Pickling Instructions

Fermented Pickles 101: Preserving the Harvest

By Jeff Yoskowitz, revised by Julia Harrington Reddy

 “By fermenting foods and drinks with wild microorganisms present in your home environment, you become more interconnected with the life forces of the world around you. Your environment becomes you, as you invite the microbial populations you share the earth with to enter your diet and your intestinal ecology.” — Sandor Katz, Wild Fermentation

Fermentation Basics

What are Fermented Pickles?

Vegetable Fermentation, known as lacto-fermentation, is basically controlled decomposition.  A natural forming bacteria, Lactobacillus, breaks down the vegetables, making them easier to digest. Recent research suggests that this is because the bacteria become part of the flora in our guts, with various health benefits. 


What is Lactobacillus?

Acidophillus, the pro-biotic bacteria common in Yogurt, is a form of Lactobacillus. Lactobacilli are bacteria found on the skins of most vegetables--the white film you see on cucumbers and blueberries, for example.  Greens become brighter green after a minute or two of cooking because the surface lactobacilli are killed by cooking.   The name is derived from the Latin word for milk because the bacteria were first isolated in sour milk.


How do we Ferment?

When we ferment we create the right environment for these bacteria to reproduce and proliferate (and at the same time, an inhospitable environment for other “bad” bacteria). Lactobacilli turn vegetable carbohydrates into lactic acid, which is the cornerstone of the process.  The Lactic Acid acts as a natural preservative and prevents the growth of bacteria that decomposes food. 


Are there actual health benefits to eating fermented pickles?

Yes.  Fermentation not only helps your vegetables retain nutrients but it adds to them.  Just like yogurt (another fermented food) fermentation aids your digestion, increasing your intestinal flora that improves the digestion process and stimulates movement of your intestines. Fermentation also promotes healthy bowel movements, assists with blood circulation, and boosts your immune system.  Michael Pollan has recently described some of the other, tentatively identified benefits (“Some of my Best Friends Are Germs, NYT Magazine 13 May 2013) as heightened tolerance of potential allergens and lower levels of inflammation in our bodies, lowering the risk of heart disease.


What are some good pickling and fermenting resources?

The bible is Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation (and www.wildfermentation.com).  A staple in any pickle kitchen is the Joy of Pickling.  Also, always be in touch with your local fermenters. Jeff is always available at Jeffyosko@gmail.com.


4 Pillars of Fermenting Pickles


Salt regulates fermentation by inhibiting lactobacilli, preventing veggies from spoiling, and drawing water from veggies to create brine. The less salt you use, the faster the fermentation will go and the more acid you’ll produce (less salty, more sour, but softer), while the more salt you use, the slower the fermentation goes and the less acid you have (saltier, less sour, crunchier).  Use a non-iodized salt – kosher, pickling or sea salt.



An ideal temp range is 62 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit (although warmer or cooler is acceptable).  If it’s too cold, the spoilage microorganisms might be favored and will begin to proliferate (causing the produce to rot).  Alternatively, if it’s too hot, you’ll produce “off” flavors and the final result will not store for nearly as long.



Lactobacilli need an anaerobic environment (without air).  So, we have to keep the air out during fermentation.  But fresh vegetables, like people, float to the top of salt water. So we need to weigh the vegetables down to keep out air and keep them in the brine. 


We can do this with a few different types of air seals.

-        Mason Jar

-        Plate/weight method

-        Plastic Bag Method

-        Beer Supply Airlock

-        Breathable Silicone Bung


Time: During the first three days of fermentation we enable the lacto-bacilli to quickly do their work, creating an environment too acidic for spoilage bacteria to survive.  It is important to not disturb the fermentation vessel during these first three days as any present oxygen is being used up and replaced with CO2 and moving or shaking the fermenting jar ‘stirs’ the brine and can shake out the CO2 and mix oxygen back in. 


Timeframes for Fermenting:

Keep in mind that flavors change throughout the course of fermentation, so after the first 3 days, you should periodically taste the pickles to see if they taste good.  You may decide you like kraut or kimchi at 2 weeks.  These times are general guidelines and fermentation takes place at different rates based on salt, temperature and other factors.  When you reach the taste you like, put the jar in the refrigerator to stop the fermentation.


Suggested time frames:

1)     Cucumber Pickles: 5 to 10 days (2 to 3 days for half sours)

2)     Kraut: 3 weeks to 4 months

3)     Green beans: 5 days to 2 weeks

4)     Kimchi: 3 to 6 weeks


Other factors (not pillars, just factors):


Texture considerations:  If you like your pickles crunchy, in addition to having a high salt ratio (described under the ‘salt pillar’, above) you can add certain ingredients.  Fresh grape leaves (you’ll have to find a friend with a grape vine!) added to the cuke version will help keep them crisper!   Apparently oak leaves also work, and these may be easier to find than grape leaves in the wild around NYC.   Old pickling recipes mention alum for crispness as well. 


All pickles eventually get mushy, so if you like crunchy pickles, the moral is to eat them!


Taste and variety: You can pickle together different types of vegetables, and if you like spicy pickle, add a fresh jalapeno to the jar.  You can also vary/make your own pickling spices. 


Dill Pickles

Vegetable to salt ratio: 1 lb vegetables to 1 T salt


Ingredients and Supplies

Quart jar, crock or other fermentation vessel

About 1 lb of small crunchy cukes

1 T salt

Warm water and Cold Water

1 to 3 cloves chopped garlic

½ to ¾ T pickling spice

1 head fresh flowering dill (or 1 tablespoon of any form of dill – fresh or dried leaf, or seeds)

any other spices and herbs you want to add (hot peppers, mustard seed, etc)


1.     Pack quart jar with cukes.

2.     Mix 1 tablespoon salt into warm water, stir to dissolve, let cool and add to jar.

3.     Add chopped garlic, pickling spice and dill.

4.     Fill jar to ¾” from top with cold water.  Tighten lid and shake to further distribute salt.

5.     Make sure cukes are below water level – you can wedge them under the neck of the jar, or you can use a few cuke slices to keep the good cukes below the water.

6.     Leave on a tray at proper temperature (62 to 78 degrees) for at least 3 days, with lids medium-tight.  After three days “burp” the jars (open them over a sink and let out some pressure).

After 5 to 10 days, when you like the flavor, transfer the jar to the fridge.  Enjoy! (Half sours ferment for just 2 or 3 days – you may want to use a bit less salt, as half sours don’t have the sour flavor to balance out the salty flavor).