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Basic Pickles or Fermented Cucumbers Recipe

Two mason jars, full of fermenting cucumbers.
Figure 1. Two mason jars, full of cucumbers, just gone in. Both using this recipe, one with added chilli flakes, one with added Sichuan pepper.

Here’s my lacto-fermented cucumbers recipe. This is adapted from the great Wild Fermentation book. I’ve honed this recipe to perfection over many trials – but you’ll need to try it a few times and adjust it to your particular cucumbers, climate & tastes, I expect.

Although mini-cucumbers are the archetypal “pickle”, this recipe is not limited to just cucumbers. Pretty much any crunchy vegetable can be fermented like this. Basically, any vegetable that’s crunchy will ferment well this way.

This is essentially two recipes: one for making the “basic brine” – which I use for lots of similar ferments – and one for making the fermented cucumbers, using the brine. Both recipes are very simple.

Basic Brine Recipe (per litre)

  • 1 litre water
  • 42.5g salt (just regular table salt, not lo-salt & no added ingredients)
  • ¼ teaspoon Calcium Chloride (optional, but keeps things crunchy)

Mix this all together in a clean mixing bowl or jug, until the salt and sodium chloride dissolve into the water.

Basic Pickles Recipe

Equipment

  • Clean wide mouth mason jars - or any vaguely similar container
  • Either a fermentation weight & lid, or a small ziplock bag 50% full of tap water, as a weight/seal for the container
  • A Cabbage leaf

Ingredients

  • Fresh un-waxed small cucumbers/gherkins - however many you want to make

Per jar:

  • 2 sprigs fresh dill
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns (you can use ground pepper if you don’t have whole)
  • 1 teaspoon mustard or coriander seeds (optional)
  • A bay leaf (optional)

Instructions

  1. Soak cucumbers in cold water for a bit.
  2. While the cucumbers are soaking, make the brine solution. Roughly 80% of the space in your jars will be filled with cucumbers, so don’t make too much brine.
  3. Rinse the cucumbers, taking care to not bruise them. Don’t clean them with detergent or anything - just rinse any dirt off. The cucumber skin is covered in the good lactobacteria that will do the fermenting for us, so don’t clean them too much.
  4. Top & tail the cucumbers, making sure their blossoms ends are removed.
  5. Put dill, peppercorns & seeds into jars.
  6. Pack cucumbers into the jars, length-ways, or cut sideways. Leave several inches of headspace at the top of the jar - enough to fit the ziplock bag or fermenting weight.
  7. Pour brine over the cucumbers, put cabbage leaf over the top to stop anything floating to the surface. Again, leave several inches of clear brine at the top of the jar.
  8. Depending on which you’re using, either put the weight & lid on – or the water filled ziplock bag into the top of the jar, as a seal & weight, to keep everything underneath the brine.
  9. Put the jars somewhere with a steady temperature, away from direct sunlight, roughly room temperature. Warmer makes them go faster, too warm makes them into mush; room temp is fine.
  10. After a few days the water should go cloudy - this means it’s working and they’ve started to ferment.
  11. Check the jar every few days. Skim any mould/yeast from the surface of the water, but don’t worry if you can’t get it all. If there’s mold, be sure to rinse the bag & put back. Taste the pickles after about a week.
  12. Feel free to remove and eat the pickles as they continue to ferment, until you decide how sour you like them – longer fermentation will increase sourness. Continue to check occasionally.
  13. Eventually, after one to four weeks (depending on the temperature), the pickles will be fully sour. When they reach your preferred sourness, move them to the fridge to slow fermentation down to almost (but not quite) a standstill. I usually leave mine fermenting for roughly 2 weeks.

Once you’ve done this a couple of times and got it working, feel free to experiment by adding extra stuff for different tastes. Here are a few ideas:

  • Garlic cloves
  • Chili, either whole, sliced, or dried flakes
  • Sliced or grated Radish

Good luck and let me know how you get on!


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