermentation is fast, easy and doesn’t involve any canning. It’s a great first preservation technique.
I use Sandor Katz’s recipe for Sour Pickles from Wild Fermentation. Read his extensive discussion about the hows and whys of lacto-fermentation on his website. Nourishing Traditions also talks a bunch about lacto-fermenting and gives several great recipes.
First I pick a peck of pickles (or as many as the vines will yield) and a handful of fresh grape leaves. If I have fresh dill seed heads I’ll pick those too, otherwise I gather up dill seed, fresh garlic and any other spices that seem like they’d be tasty with pickles: mustard seed, allspice, bay leaf, peppercorns and chili if you like it hot all seem to work well.
I mix up a brine of 2 liters water and 6 tablespoons sea salt and add in all the dry spices I’m using. If I have some around from yogurt making, I’ll substitute a few tablespoons of whey in place of an equal amount of water to get the ferment going. Everything gets a good stir so the salt dissolves. I get a large, clean glass jar or crock ready to fill.
I arrange the cucumbers, grape leaves and garlic in the jar and pour the brine and spices over the top. Since the jar wasn’t packed full, all the spices settle to the bottom eventually.
In order to keep the pickles from floating to the top, I fill a plastic ziplock bag full of leftover brine and push it into the jar. This keeps everything underwater, which is important. If the cukes float half-out of the brine, they’ll get moldy.
Over the next week, as I harvest more cucumbers I just rinse them and toss them in the brine. As you can see from the background of this picture, you don’t need to stop at cucumbers. I have beans and a mix of peppers and carrots lacto-fermenting on the counter too.
The pickles will get increasingly sour over time. The warmer the temperature, the faster they will ferment. When they are uniformly dull green (you know, pickle color) all the way through instead of opaque and pale inside, they are done. At that point you can start to eat them or let them continue to ferment. I keep mine in the fridge to slow fermentation changes way down when they get the way I like ’em, but a cool root celler situation is traditional.
Once you get comfortable with the ideas behind fermentation preservation you’ll want to branch out. So far, spicy turnip pickles are my favorite ferment. This year I want to try a cultured salsa recipe too.
Have you tried lacto-fermenting? What foods do you preserve this way?
Hi! I'm Erica, the founder of NWEdible and the author of The Hands-On Home. I garden, keep chickens and ducks, homeschool my two kids and generally run around making messes on my one-third of an acre in suburban Seattle. Thanks for reading!