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Unless otherwise noted, all recipes on this blog are free of gluten, peanuts, soy, corn, tomatoes, potatoes, shellfish, cane sugar, oranges, and yeast. Most recipes are also free of egg, dairy, and tree nuts (if used, reliable substitutions will be provided for these when possible). Check out my recipe index for a full list of recipes by category. 

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Friday
Jul302010

Lacto-Fermented Vinegar-Free Cucumber Pickles (gluten-free, vegan, raw, ACD)

'Tis the season to preserve, friends, so I'm posting another recipe for pickled vegetables.  You can't escape the natural cycles of the growing season.  So, I'm offering this one up for Summerfest 2010, a community blog event celebrating summer ingredients.  This week's theme is cucumbers and zucchini, so it was perfect timing for my pickles.

I have to say that these are the best dill pickles I have ever tasted. Granted, I'm partial, but seriously, these are crunchy, not too salty, and full of garlic, dill, and spices. And best yet, there isn't a drop of vinegar to be found - they are naturally pickled and fermented in a salt brine, and are full of beneficial bacteria. 

Lacto-fermentation is a process of preserving foods that relies on lactic acid, a naturally occurring preservative that is produced by lactobacilli. Lactobacilli are live bacteria that exist on the surface of every living thing. At the most basic level, you create a brine of water and salt, which preserves the food long enough for the lactobacilli to catch up and produce lactic acid, which then preserves the food for the long-term. In addition to being preserved, the food is live, meaning that the healthy bacteria are still thriving in the finished food product and are available to your body. Live beneficial probiotic bacteria - like those found in these pickles - help strengthen immune system function, aid in detoxification, and regulate digestion. When you learn to control the production of lactic acid, you are able to protect against putrefying bacteria and safely preserve all kinds of foods, from meats, to vegetables, to fruits, to beverages. Unlike vinegar-cured and canned pickles which are shelf-stable, most lacto-fermented foods require refrigeration or cold storage.

I make a lot of fermented food and find it to be very beneficial to my overall health, especially because I take so many antibiotics for Lyme Disease treatment.  I've been playing around with cucumber pickles since last summer, but just hadn't hit the right combination of factors until now. I think I finally nailed it, and have concluded that it comes down to a few decisive factors...

Small-sized pickling cucumbers. When choosing pickling cucumbers, I prefer smaller ones, which fit in the jar better, stay crispy, pickle more quickly than large ones, and are rarely tough.  You can find pickling cucumbers at well-stocked grocery stores and farmers markets. If you can, get organic.

Kombucha.  Kombucha added to the pickling brine seems to improve the overall flavor and allows it to ferment more quickly.  It also adds a powerful punch of enzymes, amino acids, and antioxidants.  I brew my own kombucha, but if you don't, find it bottled at natural food stores and co-ops.  

Fresh grape leaves added to the jar. The tannins in grape leaves help to keep the pickles crunchy. This is a trick I picked up from Sandor Elix Katz, author of Wild Fermentation.  You can find grape leaves all over the place (along railroad tracks, on the sides of buildings, in parks, in your neighbor's backyard, etc), so I recommend looking for some, grabbing a few, and adding them to the jar. If you can't find them, that's okay - I have made pickles with and without grape leaves with success, they just aren't quite as crunchy without.  Katz also suggests using sour cherry leaves, oak leaves, and horseradish leaves in place of grape leaves.  

A well-spiced brine. A good mix of spices adds the finishing touch to any good pickle. I added fresh garlic, coriander, fennel, allspice, bay leaf, garlic, pickling dill, and red pepper flakes to the brine. If you prefer a more streamlined pickle, feel free to pick and choose your additions based on your tastes and tolerances.  I think some grated horseradish root would also be darn good - I am going to try that in my next batch.

If you've never fermented food before, check out this post for some helpful tips and tricks before you start. It is just basic stuff, but makes a difference.  Eventually, I am going to try canning some of these pickles after they ferment and see what happens.  I know that the heating process of canning would kill the live bacteria, but it would make them shelf-stable and not require refrigeration. I will let you know how all of that turns out.  In the  meantime, these will just need to take up space in your refrigerator or very cold root cellar.

Okay, go forth and ferment! Embrace bacteria and make some awesome food. Like they say, “Support bacteria - they're the only culture some people have.”

Happy pickling, friends!  And be sure to check out the hosts of Summerfest 2010 for the schedule and all the great recipe submissions: Tea and Cookies, In Jennie's Kitchen, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef

xoxo

 

smallish pickling cucumbers make better pickles

create a flavorful mix of spices for the brine

throw in a few heads of flowering pickling dill

pack it in! this is just after packing the jar - aren't they lovely?

reusing big gallon pickle jars is the easiest way to do it

the brine becomes cloudy as the pickles ferment, don't be alarmed

Lacto-Fermented Vinegar-Free Cucumber Pickles

yield 1 gallon

When choosing pickling cucumbers, I prefer smaller ones, which fit in the jar better, stay crispy, and are rarely tough.   The fresh tannin-rich grape leaves added to the jar help to keep the pickles crunchy. Sandor Elix Katz, author of Wild Fermentation, also suggests using sour cherry leaves, oak leaves, and horseradish leaves.  I have made with and without grape leaves with success.  I like adding kombucha; I think it makes for a better flavor and quicker fermentation, however, if you do not have it or do not tolerate kombucha, feel free to omit.  Pick and choose whichever spices you'd like to include, based on your personal tastes and tolerances. 

about 4 pounds small to medium-sized pickling cucumbers
1/2 cup unrefined sea salt (RealSalt, Maldon salt, Eden sea salt are excellent)
4-5 cups filtered water
1 cup plain kombucha (optional, if not using add more water)
3 Tbsp yellow mustard seeds
1 Tbsp coriander seeds
2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp allspice
1 bay leaf
4 heads fresh flowering pickling dill, 6 large sprigs dill weed, or 4 Tablespoons minced fresh dill or dill seeds
1 head fresh garlic, cloves separated and peeled
handful fresh grape leaves (optional, if available) 

1 1-gallon glass jar

Wash cucumbers well and let soak in cool water for about an hour to freshen up.  While cucumbers soak, sterilize your jar.  Place grape leaves, garlic, dill, and spices at the bottom of the jar.  Dissolve salt in 2 cups of filtered water and kombucha.  Layer cucumbers into jar, packing firmly, then pour in brine, adding additional water as necessary to cover pickles, leaving 1" space at the top of the jar. Close jar firmly, and place out of the direct sunlight.

Ferment 3-4 days (it will ferment more quickly in hot temperatures),  then open the jar and try a pickle.
The fermentation time will vary based on the temperature, the size of your pickling cucumbers, the bacteria in your kombucha, and the amount of naturally occurring lactobacilli on your vegetables, so trust your gut and follow your intuition.   Each batch may be a little different - this is not an exact science. Basically, if you like how it tastes, they are done! Pack into smaller jars as desired and store in the fridge. If you desire a more sour, tart pickle, or they don't seem cured all the way through, recover and let ferment an additional day or two, sampling to check progress. I let mine ferment for 3 1/2 days in a kitchen that is about 78º-80º F, and they were perfect. 

Once refrigerated, pickles will continue to cure over time, and their flavor will improve with age.  Will keep up to 6 months refrigerated.


 

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Reader Comments (22)

I've been making the vinegar version the last several years, and this really intrigues me, because I don't actually like vinegar. (I make them for my husband.) I think I might have to try a half batch to see what happens!

July 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDeanna

I just made my own lacto-fermented vinegar-less pickles for the first time this month, and I totally agree about the benefits of eating fermented foods. Just started making my own kombucha too! Which, btw, is what most fascinated me about your recipe. Kombucha with the pickles! Completely novel! I kind of want to try it now. Beautiful pics, too!

July 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShannalee

Oh my dear girl ...how busy you've been... everything you've been posting is so awesome I just haven't been able to respond , today's the first chance I got to get to your site I got to see all the fantastic things you have been up to , I sure have a lot of catching up to do and I'm still low on energy so I will have to go slow , but I love everything, the heading for your home page "ROCKS " all these ideas are just out of this world ! You are so incredible . I need this information and much of it is all new to me . I must admit I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer and it takes me longer than most, but look out once I get it :) I can not wait to try this idea and as usual your photography is simply the best ! Thank you for another fantasic creative super appetizing recipe with super informative instructions . BYE ~ XO

July 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKathy

Tis the season indeed! You're posts about fermenting have been so inspiring. I really want to try it, although I'm afraid to get started. I've been collecting some jars though and I have a few different 'fermentable' items waiting the fridge. I guess I'm just nervous about messing it up. I have all your posts about it bookmarked though... so whenever I find the courage I at least have a create source to guide me :)

~Aubree Cherie

July 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAubree Cherie

I'm putting together a small batch today. Wish me luck!

August 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDeanna

Kim!
This is so rad. I just posted about my adventures with fermentation and put a link back to this recipe. I hope we meet some day, I live in mpls too!
http://overheadspace.wordpress.com/2010/08/03/raw-cultured-vegetables-ii/

Take care,
Allegra

August 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAllegra

these look awesome...thanks for posting! i'm intrigued about using kombucha--i make it too, so i'm gonna give it a shot. have you ever tried adding whey? i wanna give that a shot too. quick question: do you reuse the brine--like do you just keep adding pickles to the jar? i'm hoping so!

August 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterbriggs

I just finished making a batch of lacto-fermented pickles with fresh ingredients from the market. Now the waiting begins....will try the kombucha next batch!
FYI grape leaves or any other wild edible should never be harvested close to railroad tracks - creosote and other chemicals on train tracks are very toxic and can contaminate plants.

August 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJulia

These look great. Can they be made in 1 quart jars instead? Does the size of the jar matter?

AUBREE CHERIE -
Get the courage! it is fun.

DEANNA-
good luck! how did they turn out???/

BRIGGS-
I tried some whey fermentation last year, and yes, it works. But I don't tolerate it very well, so I don't use it anymore. I did have some wonky experiences with it though if any of the dairy solids remained and it wasn't properly strained - yucky freaky yogurt mold in the pickles. Blech. But that was a fluke and a mistake. :) As for the brine - yes, go ahead and reuse the brine for things like dressings, sauces, marinades, etc. I wouldn't recommend fermenting a new batch of pickles in that same brine, however. I've never tried it, but I don't think it would work the same. You could probably add a small amount to a new brine as a "starter", similar to how I did with the kombucha.

JULIA-
Oh, gosh, good call with the toxins from the railroad tracks. I didn't even think of that. THanks for the tip!!!!!!

ELLEN-
You could make it in smaller jars, just divide up the quantities. However, fermenting in larger batches seems to work better. I don't know why, but I'm always happier with the results when I ferment more at once. The other thing is that pickling cucumbers fit better in bigger jars :) But yes, feel free, divide up into quart or half gallon jars and give it a shot. Fermenting time should be the same.

August 10, 2010 | Registered CommenterKim @ Affairs of Living
OK - got 'em in the jar...they're as pretty as yours, though in a less picturesque way, so I won't bother with a photo! I'll say I'm really glad to have another use for the grape leaves on the vines out back, too. I'll let you know in a few days if they pass the Jenna/Myra pickle-pro taste-taste! Thanks, Kim
August 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAaron
My first batch failed miserably - became a mold culture. I tried again with smaller jars and less counter time and voila! This time it worked. Hubby says that he can taste the cucumber in 'em, which is a good thing.

Thanks again!
August 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDeanna
Does the brine ever become less cloudy? Or does it stay cloudy through the process? Is it ok if the cloudy brine settles to the bottom?
August 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRH
AARON-
good luck! I hope they work for you and the family :) Hugs to all of you! let me know how they turn out...

DEANNA-
Sorry the first batch didn't work, but I'm so pleased you liked the second attempt! Way to get back on that horse and try it again :)

RH-
Yes, it will become cloudy and stay cloudy, and the cloudiness may settle. As long as you don't have mold growing anywhere - which you will notice if it is there - the cloudiness is just fine. Mustard seeds tend to make things cloudy, so no worries.
August 20, 2010 | Registered CommenterKim @ Affairs of Living
Whew, I just finished fermenting my very first batch of pickles (with grape leaves and whey), and I was worried about the cloudiness of the brine compared to a recent batch of sauerkraut, but you've set my fears at ease. Now I should probably taste them. :)
August 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

Love this post Kim! Reminds me of my kimchi making days. :) I will have to get creative and see what I can do with the produce here in Mexico - no suitable cucumbers for pickles but excellent carrots. I am concerned about contamination though - but as you said "trust your gut". :)

August 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPatty

This is great but I live in Thailand and no grape leaves anywhere...can I use grap stems to make them crunchy?

December 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWeb Designer

I too am struggling with Lymes and was the whole reason I got into making my own Kombucha. I am now overstocked with Kombucha and was searching for a way to use it when I came across your site. I like your pickle recipe, and will be definitely trying it. I wanted to tell you that I've had Lymes for close to two years, and have done all the antibiotic medications I care to do, because it doesn't work, but I want to let you know that I've found something a month ago that seems to be helping me now, and I feel compelled to share it with you. Do a search online for a product called MMS (Miracle Mineral Solution). This is a pathogen killer, which is what Lymes is -- an out of control pathogen. There's a lot of info on it, go with Jim Humbles (inventor of MMS) information and links. Hope you will benefit from this.

January 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVal

I know that everyone of these recipes ask for grape, oak, and sour cherry leaves. Yours is one of the few who maintain an "optional" value. Is there other choises?... black berry or salmon berry or huckleberry that is around my vicinity. There must be tannins in their leaves?!! I just can't imagine that tannin in leaves are left to these less than a hand full of choices.

thanks for your help.

lola

July 14, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterlola

Hi Iola,
I've never used any of those other leaves, so your guess is as good as mine! You could certainly try the leaves of those other things, and see if they work. I did a google search and it seems that blackberry contains a decent amount of tannins, so it could be a good choice. I do know that some leaves have much higher tannin content than others, and grape, oak, and sour cherry seem to be the ones that are both safe to use and high in tannins. Give it a shot and let me know how it goes!

Hi Kim,

I noticed in a reply on 8/10/10 you address possible reuse of the brine.....I am browsing comments to find out if anyone else has done this; I pickled a HUGE batch of cukes a few weeks ago. Half was with your recipe (the kombucha is an excellent addition) and the other half was with reused brine (Bubbie's pickles). They taste flat and don't have the same sour punch that the others do. Any thoughts? I'm considering replacing all the old brine with fresh......think that would help/matter?

Love your site!
Cheers-

September 20, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterrd

My husband and I run a CSA in ontario. We are getting ready to offer classes on pickling. I am happy to find the recipe here for lacto fermented pickles and intend to try it and maybe use it for our class along with a more conventional recipe using apple cider vinegar. Thanks for all the great info. I was so excited when I saw the use of kombucha. I brew my own and always have too much. This gives me an outlet for my brew. thanks. JoAnna

July 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJoAnna
Sorry, no comments/questions allowed right now.
Hi reader! My schedule as full-time grad student with two part-time jobs doesn't allow me the time to manage comments. I hope you enjoy what you find and can figure out answers to any questions you may have. xo