Fermenting cucumbers is simpler than you think! In this post, I’ll share with you how I am making Israeli pickles with my summer harvest of pickling cucumbers. They are lacto-fermented pickles that take just a few moments to put together and are just as delicious as the ones we have in Israel. Let’s go over how to ferment cucumbers! I have the handy printable for you at the end of the post.
There are so many ways to make pickles. Honestly, I didn’t know that there were so many ways to preserve cucumbers and make pickles until I landed here in the U.S. back in 2005.
In my home country, Israel, we mostly eat pickles in brine (fermented cucumbers) and some people also like pickles that are preserved in a mixture of salt and vinegar but that’s it. They are the only two kinds.
I was amazed to find out that you can make sweet pickles and that there are so many different recipes for pickling cucumbers. So I got a bit excited and tried a few. I’d choose a different kind at the grocery store every time I went to try to find one that I liked so I could find and use a recipe for that kind of pickle to preserve my summer harvest.
I just didn’t like any of them. I don’t like vinegar too much and the sweet kind doesn’t sit well with me. The Hamburger pickles are probably the only kind I can eat but they don’t make me too excited.
A normal person can’t live without pickles, I’m sure we all agree on that. So something had to be done.
Fermenting Cucumbers: Making Israeli Pickles…
And so, I set out to recreate my childhood pickles which means fermenting cucumbers.
But that wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. The kinds of cucumbers they use in Israel for pickling is different than the ones we use here. Also, I’ve always just eaten them from a store-bought can, I didn’t have a family recipe to go by.
I’ve tried all kinds of things and it took some experimenting but I think that I can now safely say that I’ve found my recipe. The recipe that produces fermented cucumbers just like the ones I grew up eating. And I am super happy to say that it’s simple and takes only minutes to put together.
What is the Process of Lacto-Fermentation?
Lacto-fermentation means preserving food by using a brine mixture (salt dissolved in water). The brine creates an anaerobic, acidic environment in which bad bacteria can not grow, therefore, we are able to keep the food longer.
That makes sense, right? An acidic solution doesn’t allow bacteria to grow, the food lasts longer…a great way to preserve the harvest. Makes sense.
The cool thing about lacto-fermentation though, is that first, it’s so simple! No boiling water baths, no special pressure pots or any special equipment is necessary.
And second, the nutrition level of the food actually increases. How amazing is that?
Not only that, Lacto-fermented food keeps its nutrition value but also, in the process of fermentation bacteria, probiotics, and enzymes that are beneficial to our digestive system are created.
It’s a win, win, win, win, win, win… In every direction, it’s a win. You can’t lose here.
Ok, let’s do this…
Fermenting Cucumbers: Lacto-Fermented Pickles…
I am pretty sure that anyone who has ever fermented cucumbers will tell you that your success depends on the cucumbers you start the process with. I am no different here.
I grow my own cucumbers. I don’t think its a super special variety. In fact, I purchased this year’s seed packet at Walmart and it simply said “Pickling Cucumbers” on the seed packet.
Pickling cucumbers are firm, contain less water than slicing cucumbers and have a thicker skin. The secret is to pick them when they are still small. The best is 3 to 4 inches long, this is really important if you want to make sure your pickles are crunchy.
It’s also important to ferment them as fresh as possible. If you can pick enough to fill a jar, head to the kitchen and ferment them right away, that’s best.
I know some will tell you to keep them in an ice bath until you can ferment, but I don’t bother. If I can’t get to them right away I just keep them in the fridge.
If you don’t grow your own, you can find a ton of them at the local farmer’s market during the growing season. Make sure you choose the smaller ones and ask the farmer when they were picked.
Preparing Your Cucumbers for Fermenting…
OK, we are going to use a gallon jar here because I find that it’s easier for me to just do a few huge jars instead of many smaller ones (I do the same with my fermented tomatoes). This way, I can keep my quart jars for lacto-fermenting green beans, fermenting beets, fermenting radish or canning milk or peach jam or whatever else, but you can use whatever size jar you want here.
Gather your small and firm cucumbers and head in the direction of the sink.
If you grow your own cucumbers you know that in order to pick them the perfect size you practically need to sleep by the vines! You bend to clean your 3 year’s old nose and by the time you stand up straight again the darn cucumber is huge. So I do my best to get them when they are small but those shown here are 3 minutes too big.
Excuse me and please try to go for 3 to 4 inches long.
Now, before we wash our cucumbers, let’s talk about its ends…
There is this end in the picture above, the end that was connected to the vine. For some reason, no one has a personal problem with this end…
Then there is this end… The blossom end. Rumor has it in the U.S. that this end contains enzymes that can cause the pickle to get mushy and therefore it is advised to remove it.
I don’t know, people… I have never met a pickle in Israel that had this end removed and they were all perfectly crunchy.
So, if you are concerned about the blossom end of the cucumber, you have two options…
Option number one is to remove it. IF I were to do that, I’d remove as little as I could…
The other option is to blanch the cucumbers. The boiling water will kill any enzyme that might be living there. If you want to learn more about blanching vegetables check out my post about blanching potatoes before freezing. You can do the exact same thing with cucumbers before fermenting.
I like to live on the edge though (and I am also a bit lazy but let’s not focus on that…) so I have to be honest and say that I simply wash my cucumbers with cold water and a sponge with a tiny bit of dish soap. I don’t remove the blossom end and I don’t blanch the cucumbers, ain’t nobody got time for that!
Packing Your Jar and Adding Spices…
Once all my cucumbers are washed and ready to go, I wash the jar with dish soap and warm water…
Then I start adding the cucumbers into the jar…
I stop about half way through and add my seasonings. To this one gallon jar, I added 9 cloves of garlic that I crushed but I didn’t peel, 2 tablespoons of Ball Mixed Pickling Spice, about 5 bay leaves, and 6 Japones red chili peppers.
If I had fresh dill I would add that too. And if I had grape leaves I would add a few as well (they say they help the crunchiness factor). But there are no real rules here, you can add or leave out whatever you want but I found that this combination works great for me.
So I add all the seasonings right on top of the cucumbers…
And finish packing the jar with cucumbers…
Adding Salt Brine…
Once the jar is packed it’s time to make the brine.
I use pickling salt because it’s fine and it’s easy to dissolve it in water. The original ratio is 1 1/2 tablespoon of salt dissolved in 2 cups of water. You can definitely go for that but I like my pickles really salty so I do 2 tablespoons of salt in 2 cups of water or in other words, a tablespoon of salt per one cup of water (it’s also easier for me to remember!).
I dissolve the salt in the water and fill the jar all the way to the top making sure to leave one-inch headspace.
Now, we have to make sure that the cucumbers stay under the brine. The right thing to do is use fermentation weights like these ones, but I don’t have any so I always end up finding creative ways to make sure the vegetables that I ferment stay submerged in the brine.
In my fermented radish post, I showed you how you should and shouldn’t use an apple as weight, this time I used a plastic Ball wide mouth freezer lid for the job…
I insert it into the gallon jar (it’s top first) and fill it with the brine solution. It works very well!
Staring at Your Cucumbers…
That’s it, we are done! Just screw the lid on and stand back and look at this beautiful sight…
Here is a closer look… Isn’t it beautiful?
That’s even closer. No really… Isn’t it just beautiful? It’s your garden in a jar… It’s like sending your child to college… You conceived it, birthed it, raised it, prepared it, packed it so well… And now he is going away to do his thing in the world!
Unlike your child going to college, your pickles didn’t cost that much and in a couple of short weeks, you’ll be able to eat them. Don’t eat your child when he comes back home from college, please! Even if he’s somewhat sour.
Ok, move on Lee. Move on.
So, our next step here is to place the jar on a plate (because some of the brine is going to spill out) and push it to the corner of the kitchen counter to ferment. I leave mine on the kitchen counter because I use a regular lid and not a special fermentation lid (I don’t like gadgets as you probably have noticed by now…).
If you don’t use a special lid that lets the gas that is created in the fermentation process out of the jar you will need to “burp” the jar. This simply means that you need to open the jar once a day. Keep it open for a few minutes (don’t touch the inside of the jar) and then close it again.
As the fermented cucumbers go through the fermenting process, you’ll notice the brine becomes cloudy…
You’ll also notice some bubbles and foam on the top. That’s all good. It means your cucumbers are fermenting and good things are happening in the world.
Since this is a gallon jar, it took about two weeks for the fermentation process to be done. If you are using a quart jar, it’s usually about a week. You’ll see when the process is done by the clarity of the brine.
It won’t be completely clear like when we added it to the jar but the fogginess will disappear and you’ll be able to actually see your pickles inside.
Storing Your Fermented Cucumbers…
The best thing to do is to store your pickles in the fridge or in a cool root cellar. This is a problem for me right now because I simply don’t have room for five one gallon jars in my fridge and I don’t have a root cellar.
So right now I try not to make too many jars of pickles at the same time and keep at least one in the fridge. While that one is in the fridge I’ll start working on the next one and by the time the fermentation process on the second one is done, we are usually done eating the pickles in the first jar.
But I am also experimenting with just leaving the pickles at room temperature with the weight still on the cucumbers to make sure they are all under the brine. I wonder how long they will last. My mother, who helped me in the past to preserve peppers in vinegar and salt says that they should last a couple of months at room temperature. We’ll see.
Once I open the jar and we are ready to eat the pickles I will move the jar to the fridge simply because they are tastier when cold.
I also came by this article from the National Center for Home Preservation that explains how to can fermented foods and it’s definitely something that I want to try. But it requires processing the jars in a boiling water bath and I can’t do that with my gallon jars. Maybe next year I’ll try to get to the cucumbers when they are really small and I’ll try to use quart jars instead and can them.
I always let my fermented cucumbers chill before I eat them…
It’s important to always make sure that you use a clean fork when you fish inside the jar for a pickle. Even if the jar is stored in the fridge we don’t want funky stuff to grow in there.
I eat these pickles with everything! In fact, my favorite way of eating them is just as a snack. My kids love them too. During the growing season, our snacks are pickles, fresh peas, fresh beans, fresh blueberries, watermelon and cantaloupe from the garden… These are the best snacks!
I hope you liked this recipe and that you’ll give these fermented cucumbers a try! Let me know in the comments below if you liked them.
Here is the handy printable…
- 20 cucumbers (or as many as you need in order to fill the jar)
- 9 cloves of garlic, crushed and not peeled
- 2 tablespoons Ball Mixed Pickling Spice
- 5 bay leaves
- 6 Japone chili peppers
- Fresh dill and fresh grape leaves (optional)
- Pickling salt and water
- Wash your pickling cucumbers well with a tiny bit of dish soap and cool water.
- Wash your gallon jar well with warm water and dish soap.
- Pack the cucumbers into the jar halfway through...
- Add the garlic, pickling spice, bay leaves, chili peppers. Add dill and grape leaves if you're using them...
- Finish packing the jar with more cucumbers.
- Dissolve one tablespoon of pickling salt in one cup of water to make the brine. Add the brine to the jar filling it all the way but leaving one inch of headspace. Add more brine as needed.
- Add a fermentation weight to make sure all the cucumbers are under the brine. Add a little bit more brine over the weight if you need to.
- Place your jar on a plate to catch any liquid that is going to spill out during the fermentation process and set aside at room temperature to ferment.
- It will take about two weeks for the fermentation process to be done. You'll notice the brine becomes foggy and bubbly. There will also be some foam on the top. If you didn't use a special fermentation lid for the jar, make sure to "burp" the jar once a day. This means you need to open the jar and leave it open for a few minutes to let the gas out.
- Your pickles are ready when the brine clears out a bit.
- Store your jar in the fridge or in a root cellar. Serve cold.
Make sure to use small pickling cucumbers. The best ones are 3 to 4 inches long.
Try to use cucumbers that were just picked. The fresher the better!
You can also do 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt if you'd like your pickles a tiny bit less salty.