There’s nothing quite like a lacto-fermented half sour pickle! They are crisp, crunchy, and refreshing with just the right amount of tang! Plus they pack a hefty probiotic punch! It’s a win-win.
Having moved away from the NYC metro area it’s hard to find good quality fermented pickles. Kosher delis like Zabar’s in NYC just aren’t as common out here in “these parts” (quoted text to be read with country-western twang). And while vinegar pickles are always available at the supermarket, they are made using a heat-process and then packed in vinegar–both of which eliminates their probiotic potential, turning out a sterile albeit long-lasting food.
With the help of Sandor Katz’s recipe and a bit of my own fermentation experimentation (that’s right) I’ve come up with a super-satisfying recipe for crunchy lacto-fermented half sour pickles (or full sours if that’s your thing)! The best thing about this recipe is that it can be made year round, not just in the summer when pickling cucumbers are available. You can use full-size cukes for this recipe in the absence of pickling cukes. Simply cut them in half or into thirds for easy packing into your jar. Choose the smallest full-size cucumbers that you can find as these tend to be crispiest!
Tips & Tricks:
The below recipe uses a 3.5% saltwater brine to make half sour pickles. If you prefer full sour pickles, add an extra tablespoon of salt to make a 5.4% brine.
Ideally, you want to pack the cucumbers tight enough so that they stay below the brine for the duration of the pickling (i.e. fermentation) time. This prevents airborne molds and fungi from growing on your pickles.
I’ve recommended adding oak, horseradish or grape leaves to the pickling brine as they impart tannins, which help to keep the pickles extra crunchy. I’ve made pickles with and without this special addition and have always found them to be delicious, so this step is truly optional.
A word on pickling spice: Choose a good quality pickling spice and check the ingredients for funky preservatives. I LOVE the pickling spice available at Savory Spice Shop. It has just the right balance of cinnamon (surprise, surprise) and spice. Some pickling spices can be heavy on the chile pepper, so if you don’t like spicy food look for a blend where chiles are low on the ingredient list or absent altogether.
You can begin tasting your pickles anytime after fermentation has begun, but I recommend waiting until at least day 3. Feel free to taste them daily after that by cutting off a slice. Refrigerate the pickles once they are fermented to your liking!
- 5-8 Pickling Cucumbers OR 4-5 Regular Cucumbers (the smaller the better)
- 1 Quart Purified Water
- 2 Tablespoon Sea Salt for Half Sours (Use 3 T for Full Sours)
- 1 Tablespoon Pickling Spice
- 3-5 Oak, Horseradish, or Grape Leaves (optional)
- Soak the cucumber in ice water for an hour to perk them up. Trim the flower end by ⅛ inch to prevent bitterness.
- Place leaves (if using) and pickling spice in the bottom of a half gallon mason jar.
- Pack the cucumbers in strategically to get as tight a fit as possible.
- Dissolve the salt in a quart of purified water and pour it over the cucumbers. This should be just enough to cover them. If not, mix a bit more brine using the same ratio.
- Cover loosely with a plastic lid or a kitchen towel and set on the counter for 3 to 7 days. When the cucumbers are pickled to your liking, refrigerate and enjoy!
Homemade pickles are a wonderful introduction into the world of lacto-fermentation. They are very simple to prepare and are ready in only a few days. They taste so much more fresh, alive, and nourishing than store-bought vinegar pickles. I guarantee you will be able to taste the difference and bet you’ll be hard pressed to eat them any other way after making them yourself! Enjoy!