How to Make Lacto Fermented Pickles

It's that time of the year again! Christmas? No, it's better, it's canning season and the cucumbers are taking over our garden like an experiment gone wrong in a cheesy B-rated horror film! We've already canned dill AND bread and butter pickles, but there are still cucs coming out of our ears and not enough time in the day to can them all. 

Our Boothby Blond cucumbers after they've been bread and butter-ized.

So, I started to make lacto fermented pickles, which do not get canned, but simply sit out on the counter until they've reach their pickle-y prime, sauerkraut style. While this will not preserve them indefinitely like canning would, these pickles should last at least a month out on the counter and longer if kept in the fridge or a cool root cellar. Fermented pickles are preserved by the salt brine and the natural yeasts that it collects from the surrounding environment.  For this reason, they are much healthier for you as they are full of living bacteria and yeasts, which help you to develop a healthy gut biota, aiding in digestion and maximizing the amount of nutrients your body is able to take in. Because of this, naturally fermented veggies are also more flavorful. Plus they are crunchier because they have not been heated at all. 

To make these pickles, you will need a large glass container or crock and enough cucumbers or other veggies to fill it.  You can make this recipe with any veggies you choose; broccoli stems make some of my favorite pickles. I used a 2 gallon crock and an extra large salsa jar. 

Enough fresh veggies to fill your container
Enough water to cover veg by at least an inch
3 Tablespoons salt for each quart water
Grape, oak, or black tea leafs (optional)
Seasoning of Choice- Here are some options, but feel free to use different ones: 
    -Dill, garlic, turmeric, celery seed, black peppercorns, coriander              seeds, red pepper flakes, mustard seeds, cloves, allspice, bay leaf, cinnamon, or ginger

To Make:
1. Wash your hands, containers, and veggies well to prevent moldy pickles. 
2. Chop veg or leave whole as desired. If you leave it whole, you may want to poke holes in the skin with a fork to help the brine seep in faster. 
3. Pack your containers with veggies leaving a few inches of head space for the brine. 

4. (Optional) Grape, oak, or black tea leaves are all high in tannins, a preservative agent that also keeps cucumbers crunchy. If using, you can cover the top of your veggies with them. This will not only help it stay crunchy, but hold it all down and prevent air from coming on contact with it so they do not mold. I used wild grape leaves on mine, although I'd like to experiment with some other types of leaves. 
5. Make your brine by combing salt, water, and spices. You may want to heat your water slightly to aid in dissolving the salt. I used celery seed, dill weed, black peppercorns, coriander seed, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, and mustard seed in mine, but you may use any combination of spices you prefer. 
6. Pour your brine over your veggies so that it covers them by at least an inch when they are weighted down. 

7. If you have a crock with a weight that's great, but if not you will have to devise some way to keep the veggies from floating to the top of the brine. In the smaller container, I simply filled a small juice glass full of water and set it on top of the grape leaves. On the larger crock, I turned a plate upside down over it. This seemed to work fine but if I wanted to add more weight I would sanitize something heavy with vinegar and baking soda and set it on top of the plate. You can also buy stoneware weights for large crocks or glass weights for wide mouth mason jars.

8. Leave your pickles out of the counter to ferment. This can be for as little as a few hours to as long as a few weeks. Taste them occasionally until they are fermented as much as you desire. Remember that the hotter it is, the faster they will ferment. Once they are fermented to your liking, put them in a fridge or other cool place (less than 40 degrees F) to stop the fermentation and to preserve them longer. Your brine may start to grow some mold on top. If this happens, DO NOT PANIC, simply spoon it off the top of the brine before it can spread down to your pickles. If it spreads to the grape leafs (if using), take them off and replace them with new ones. This method will preserve your pickles for about a month. 

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