Fermented (and Pasteurized) Sour Pickles

I used to make dill pickles using vinegar instead of time to sour them. Last year I fermented pickles for the first time, and there is no going back. They are easy, and when you bite into one you may say, like I did, “Ah, yes, now this, this is a pickle.”

Pickles can be stored in the refridgerator and eating through the winter. If you don’t have enough refrigerator space for the amount of pickles you plan to consume, you can can or pasteurize them, which will make them shelf stable. Directions for pasteurizing (my preferred method) are below.

Ingredients:sour pickles
Fresh pickling cucumbers (ideally picked the same day). 5 pounds fills a one gallon jar or 4 quarts.
5 Tbsp. sea salt, pickling salt, or kosher salt
2 quarts water (non-chlorinated)
6 grape leaves
6-8 cloves garlic, peeled
head of dill

Optional additional spices: black peppercorns, red pepper flakes, mustard seeds.


  1. Make a brine by dissolving the salt in the water.
  2. In a 1 gallon crock or jar (or 2 half-gallon jars or 4 quart jars) add half the grape leaves (save one for the top of each jar), half the garlic, half the dill, and any other spices. (Pictured here are the half-gallon jars I use).
  3. Pack in half of the cucumbers.
  4. Repeat a layer of leaves and garlic, and cucumbers.
  5. Pour the brine over the pickles, leaving 1-2 inches of head space.
  6. Place another leaf on top of the pickles as a cover between the pickles and the surface of the brine. Use a clean stone or some other fermentation weight to keep the pickles under the liquid. Cover the jar with a coffee filter held in place with a rubber band.
  7. Ferment at room temperature (60-70°F is best) until desired flavor and texture is achieved. The brine will (should) turn cloudy and bubbly, and the pickles should taste sour when they are done.filtertop

Once your pickles have reached your desired level of sourness (start tasting after 2-3 days) either refrigerate them, or pasteurize them. In either case, replace the coffee filter with an actual screw on top. Pickles will keep in the refrigerator for several months, likely into the winter, and on the shelf after being pasteurized for at least year. Since I plan to pasteurize all but one jar that I’ll stick in the fridge, I don’t quarter, half, or slice my pickles, because I want to keep them as crisp as possible.

To Pasteurize:

picklesAfter the pickles have reached the desired sourness, either transfer them (with their brine, herbs and spices and leaves) to clean quart jars (unless you fermented them in quart jars to begin with) and place them in a canner filled about half way with warm water. Add hot water until jars are covered by 1 inch. Heat the water to 180º-185º F AND MAINTAIN it there for 30 minutes. Check the temperature with a candy thermometer. You can’t count the time during which it dips below 180º. If it gets above 185ºF your pickles may soften.

Remove jars from canner and allow to cool on the counter undisturbed for 24 hours before storing. Store any jars that don’t seal in the refrigerator.

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