Sour Pickles

Sour pickles are a mainstay at our summer dinner table.   Naturally fermented, sour pickles are rich in beneficial bacteria and food enzymes, offering a dairy-free source of probiotics. Vinegar pickles lack the beneficial bacteria and many of the heat-sensitive vitamins found in traditional, sour pickles.   You see, real pickles are naturally fermented through lactic acid fermentation – a process that conveys many benefits by encouraging the proliferation of beneficial bacteria.

Just as unrefined sea salt is used to prepare a traditional sauerkraut, unrefined sea salt is likewise used to prepare traditional sour pickles.   While many traditionally fermented vegetables require pounding vegetables long enough for them to release their juices which then combine with unrefined sea salt to create a brine, in preparing sour pickles, you prepare the brine separately and pour it over cucumbers and seasonings.   This brine helps to keep pathogenic bacteria at bay while encouraging the growth of beneficial bacteria which metabolize the vegetable’s natural sugars and produce lactic and acetic acids as a by product.   This is why sour pickles, traditionally prepared, salty without the addition of vinegar to the preparation.

I like to season them heavily with garlic and dill while alternating the more subtle flavors by using pickling spice or even dried hot peppers.   The benefit of using garlic in your sour pickle recipe is that not only do you finish the week with true, delicious salty and sour pickles, but you also get to enjoy pickled garlic with all of its flavor coupled with thiamin as well as vitamins C, K and B6.

sour pickles

sour pickles recipe

By Jenny Published: July 29, 2009

    Sour pickles are a mainstay at our summer dinner table.   Naturally fermented, sour pickles are rich in beneficial bacteria and …

    Ingredients

    • 1 Gallon Organic, Unwaxed Pickling Cucumbers
    • 2 Big Bunches Organic Dill (Preferably Flowering Heads)
    • 2 Large Bulbs of Organic Garlic
    • 3-4 Tbsps Pickling Spice (Allspice, Mustard Seeds, Cloves, Bay Leaf, Black Pepper etc.)
    • 5-6 Tbsp Unrefined Sea Salt
    • 1 Horseradish Leaf (Stem Removed)

    Instructions

    1. The first step in making sour pickles is to thoroughly soak the pickling cucumbers in chilly water. This is a very necessary step unless you picked your cucumbers that day as it helps to perk them up a bit before the fermeting begans.
    2. Next, you’ll want to makes sure all stems and flowery ends have been removed as either may contribute an off-flavor to the sour pickles. Make sure your pickling cucumbers are throughly scrubbed and clean.
    3. Peel each bulb of garlic and use only the best and freshest cloves of garlic to season the sour pickles.
    4. Add the pickling cucumbers and garlic, dill and pickling spice to the jar or vegetable fermenter in layers, I like to sprinkle a little salt between layers.
    5. Add the horseradish leafe to the jar as well. I find that you needn’t tear it to ensure that the horseradish leaf is evenly distributed throughout the jar; indeed, it can be left more or lose whole. The leaf not only yields a subtle additional flavor to sour pickles, but it also helps them to remain crisp, not mushy, when the lactic acid fermentation is complete.
    6. Prepare a brine of 2 ½ – 3 tablespoons of unrefined sea salt to 1 quart filtered, chlorine-free water and shake it to ensure the salt is fully disolved. Pour the brine over the pickling cucumbers, spices, garlic, dill and horseradish until all of the ingredients are submerged in salt water. It usually takes about 2 quarts of salt water to sufficiently cover the vegetables and spices.
    7. Make sure that the vegetables are completely submerged beneath the salt water which is easy if you’re using a vegetable fermenter. If you’re using mason jars, simply place a smaller, plastic lid or other clean wait in the jar ontop of the vegetables until it weights them down sufficiently.
    8. Allow your ingredients to ferment for at least a five days and more likely seven days and quite possibly ten days. (Fermentation is an inexact art.) Taste them to see if they’ve soured to your liking. Once they’re done, simply place them in the fridge and use wisely and judiciously.

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    What people are saying

    1. Dawn @ Small Footprint Family says

      I just finished making my own pickles when you posted. It’s nice to see how different people do it. We had a lot of Armenian cukes in the garden (which are huge, striped alien looking things), so I cut them into slices for bread and butter pickles, using a recipe somewhat similar to yours.

      Your pickles look so yummy, makes me want to go get some small ones to try your way!

      • valerie says

        Its that time of year again! I choose smaller cucs and I do not cut them into spears! This will help them stay crispy. And when cutting off the stems, careful not to nick the cuccumber will help keep them from getting soggy. Also, i ferment my cucs in a harsh crock for 4 days or so with just dill seed, corriander seed, mustard seed, and DRY dill weed. It was recommended to me not to add any of the fresh ingredients until i decanted the pickles into indiviual 2 quart jars, then add a dill flower and some fresh dill to each jar along. I don’t like garlic with my pickles so I leave that out. I was told that it is the fresh ingredients that can ruin the batch cause they are what can go bad during the ferment. Also, try them after 3 or 4 days, you might prefer them as 1/2 sours dills. I have my first batch bubbling away. Can’t wait!

        • valerie says

          i meant first batch …. of the year. I made multiple batches of 1/2 sours last year and all of them turned out perfectly.

        • Maria says

          What tempercher is good to have the room at ??? I have a 5 gallon Food Grade Bucket with a bubbler on it, with at least 4 inch head space, my cucumbers are at least 12 inches long you know the big ones, they are not bubbling ???? every thing looks fine though , this is my first time giving it a go, Do you have any tips for me to look for???

      • RE says

        I was just wondering if I could use these cucumbers from the middle eastern market because they’re so fresh! They’re long skinny curvy pickles, lol.

        I wonder if its ok to use a mix of different cucumbers? Or do they have to be specifically pickling ones.

      • Maria says

        Can you ferment Bred & Butter pickles??? I looked every where and could not find a recipe or a sweet & sour. ???

    2. says

      I’ve been waiting for this recipe!
      Love pickles, but often avoid them since distilled vinegar is the last thing my body needs.

      How long do you think they keep?

    3. says

      These look amazing! And I’m excited to tweet with you (I’m @eatingfreely)! Thanks for sharing such a great recipe. I’ve been making pickles with garlic, onions, and dill weed. Yum!

    4. Leanne Palmerston says

      I used this recipe on Friday night to pack a large pickle jar (1L size) with cukes, 1 bulb worth of garlic, pickling spice, brine and fresh dill. It’s pretty hot here and we don’t do a/c so the temp and humidity are rather high. Immediately the bubbling action of the fermenting process started.

      On Sunday evening I had realised I could put wild grape leaves, which a neighbour has, in the jar for crispness. If I was too late, so be it, but I didn’t realise I could use them till Sunday!

      Today is Tuesday and a weird thing is happening: my garlic is turning blue.

      The woman whose market stall I bought my cukes from warned me it would happen and I only sort of listened to her. But, it really is happening! Any ideas? I’m a little freaked out!

      • Michelle Doyle says

        The blue is totally normal, nothing to worry about :) It’s something about the minerals in the garlic reacting with the salt. Some garlic changes, other doesn’t, sometimes it’s blue, sometimes more purple. It’s totally normal :)

      • Dr. Gregory Mitchell says

        Your “blue” garlic comes a natural chemical reaction which happens [sometimes] in fermentation products. Blue garlic cloves are perfectly SAFE to eat. Don’t just take my word, the USDA and Master Food Preservers agree. I have eaten my blue garlic cloves for years… no ill effects. Try it, you’ll like it.

    5. says

      I had to laugh when I read your note at the end; I used the Wild Fermentation directions to make sour pickles last year and it did go horribly, horribly awry!

      What are you feelings on using oak leaves rather than horseradish leaves. In WF, he says you can use grape, horseradish, or oak I believe–and I have a huge oak tree in my front yard, so the latter are very convenient for me. Though I’m paranoid that it’s part of the reason why my last attempt was so bad.

      • Izabela says

        Our family has been making fermented pickles for generations and this year my two 8 year olds did them with me, so it is definitely not too hard. A couple things to remember: Cucumbers MUST be organic (the other ones have weird smells from the chemicals poured on them not to mention the wax), the water must be chlorine and flouride free, and you cannot use table salt. I think some people forget about the additives in the regular table salt. My fermented pickles keep all winter in the cold room (or fridge). I even make pickle soup which is delish!

    6. Maureen says

      Is lactp-fermenting with whey more beneficial? Is this just a dairy-free method? (All the Nourishing Traditions recipes use whey, hers say to leave at room temp 2 day, does the whey accelerate fermentation?). Also, should the lid be loose to allow some airflow?

      Thanks I can’t wait to start a batch today. Love your blog :)

    7. Jenny says

      Maureen -

      I don’t personally care for fermenting with whey.  In recipes I’ve found from very old cookbooks, whey has never yet been included in fermentation recipes.  Fresh whey acts like a starter by innoculating your brew with beneficial bacteria – this usually results in much faster ferment and I prefer a longer, slower fermentation process.  In my experience a slow fermentation using salt only results in greater depth of flavor.  I also prefer to save whey and use it when soaking legumes and grains.

      Take Care -

      Jenny

    8. Erica says

      Wow thanks for all the great info on fermenting pickles. I have been wanting to do this for a long time and now I think I’ll give it a whirl.

    9. says

      I prepare also a lot of sour picles for winter. To keep them good I pasteurise jars with that picles. (Simply, by putting them to the oven heated to 95 centigrades for 20 minutes).It stops fermetation but doesn’t make picles soft.
      And I use that picles to make sour cucumber soup.

      But I love sour cucumber and I prepare much picles to eat them in summer. If you use little cucumbers you can eat them after two days of fermentation – they aren’t “fully fermented” but tastes really cool.

    10. Michelle Doyle says

      I made these for the first time earlier this season and LOVE the results! Totally like a true kosher pickle that I remember from being a kid. I split my pickles into spears, and followed the directions in the Wild Fermentation book for full sours. I had them fermenting in a space that ranged in temp from 65-75 degrees and it took several weeks. I knew they were done when they no longer tasted salty and tasted sour. You do need to watch the surface and skim off the top now and again. I used grape leaves for the crunch help, about one grape leaf per cucumber. I put half of the leaves in the bottom of the jar as a cushion and to keep the pickles out of the fluff from bacteria die off that floats to the bottom and the other half across the top to help keep air out and to prevent any mold that grew from getting to far into the jar. I did have to top of the jar a couple of times with some filtered water brine. I kept the lid on top, but just barely fastened and put the hole thing in a pie plate to catch the bubbled up over flow. I have also tried fermenting with whey and have had mixed results. I think some vegetables lend themselves more to brine/salt only fermentation and others need the boost from whey (like roasted red peppers, they would mold before the good bacteria got a chance.) Temperature plays a huge factor in how long things take.

        • LIsa says

          You can use Oak leaves if you cannot find grape leaves, they have tannins in them and this seems to keep the veggies crunchy. I am unable to give the scientific explanation for it, though I am sure someone else could or you could google it.

          • Angela says

            I don’t have oak leaves either. I live in Las Vegas. Would anything else work. Not too long ago I made pickles but cut the cucumbers in slices. I used lots of dill and garlic, fermented them for a week and they turned out soggy. Thank you so much!!

          • Pat says

            Can you freeze the grape or oak leaves when available and then use them when needed with the same results?

            Also Jenny, you said to try bay leaf —is this dried bay leaf?

            I tried a batch with raw milk whey, they seemed to turn out OK, but there is an underlying hard to describe flavor (maybe musty) that I do not like. Is this normal? Other than that they seemed to have good flavor and texture and were sour.

    11. Kirbi says

      Hi there!

      Love your blog so much!! I am FINALLY trying these pickles now that its season again. Sorry for asking a question on an older post… I keep seeing recipes for HUGE amounts of pickles. Should I just followed the recipe in NT if I want only one quart? Or if I make a more than a quart but not quite a gallon should I be really concerned about an exact recipe? I mean I figured if you have the seasonings and salt and filtered water, they should ferment fine right?

      Should you not add vinegar?

      I decided to skip adding whey. I ended up just making a 1 quart and 1 pint batch and have no idea if I added enough salt….I did 2T for the one quart and 1T for the pint.

      SO many recipes for pickles out there and most of them require you to make a HUGE batch, just trying to figure out how to scale it back.

      Thanks,
      Kirbi

    12. Momma T says

      I slice mini Japanese cukes with the mandoline and they are ready to eat in 2-3 days, depending on how warm the kitchen is. You know it’s working when the liquid gets cloudy and bubbles come up when you tap the jar. Yum yum! The kids love eating the pickled garlic that remains.

    13. says

      I love your recipe. It’s very easy to follow and reader-accessible. I have been wanting to try lactic-acid fermentation for making sour pickles for a long time but have always been too worried about mold in my kitchen or giving my family botulism. How do you know whether you’re doing it right or if the process is happening as it should? Thanks for sharing your recipe.

      • says

        Heard Sandor Katz of Wild Fermentation on NPR tonight say that government agency records show never even one illness from fermented foods. The same can not be said of raw veggies!

    14. Amii says

      This may be an odd question, but I’ve never done this before. I started mine a few days ago, and noticed some bulging in the lid. Should that happen, is that safe? Or should I throw those away and try again. Also, we usually use bubbies pickles, which are natural, and fermented only with salt, is it ok to save the brine for a fresh batch?

      • Izabela says

        Amii,
        The bulging of the lid is normal, especially if you’re using a regular mason jar. It is caused by the gasses released during the fermentation process. When I first open my pickles to taste them, the brine bubbles out like soda pop (this brine is delicious BTW). Hope this helps reassure you.

    15. kara says

      Can I add white or brown sugar to the brine prior to fermentation? (I’d love to made a sweet & spicy pickles but I’m afraid of it not fermenting properly) …Is it safe to add sugar? Thanks!

    16. Marty says

      Hi! I’ve made some pickles in the distant past and have just recently tried again using the recipe without vinegar. I couldn’t find any horseradish leaf so used a little bit of horse radish. I pickled in mason jars for 5 days and tried one last night. It was definately not sour or even half sour;in fact not even salty. It seems if I recoleck well that I let them sit for a month or onger last time; any suggestions? Thanks.

    17. olivia says

      I always have a problem with floating gherkins. I pack them in tightly but after a few days they soften and loosen in the jar and float above the brine. Any tips? Is it still safe to resubmerge them? I found a mini glass plate that fits in some jars to hold things in place.

      • Jenny says

        Yeah – a weight of some sort is the only way to really resolve that issue. I use glass weights, others use resealable plastic bags filled with brine.

    18. Jackie says

      I am making a 2 gallon jar of sour pickles. I started them 2 weeks ago, and they aren’t very sour yet. Salty, yes, but not that sour. Should I let them keep going? Is there anything I can do to increase the acid production? Thanks!

    19. Jamie says

      I tried this recipe, but after four days a layer of grey mold formed on top of the liquid. Why did this happen and do I need to throw out my pickles?

      • Jenny says

        This is a normal process if you’re not fermenting in an airlocked device. As long as your pickles are not moldy, and rested well below the level of brine, simply scrape of the mold and call it good.

    20. jamie kirk says

      I am truly a new fan of these sour treats! I want to make some rightaway…. however, I was hoping I could use Horseradish root? or something other than the grape or horseradish leaf? Thank you for sharing these great treasures! this is an art that was lost and now found:)

    21. Rachael says

      Does anyone know if you can reuse your brine? I tried it but I used green beans the second time and i have never pickled green beans so I don’t know how it is supposed to be. My son and i did think they were more sour than our pickles.

    22. says

      Hi Jenny, seems salt is a pretty crucial ingredient but I’m on an intense natural therapy for the next year that limits sodium… is it possible to make them without? Thanks!

    23. Roxanne says

      I have tried this recipe and it has been 3d. We tasted a pickle today and it is not sour at all. However, it is too spicy. I used a commercial pickling spice and it does say chilies on the ingredient panel. I HATE spice so they won’t work for me. If we leave them fermenting for more days will the spice calm down and the pickles get more sour? I so hope so! Thank you.

    24. Bethany Wiest says

      The recipe for pickles in the Nourishing Traditions cookbook calls for whey to be added to the brine. I thought I couldn’t make naturally fermented pickles because I have no acces to true whey. Thank you for posting this recipe. I feel now that I could make real pickles with a greater chance of success!

    25. says

      I love true fermented sour pickles! These look simply amazing! I am so looking forward to having cucumbers growing in the garden again this year because I am all out of the pickled cukes I made from last summer’s harvest. I always reuse the brine for salad dressings, especially if there is garlic in the pickle ferment because the brine gets an absolutely lovely rich flavor of pickled garlic. Just use about 1/2 cup of leftover pickle brine and 1/2 cup nuts (such as macadamia nuts or cashews or a combo), add olive oil to thin out, lemon juice and salt to taste – and voila! A rich creamy probiotic dressing that will keep longer in the fridge than your average home-made dressing because its fermented! Delicious and simple.
      Eat well, feel well, be well!
      -Kayleigh Jean

    26. ana says

      Hi Jenn!
      Do you know if old pickled cucumbers are bad for health/poisonous? Do any fermented vegetables have an expiry date?
      Thank you!

      • Jenny says

        Nope – they’re good more or less indefinitely, as long as there’s no visible signs of contamination by mold or anything.

    27. says

      Can you leave out the horseradish leaf? I have no idea where to find that. Is this left on the counter, or in a dark place? What about other vegetables? Right now I have a lot of green beans and small bell peppers.

    28. Joshua says

      Should the brine after a week be clear our cloudy? I used Fido jars so when I opened them there was a small eruption and it bubbled for a few minutes. But the brine is cloudy and there’s some white stuff on the bottom of the jar. Is that normal?

    29. Erin says

      I would love to make these and have been able to find all of the ingredients aside from horseradish leaf. Where can I find horseradish leaves and are the essential to this recipe should I not be able to find them?

    30. Debbie Wood says

      I would like to make a lot of pickles to store for winter. I am use to the vinegar type of pickle canned in jars and so would like to here about storing many gallons of pickles. Do I need to stop the fermenting process? How is that done. I have no intention of storing them in the refrigerator, accept for the ones we are eating up. I will have some cold storage available in my garage.
      Any input on pickling other vegetables like carrots for example.

    31. Gail says

      Please don’t take this the wrong way – I say it lovingly and not at all trying to be rude or hateful…but this page has many spelling and or grammatical errors, etc. I know if it were me, I’d want to know so that I could clean it up and re-do it. Otherwise, thanks for sharing the recipe and pretty pictures – looks great!

    32. says

      Great article! I make my own fermented vegetables at home and consume this daily. I also make cultured butter. But I’ve never tried this recipe. Looks delicious!

      Thanks

    33. Kent McLellan says

      I see there are lots of inquiries as to where to get horseradish leaves or a substitute, but no answer? Did I miss it?

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