Fermented Cucumbers

I’ve loved cucumber pickles since I was a kid. Fermentation takes them to a new level. Get fermented vegetable recipes at TwiceasTasty.com.
I’ve loved pickles since I was a kid. My mom put dozens of jars of dill and “sweet” (bread-and-butter) pickles through a water bath every year, and I’d sneak them like they were potato chips. But the longer the pickles sat, the less chip-like crunch they gave. Over the years, I’ve played with ingredients and canning techniques that have helped. Then I discovered fermentation.

Think about it: Cucumbers are best fresh and raw. Putting them in hot water is bound to affect their texture. Fermentation replaces heat with time and vinegar with salt. No wonder the result is crisper and fresher. And the flavoring possibilities—from dill to tea—are endless.

If you’ve never run a fermentation, I suggest you check out my introductory post from earlier this month. But here are the basics: Start with everything clean and fresh. Monitor the batch daily so that you can see the process. If you have doubts, give it the toss and start again.

Fermented Dill Pickles

  • Servings: 1 half-gallon jar
  • Difficulty: 2
  • Print
2 tablespoons pickling salt
1 quart hot nonchlorinated water
2 pounds small to medium pickling cucumbers
1 fresh horseradish leaf (optional)
2–4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 chili, deseeded and halved lengthwise
1 fresh dill head or 2 teaspoons dill seeds
1/2 teaspoon allspice berries or coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

Combine the water and pickling salt in a 1-quart or larger glass measuring cup, stirring until the salt dissolves, and then cool the brine cool to room temperature. Gently brush or wash any dirt from the cucumbers. Cut a thin slice off each blossom end, and then thoroughly chill the cucumbers in the fridge.

Cut a freshly harvested horseradish leaf into 2 or 3 pieces, and use them to line the bottom of a clean half-gallon jar. Add the garlic, chili, and spices. Fill the jar with cucumbers, packing them firmly but without bruising, up to the shoulder of the jar. Pour in brine to within about 1 inch of the rim, ensuring that the cucumbers are submerged. Using a paper towel as a lid, loosely screw on a canning ring. Place the jar on a large plate, wrap it in a towel to block light, and set it in an accessible, room-temperature location.

Check the jar daily. Add brine made of 1-1/2 teaspoons pickling salt per cup of water whenever the brine level threatens to expose the cucumbers; replace the paper towel if it becomes wet and stained. Watch for bubbles within in 3–6 days; as the fermentation becomes cloudy, use a small spoon to skim off any scum that collects on the surface and add brine as needed. Pickles can be eaten within a week but will develop a fuller flavor over 4 weeks.

To check for full fermentation, slice into a pickle; it should be uniform in color, crunchy, and full of flavor. When satisfied, replace the paper towel and ring with a plastic storage lid and eat the pickles over the next 6 or so months, storing the jar in the fridge to slow the fermentation process. Makes 1 half-gallon jar.

Tips & Tricks
  • Take the time to grow or find, in the few weeks at summer’s end, pickling cucumbers for any pickle recipe. Pickling cukes have a thinner skin and lower water content than the waxed slicing or shrink-wrapped English cucumbers sold year-round.
  • If you’re buying cucumbers, pick them up from a local source and start your ferment as soon as possible after harvest. If you’re growing your own, leave a bit of stem when harvesting to prevent shriveling and make it easier to identify the blossom end.
  • My tap water has a lot of trace minerals, which give it a soapy taste, so I use distilled water for my fermentation. If you’re on a public water system instead of your own well, your water is likely chlorinated and won’t turn out a healthy batch of fermented pickles.
  • Several of my instructions help prevent cucumbers from softening: removing the blossom ends, chilling, and adding horseradish leaves. If you grow horseradish, use it; you can sub in other fresh leaves high in tannins, such as grape leaves or oak leaves, or even dried black tea leaves (see below).
  • The brine prevents spoilage, so it is crucial that the cucumbers remain submerged throughout the fermentation process. If they float, seal excess brine in a new quart zip-close bag and arrange it so that it fills the top of the jar and keeps the cucumbers under the brine.
  • Slime, a yeasty smell, discolored cucumbers, and mold are all signs of poor fermentation; if any of these appear, toss your batch and restart the process with fresh cucumbers.


I’ve loved cucumber pickles since I was a kid. Fermentation takes them to a new level. Get fermented vegetable recipes at TwiceasTasty.com.

Twice as Tasty

The first year we fermented pickles, we tried 1 half-gallon jar. The second year, it was 3 jars, and now we’re mainly eating fermented pickles at home and only putting the cukes we intend to give away into the canning kettle. I’m putting so many jars of fermented vegetables in my refrigerator that George had to reinforce the shelves.

I like to stagger fermented pickle batches so that they are ready to eat in succession, but if you’re rich in pickling cucumbers, you can prepare a double batch of brine and pack up two jars with different spices. As you saw with the Fermented Dill Pickles, the recipe is really about making a brine with an effective salt-to-water ratio and understanding the process. After that, you can play with the flavors at will. One of my favorite variations uses smoked tea leaves, thanks to a recipe pickling expert Linda Ziedrich shared from her husband. My variation owes its foundation to him.

Fermented Tea Pickles

  • Servings: 1 half-gallon jar
  • Difficulty: 2
  • Print
3 tablespoons pickling salt
1 quart hot nonchlorinated water
2 pounds small to medium pickling cucumbers
1 fresh horseradish leaf (optional)
1 head garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoons lapsang souchong or fermented black tea leaves
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon whole Sichuan peppercorns
pinch of smoked chili flakes (optional)

Make the brine, prepare the cucumbers, and line a clean half-gallon jar with horseradish leaves in the same way you did for Fermented Dill Pickles. Add all remaining ingredients, and then pack in the cucumbers and pour in the brine, leaving about 1 inch of headspace. Check that the cucumbers are fully submerged. Screw on the canning ring–paper towel lid, place the jar on a plate, and wrap it in a towel.

Check the jar daily and top off the brine, replace the paper towel, and skim off the surface film as needed. Leave the batch at room temperature for up to 4 weeks, and then check for uniform color and desired flavor. When ready, swap the paper towel for a plastic storage lid and store the jar in the fridge as you eat your way through it. The pickles will keep refrigerated for 6 months or more. Makes 1 half-gallon jar.

Tips & Tricks
  • This recipe uses a full-sour brine, which balances the smoky tea and chilies. For less bite, stop the fermentation after 2–3 weeks or scale the brine back to the half-sour level of the fermented dills.
  • This is just the beginning of flavors you can play with when fermenting vegetables in brine. Bay leaves, fennel, cinnamon sticks, and various fresh and dried herbs can all be added to the jar. Whole spices are better than ground, which tend to form a sludge on the bottom.
  • You don’t have to limit yourself to cucumbers. Zucchini, snap beans, and thin carrots are just a few of the other vegetables that you can treat in this manner. Even better, you can mix vegetables in a way that’s discouraged with water-bath canning unless you’re following a tested recipe.
  • If your jar isn’t bubbling after a few days, several factors could be involved, including water quality and temperature. To jump-start a vegetable ferment, you could add fresh whey from homemade cheese or yogurt. Over time, a little white sludge may collect in the bottom of the jar.
  • To keep a jar longer than 6 months, a few extra steps help retain crispness: strain the brine, simmer 5 minutes, and then cool to room temperature. Rinse the pickles under cold water, and then repack them into a clean jar. Refill with the cooled brine before refrigerating.


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Tried & True

These books and tools may help you in your fermentation adventures:

  • The original tea pickle recipe from Linda Ziedrich’s husband can be found in her book The Joy of Pickling. She also includes a delicious recipe for fermented snap beans.
  • Avoid table salt when pickling, even for vinegar pickles. The ratios here are designed for pickling or canning salt, like this. The kosher or flaky sea salt I prefer for Salt-Preserved Herbs works but is coarser, so you’ll need to measure it by weight: per quart of water, stir in 35 grams for half-sours or 50 grams for full-sours.
  • Old canning rings are great when you want a ferment to breathe, but my old canning lids rust when salt-brined veg lives in the fridge for months. Sturdy, highly reusable plastic storage lids are worth the investment.

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