Pickles… oh how I love to eat them, especially around the holidays. A plate full of a little cheese ball with crackers, veggies with dip, and summer sausage with pepper jack cheese just isn’t complete without a crunchy, sour pickle on the side. Unfortunately, since we try to avoid eating a lot of foods with added dyes because of allergies, we aren’t able to buy pickles from the store anymore. Most all brands have yellow dye added. It’s really kind of irritating that it’s added because the yellow dye doesn’t actually add any taste or nutrition value to the pickles. I don’t even know why they have to put it in… but that’s a whole other rant for another day. Not only do they have dyes, but they also usually have other ingredients that we try to avoid, like high fructose corn syrup.
So whenever I buy pickles, they’re one food I always buy organic. Not only do they not contain dyes or high fructose corn syrup, but most of the time they are made with more nutritious ingredients, like apple cider vinegar and sea salt. Plus they taste a lot better. The only down side to buying organic pickles is they’re expensive, so I don’t buy them that often. Because of that, I’ve been trying really hard to master the art of making them myself. During the summer, I’ve made several different attempts to can them but I’ve always ended up with mushy pickles. I do plan to keep trying because it would be so handy to have some canned pickles in the pantry to pop open when the mood for a good pickle strikes.
Fortunately, I’ve found an easier way to make pickles besides canning them, which is lacto fermenting them. It’s super easy, fun and takes the nutrition of an average pickle to a whole new level. Lacto fermentation is a way of preserving foods that was used back in ancient times. Basically, salt water brine is poured over vegetables. The salt kills off the harmful bacteria, which then allows beneficial bacteria, like lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, (also known as probiotics) to form. They begin converting lactose and other sugars into lactic acid, which creates an acidic environment and safely preserves the vegetables and also gives them a tangy flavor.
From what I’ve read and understand, our gut health plays a huge role in our overall health. Most processed food nowadays hardly contains any probiotics so it’s easy to have an over growth of bad bacteria in your gut. By eating just a small amount of fermented vegetables each day, it can greatly improve your gut health. Improved digestion, better absorption of vitamins and minerals, decreased inflammation, and improved allergies are just a few of the benefits you could experience.
I don’t know about you, but this time of the year I tend to indulge in a lot of food I normally don’t. In fact, I kinda just throw eating mostly real food out the window and fix a lot of foods that are a tradition for us; most of which are made of a lot of processed foods that we usually try to avoid. While the food’s good at the time, I sure pay for it later. I have headaches, I’m tired and dragging, forgetful and can’t focus, and my gut… well, let’s just say it’s not very happy. So, to help offset the effects, I like to make up a large jar of fermented pickles to enjoy throughout the whole season. Normally I like to make them earlier on, like around Thanksgiving time, but this year I’m not getting around to it until now.
First, you need to gather all the supplies:
Mini peppers (optional)
Carrots (help to maintain crunch in pickle)
Sprigs of dill
Black peppercorns (optional)
Non-iodized sea salt
Black tea bags
Next wash vegetables. I normally don’t add the mini peppers when I make these, I just thought some pickled peppers sounded good, plus I like the added color for the holidays.
Next slice cucumbers and put them on ice for about 20 minutes. This helps them to maintain crispness. You can also leave the cucumbers whole if you prefer.
Once the cucumbers are done soaking on ice, you can start layering the vegetables, sprigs of dill, garlic and tea bags in the jar. One very important step in having your pickles turn out crispy is to add a tannin containing agent to the jar. Some sources of tannin are oak leaves, grape leaves, horseradish leaves or black tea. I use black tea because it’s easiest to find. The tea doesn’t affect the flavor of the pickles. Once it’s all layered nicely in the jar, add the spices.
Next, you need to mix 1 Tbsp sea salt to 2 cups of water. This amount is for a quart jar, if you’re making a larger batch, you need to adjust accordingly. Since I’m using a gallon jar, I used 4 Tbsp to 8 cups of water. The amount of vegetables and spices can be changed according to taste, but it’s important to keep the salt to water ratio the same.
Since I started these later than I had planned, and wanted them to be done by New Years, I added some brine from a jar of Bubbies brand fermented green tomatoes that I had on hand. Those fermented green tomatoes are delicious by the way. This step isn’t necessary, the pickles will ferment just fine without it, but it does speed up the process. It basically just gives it a jump start because instead of having to wait for the beneficial bacteria to grow, it’s starting out with it already in there. Normally it takes seven to ten days for the pickles to ferment. This will vary some depending on how warm your house is; during the summer it can be shorter and in the winter it can take longer.
Next, take a zip lock and put it into the jar, making sure that it covers the surface of the brine across the jar. Pour a little more brine in so that it fills the head space and squeezes out all the air. I used a smaller jar filled with water to weigh down the vegetables. It’s very important that all vegetables stay fully submerged under the brine and aren’t exposed to air. Put a rubber band around the top of the jar to hold the bag in place. Set the jar on a plate or bowl to catch any liquid that spills out as it ferments.
As the fermentation takes place, the brine will start to look cloudy and little bubbles will form.
This is day two.
Day six and almost ready!
The longer you leave it, the more sour the pickles will get. It’s always good to taste them throughout the process so you can get it to your liking. That’s my favorite part. In fact, I have to be sneaky when I taste them, otherwise everyone else in the family will want to taste them too… and once that happens, there won’t be any pickles left in the jar by the time they’re ready. When they’re done, they can be stored in the refrigerator for several months. The fermentation process will be slowed down, but it will continue so the sourness will continue to slowly develop. For more information on fermenting vegetables, I highly recommend this book, Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods by Sandor Ellix Katz. You can also visit this website Wild Fermentation.
Fermenting vegetables is fun, and in my opinion, a lot easier than canning. I think the pickles turn out more flavorful and are a lot more nutritious, which is a win-win all the way around. I made the above batch in a gallon jar, but the recipe below is for a quart jar, so be sure to adjust accordingly to the size of jar you plan to use.
- 1 1/2 pounds pickling cucumbers or enough to pack a quart jar
- 1 small carrot cut into pieces or several baby carrots
- 2 cloves garlic
- Several sprigs of fresh dill weed
- 1 tsp dill seed
- 5 or 6 peppercorns (optional)
- 1 black tea bag
- filtered water and sea salt
- Rinse cucumbers, slice or leave whole and place in ice water for 20 minutes.
- Layer cucumber, garlic, carrots, and dill weed, into jar, packing cucumbers tight to get as many in as possible.
- Add peppercorns and dill seed.
- Dissolve 1 tbsp sea salt in 2 cups warm water, Pour brine over cucumbers until fully submerged, leaving 1 1/2 inch head space.
- Put zip lock bag into jar, and add remaining brine so that the cucumbers are pushed below surface. If needed, add small jar or cup filled with water to help weigh down the cucumbers.
- Place rubber band around neck of jar to hold zip lock in place and keep air out.
- Place jar on plate to catch any liquid that might spill out as fermenting takes place.
- Leave on counter for seven to ten days or until desired sourness is reached.
- Once done, cover jar and refrigerate. Pickles will keep for a very long time.