Want to learn how to ferment pickles in a mason jar? Also known as old fashioned salt pickles, this fast and easy fermented cucumber recipe is one you’ll return to again and again.
If you’re new to fermenting home grown vegetables, cucumbers are a wonderful place to begin. They only take a moment to whip up and compared to other veggies, have fewer issues during the fermenting process.
Better yet, you don’t need special equipment for this task! While old timers would make their “salt pickles” in a large crock that was then stored in the root cellar, I actually prefer to use large mason jars for fermenting cucumbers.
And when they’re finished, I like keeping them in cold storage or the refrigerator, so I can eat from them for months to come!
What Do Fermented Cucumbers Taste Like?
Unlike store bought or home canned pickles that contain high amounts of vinegar in the brine, fermented cucumbers don’t have that sharp vinegar aftertaste.
Instead, their flavor is zippy and salty. But not so salty they’re inedible! I find that fermented cucumbers aren’t as sour and their flavor is more complex than what I get with my home canned pickles.
You might say I like old fashioned salt pickles best!
Should I Add Vinegar to My Fermented Cucumbers?
Unlike home canning, there’s no need to add vinegar to your fermenting cucumbers. In fact, if you add lots of vinegar, it can inhibit the actual fermenting process!
Fermenting is different from home canning. The reason you’re required to use vinegar in canned pickles is because of acid levels.
In order to kill off any botulism spores that might grow in the oxygen-free environment of a sealed canning jar, your pickling brine needs to contain at least 40% vinegar.
But because old fashioned salt pickles aren’t confined to an anaerobic environment, you actually don’t add vinegar to your brine. Just salt and water are sufficient for kick starting the fermentation process and keeping your food safe as it sits on the counter or in the refrigerator!
What Type of Salt to Use for Pickling Cucumbers
Here in my kitchen, I like to use salts that still contain natural minerals. In this tutorial, you see me using Himalayan salt. Unrefined sea salt (such as Celtic sea salt) is another excellent option.
Get salt here
Most avid fermenters recommend avoiding iodized table salt when fermented vegetables. Not only can it turn your brine cloudy prematurely, but some claim it can slow the action of good bacteria in your ferment.
But I can’t say from personal experience, because I don’t use iodized salt in my kitchen!
Items You’ll Need
Most of the things you’ll need for fermenting cucumber pickles can probably be found in your kitchen (or garden) already. Here’s a list for you to look over.
- small kitchen knife
- a tablespoon
- half gallon (2 litre) mason jar
- glass weights for wide mouth jar
- 4 lbs small pickling cucumbers
- 6-8 cloves of raw garlic
- 3 heads of fresh dill
- 4 large grape leaves
- 5-6 C water
- 2 tablespoons of salt
Salt to Water Ratio for Fermenting Cucumbers
When learning how to ferment cucumbers in a mason jar, you need to add enough salt to the brine to prevent mold and the wrong bacteria from taking over. Equally important is ensuring you don’t over salt the goods, so that they’re inedible!
In this recipe, I use a half gallon (2 litre) mason jar. But here are some general guidelines to go by for the various mason jar sizes.
Quart (1 litre) jar
- 2 lbs cucumbers
- 3 cups water
- 2-3 teaspoons salt
Half gallon jar
- 4 lbs cucumbers
- 5-6 cups water
- 2 tablespoons salt
Gallon (4 litre) jar
- 8 lbs cucumbers
- 10-11 C water
- 4 tablespoons salt
The beautiful thing about fermenting recipes? You don’t have to be super exact with your salt-to-water ratios. If you need to use a bit more water than your recipe calls for, that’s ok. It will vary, depending on how well your cucumbers are fitted into the jar.
And if you’re worried? Just add an extra teaspoon of salt for every extra cup of water used.
How to Ferment Pickles in a Mason Jar
This process is so easy, walking you through it almost seems unnecessary! But let me break it down for those of you who are new to fermenting vegetables.
1. Harvest (or buy) Your Produce
If you grow your own garlic, dill and cucumbers, be sure to harvest these things in the morning while everything is fresh, crisp and has full flavor. If you plan to store your old fashioned salt pickles long term, be sure to choose firm cucumbers that are no more than 3-4 inches long.
Buying these things? Be sure to ask for pickling cucumbers (or even gherkins) that were harvested that very day or have been refrigerated for no more than 2-3 days. They’ll be much crisper this way!
2. Rinse and Prep
Rinse your cucumbers to remove dust and dirt. If you need to use a gentle scrub brush, do so. Using a knife, trim off any blossom ends that are present. Peel garlic and also give dill heads a quick rinse.
3. Stuff Your Jar
Measure salt into your jar, add a few inches of water and swish around so salt can start dissolving.
Add garlic cloves, dill heads and then start packing clean cucumbers into the jar.
When filled halfway, add two grape leaves, then continue adding cucumbers until you reach the neck of your jar. Stuff two more grape leaves in the top.
4. Add Water and a Lid
Once your jar has been stuffed, go ahead and add filtered water until it covers the grape leaves on top. Seal with a lid and then tip your jar back and forth to dissolve salt and even disperse salty water throughout.
5. Ferment Cucumbers 7-14 days
Leaving the lid in place, shove cucumbers to the back of your kitchen counter and let them ferment until the brine turns cloudy (usually within 5-7 days) and frothy or bubbly.
Taste test. If you’re happy with the flavor, you can store them away in your fridge. If not, leave them longer, taste testing every 3 days.
6. Refrigerate and Use
When you’re satisfied with the flavor, move your mason jar of old fashioned salt pickles to the refrigerator. This will slow the action of lactic acid bacteria and keep cucumbers crisp for longer.
And when you want a tasty snack? Just fish a few out and enjoy!
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Fermented Pickles Healthier Than Canned Pickles?
Let’s take a moment to think about this and compare the difference between these two preserving methods.
Vinegar Pickles-pickles made with vinegar usually require a blend of water, salt and a white or apple cider vinegar. While you can make refrigerator vinegar pickles, most homemakers either preserve their own in the canner or buy them already canned.
This means your pickles have been exposed to heat, which kills natural enzymes and some of the vitamins found in your cucumbers. In most cases, vinegar pickles are a “cooked” vegetable.
Fermented Pickles-pickles that are traditionally fermented in a salt water brine are left in their raw form, meaning less is lost nutritionally.
Not only this, but fermentation makes it easier for our bodies to absorb nutrients found in cucumbers. You also get the benefits of raw garlic, dill and whatever else you use in your old fashioned salt pickle recipe.
Because fermented cucumbers are not only raw but also fermented, they are healthier than canned cucumbers!
How Long to Ferment Cucumbers?
On average, I’d recommend giving your old fashioned salt pickles 10-14 days in a room that is approximately 70-75F (21-24C).
The length of time you choose to ferment your cucumbers really depends on your personal taste! I would recommend you don’t start taste testing until the brine turns cloudy. And then, you can check every 3-4 days.
It’s something you’ll have to play with until you find the sweet spot you like!
How Do I Avoid Mold on my Fermented Pickled Cucumbers?
There are two things I recommend monitoring if you want to avoid mold growth on your fermenting cucumbers!
Keep your cucumbers submerged-do whatever it takes to keep your cucumbers under the salt brine. They can’t mold if they don’t have exposure to oxygen! You can stuff the mouth of your jar using grape, oak or horseradish leaves to keep cucumbers submerged. Or glass weights (get some HERE) are another excellent option.
Don’t ferment cucumbers in temperatures warmer than 75 F (24 C)-did you know when it comes to natural fermentation, temperatures are usually responsible for the bacteria group that takes over?
I’ve found that the key to fermenting vegetables without mold or spoilage is by ensuring I only ferment vegetables when my kitchen is in the proper temperature range for promoting lactic acid bacteria. Sometimes, this means waiting until the heat of summer has passed and my kitchen isn’t getting much hotter than 75F (24 C).
You can usually go a bit hotter than this, but if temps are over 80F (27C), I find that my fermenting cucumbers nearly always grow a slimy substance that turns the entire batch putrid.
How Do You Keep Fermented Cucumbers Crisp?
- Start with freshly harvested, small and firm cucumbers no more than 4 inches long.
- Always use a pickling variety for fermenting and save English cucumbers for fresh eating.
- Tuck a few plant leaves into your ferment that contain natural tannins (grape, horseradish, oak).
- Don’t ferment cucumbers for more than 2 weeks before moving them to a cold place.
- To maintain crispness, keep old fashioned salt pickles at refrigerator temperature after 2 weeks of fermenting.
- Eat up your old fashioned salt pickles in 4-6 month’s time.
How to Store Fermented Pickles
Fermented cucumber pickles store beautifully in their original fermenting jars. To get the best results, make sure the jar has a lid and that pickles are submerged below the brine.
You can use a weight, if needed. Or you shift pickles to smaller jars as you use them up. Either way, it will help ensure mold doesn’t start growing on the surface of your pickles!
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To store them for winter eating, all you have to do is keep your fermented pickles in a cool place (40F or 4-5C). For most folks, this means the refrigerator!
Because we live in the north, we can actually keep fermented food in our cold room all winter long. And that is a beautiful thing!
Old Fashioned Salt Pickles
- cutting board
- small kitchen knife
- 1 half gallon (2 litre) glass jar with lid
- 1 glass weight
- a measuring spoon (tablespoon)
- 4 lbs (1814 gm) small pickling cucumbers
- 1 bulb garlic (6-8 cloves)
- 5 grape leaves
- 2 tablespoons sea salt or Himalayan salt
- 5-6 cups filtered water to cover cucumbers
- Harvest cucumbers, dill and grape leaves in the morning, while it's still cool outside.
- Bring your harvest inside, rinsing cucumbers, dill and grape leaves at the kitchen sink to remove dust and any tiny insects.
- If your cucumbers still have wilted blossoms attached to the tip, be sure to remove them so the enzymes don't soften your pickles (keep it crunchy, right?!).
- Measure 2 tablespoons of salt into your jar.
- Peel garlic cloves and also add to your jar.
- Add about 3 inches of water to the jar and swish water around to start dissolving salt.
- Stuff the heads of fresh dill into your jar.
- Fill the jar with fresh cucumbers, until you reach the halfway point.
- Put down a layer of grape leaves (2-3 leaflets should be enough).
- Continue adding cucumbers on top of grape leaves, until you reach the neck of your jar.
- Stuff the remaining 2 grape leaves on top, covering the cucumbers underneath.
- To finish, top the jar off with water, until it reaches the jar's neck as well.
- If using, plop a glass fermenting weight into place.
- Cover your jar with a lid.
- Tip the jar back and forth several times to finish dissolving the salt and evenly spread the brine throughout.
- Leave it to ferment at the back of your kitchen counter in temperatures no higher than 75F (24C).
- When the brine start to turn cloudy, test your pickles. If you're happy with the flavor, you can use them immediately or pop them into the refrigerator. But if you want more sourness, let them ferment another 3-4 days before testing again.
- Traditionally fermented cucumbers (like these ones) can be refrigerated up to 6 months or more.