Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
28 Jan

Naturally Fermented Dill Pickles

Of all the food transformations that occur in a kitchen, few are as exciting as that of a cucumber into a pickle. Not because the process is so complicated, but because it’s so simple. Salt, water and a little time in a jar are all it takes to transform a cucumber into an entirely different food. What’s truly amazing is that so many people love pickles even if they’ve never tasted a really good one. A great pickle makes your eyes widen in surprise and your tongue tingle with pleasure. The sourness should make you salivate for more, rather than pucker and wince, and the texture should have a noticeable crunch when bitten into.

If it’s so easy to transform a cucumber into a pickle, though, then why are grocery store shelves filled with so many mediocre specimens? In a word, vinegar. Many store-bought brands use vinegar to pickle cucumbers because it guarantees a sour flavor and acts as a preservative. However, this method misses the entire point of pickled food. Using vinegar instead of brine (salt + water) prevents natural fermentation from occurring. Without natural fermentation the live bacteria cultures that turn pickles into a healthy probiotic food are absent. Not to mention that when pickles are soaking in vinegar for a long time it typically results in an overly sour flavor and rather limp texture.

There are brands of naturally fermented pickles to be found in stores, although they can be expensive. Making naturally fermented pickles at home is cost effective and easy to do and the anticipation of biting into that first spear is more fun than you might think. When you taste your first homemade pickle, be prepared for an audible crunch and a pleasantly tangy flavor. It will be ever so slightly infused with garlic and dill and taste fresher and snappier than a store-bought spear.

As much as you will love your first batch of homemade pickles, also be prepared for your mind to immediately start coming up with new variations. Why not spicy pickles? How about pickles flavored with star anise or cinnamon? What about herbs besides dill? And why stop with cucumbers? Carrots, cabbage, cauliflower…pretty much any vegetable is fair game.

This recipe is for one jar of pickles but can easily be doubled, which is a good thing. Once you’ve tasted the first batch, you just might find yourself feeling that no meal is complete without a homemade pickle on the side.


  • 6-8 small (3-4 inches long) un-waxed cucumbers. Look for pickling or “Kirby” cucumbers which are an ideal size. Persian cucumbers can also be used but don’t always stay as crispy.
  • 1 1/2 cups filtered water
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt (or other non-additive salt)
  • 4-8 sprigs of fresh dill
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and cut in half and smashed with a knife
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorns
  • Plus: 1 wide-mouth 16-ounce glass canning jar (sterilized in boiling water and air-dried)
  • Optional seasonings: red pepper flakes, hot chiles, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, celery leaves, bay leaves, fresh herbs, onion, cinnamon stick, cloves


Combine salt and water and let sit until salt dissolves

After washing cucumbers, cut the tips off on both ends. Leaving the cucumbers whole or cutting them in half or into spears is a matter of personal preference. Experiment to see what you like best.

In the jar put 4 sprigs of dill, garlic cloves and peppercorns.

Tightly pack the cucumbers in the jar. Add remaining dill.

Cut one cucumber in half and set it horizontally on top of the other cucumbers –this will keep the cucumbers from floating up above the water in the jar when they shrink a little during the pickling process.

Pour the salt water into the jar. It should completely cover the cucumbers.

Set the lid loosely on top of the jar, don’t seal it. Let the jar sit undisturbed at room temperature. You’ll know fermentation has begun when you see bubbles rising to the top of the jar and the water becomes cloudy. A thin layer of white scum might also form on the surface of the water. This is harmless and can be scooped away with a clean spoon. However, trust your nose. If the pickles smell bad while fermenting, throw them out.

It will probably take 3-10 days before the pickles are done. Taste the pickles during this timeframe to see if the texture and flavor are to your liking. This is the only sure sign that your pickles are done. Once you’ve decided they’re done, tighten the lid and store the pickles in the refrigerator. Because there is no vinegar to preserve the pickles, they will only keep about a week. If the flavor of the pickles is not vinegary enough for you, try drizzling a little vinegar on the spears right before eating.

You want comments? We got comments:

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  1. OK, just put together my first batch of pickles. Fingers crossed!

    Barb Crocker wrote on February 13th, 2012
  2. I have a type of scum floating amongst the pickles. Is this okay? How will I know that they have a bad smell? Is this bad smell a ‘make you want to puke’ smell? Mine smell like pickles and taste is not putrid so I take this as okay. I’m nervous about eating ‘rotted’ food that sits and festers on my counter. Let alone feeding pickles to my kids. How do I know they are bad? Is it safe to eat the ‘scum’ left on the pickles? So many questions so little time.

    Nick wrote on February 24th, 2012
    • hallo!
      1its not rotten its fermented – do u drink vino sometimes, its fermented fruits, tempeh or miso fermented soya beens ( actually the most healthy way to eat soya)
      2 skum floating amongst the pickles its a gas which are create in prices of fermentation
      3 sometimes Pickles get bad & than are very soft & go apart when u touch them & its unpleasant smell U will got it
      Normally Pickles are salty crunchy delicious thing with delicate taste of flavor builder U use.
      & yes its safety for your kid to eat its at list its allergic to some of ingredients.
      & 4 adults its use as hangover cure & during vodka drinking.

      p wrote on August 30th, 2014
  3. This is my first attempt at fermented pickles. They have been sitting for four days, but have developed white mold on the top. Have they gone bad, or should I just scrape the mold off the top? Not sure what to do from here..

    Cassie wrote on February 27th, 2012
  4. Grok got this recipe from his grand-mother?

    MichaelA wrote on April 18th, 2012
  5. Cassle, that is the kalm, mold. Just scoop it out. It won’t hurt you. Try to keep it off the pickles as its a bit gross.

    Erik wrote on May 23rd, 2012
  6. I just made some of these, and they are the best pickles I’ve ever had! Thanks for the recipe, Mark. Going to try making sauerkraut next from a recipe in Nourishing Traditions.

    Bruce Bellile wrote on May 24th, 2012
  7. My husband has been making the most wonderful pickles lately, using this method. He also adds mustard seeds, coriander seeds, fresh basil, garlic, onions and (most importantly) fresh grape leaves. In doing research about pickles we found information that fresh grape leaves keep the pickles crisp and do they ever! Also, we’ve been pickling everything BUT cucumbers! Our favorite are chayote squash, but we just completed a jar of green tomatoes. They were fabulous! I can’t wait to try cabbage. That’s next.

    ellen wrote on September 6th, 2012
  8. I just opened a jar of my pickles and the next day white scum appeared on the top. What happened?

    eric wrote on October 11th, 2012
  9. I put my pickles up in 5 liter Fido Bormioli jars. Once they’re fermented I divide the pickles into 2 liter jars, add a few cups of vinegar and place them in a very cold refrigerator (38°)

    Jughead wrote on November 26th, 2012
  10. Has anyone tried this with eggplant yet?
    Any tips if u have?

    Ryan carter wrote on January 29th, 2013
  11. It’s quite confusing. There are some informations (like here) saying that the jar should not be tightly closed during fermentation and other sites tell the exact opposite. Here what I found coming from Weston A. Price Fundation:
    Be sure to close the jars very tightly. Lacto-fermentation is an anaerobic process and the presence of oxygen, once fermentation has begun, will ruin the final product.

    Can someone help me out? Should I close the jar or not?

    Thank you!

    Dominic wrote on March 4th, 2013
    • If you use the two-piece canning lids, any pressure from the fermenting process will push the lid up and escape, saving the jar from bursting. At the same time, no outside air can get back in because the rubber seal presses down against the jar rim. A layer of carbon dioxide will form between the surface of the food and the lid–this provides the anaerobic environment for proper fermentation. These two part lids are made to work when they are hand tightened. After fermentation is complete and the jars are moved to the fridge I usually swap the two-piece lids for the plastice “storage” lids because they won’t get corroded by the salt and acids. If you don’t use two-piece lids you may want to use plastic wrap and a rubber band. During fermentation I am careful not to disturb the layer of carbon dioxide by opening the lid.

      If you are using a yeast ferment it will require air. This is where you use the coffee filter and rubber band system–or something similar. Kombucha SCOBYs and Kefir grains are a combination and they need to breathe. The sauerkraut and pickles need to be closed up. Good luck!

      Jewell wrote on June 11th, 2013
  12. I made these a week or two ago and just finished the cucumbers, exactly how I like them! I am reasy to make a new batch – just wondered about reusing any of the brine/dill/garlic mixture that is leftover? Or is it important to start from scratch?

    nicky wrote on March 25th, 2013
  13. Thank you I just tried this recipe so i will let you know how it went. I have crohn’s disease and have decided recently to starat fermenting my own vegetables to help. I love this food anyway and never realized it was actually healthy.

    Sarah May wrote on May 30th, 2013
  14. It says at the end that the pickles will only last a week because no vinegar is used.. that is false. I have fermented pickles and kept them in the fridge for almost a year, they still taste great! even the brine is still delicious… I used little salt and fermented for a few days.

    Jesse wrote on May 31st, 2013
  15. Just bought some pickling cukes at my farmers market and have whipped up my jars of ferments…. so easy and I cannot wait to try them! Has anybody tried adding stevia for sweet pickles?

    kim wrote on June 28th, 2013
  16. I started a batch of cucumbers on Saturday evening (today is Monday morning) and have yet to see any sign of bubbles. I am using a Fido jar. Should I be concerned yet?

    LisK wrote on July 29th, 2013
  17. I have very long experience with making dill pickles in this way (Easter-European thing!).
    I ALWAYS use dill flowers instead of fresh dill.
    It gives you incredible aroma, try it and you will appreciate difference.
    Besides I put in jar small pieces of horseradish. It gives you extra notch of flavor and in my opinion it allows to store them for longer time.

    Kay48 wrote on August 6th, 2013
    • Yes! Dill umbrellas (actually all the plant except for roots), horseradish leaves is exactly what we put here in Ukraine for making fermented cucumbers. Horseradish for crunchiness, dill for better fermentation and aroma. Other popular ingridients are sour cherry leaves, amaranthus retroflexus (a widespread weed here), oak leaves and black current leaves. Latter three for crunchiness, cherry leaves for flavor.

      Tanya wrote on August 13th, 2013
  18. Ok, I tries this recipe. 2 jars. One seems ok but the other has mold on the top. Both look really cloudy. Any thoughts on what I did wrong? Any help is greatly appreciated. I really want to figure out how to make this kind of thing (i.e., fermented and pickled foods).

    Michael wrote on August 17th, 2013
    • Cloudy is fine. Keep contents submerged by wedging carrot sticks in jar mouth to prevent mold growth. Use 5 tablespoons sea salt to 2 litres if water.

      Sean wrote on October 26th, 2013
  19. Cultured vegetables last for months, not a week!

    Denise wrote on September 4th, 2013
  20. I tried this recipe, made two quart jars. I followed the recipe exactly, doubling where needed.

    The flavor was fine, the crunch was fine, yet they were SO SALTY that I wanted to throw up. It wasn’t just a salty taste either, it was an “OMG I’M INGESTING OCEAN WATER AND I COULD PUKE” taste.

    I love salt. I eat it raw. So, when I say something is too salty, you know it really is.

    I even tried pouring out the brine and replacing with cold filtered water to try to leech out the salt. Didn’t work.

    Any ideas?

    Tara Q. wrote on October 7th, 2013
  21. I thought you’re suppose to close the lid tightly. There are even pickl-it jars that don’t let air in.

    Susan wrote on October 21st, 2013
  22. No. Use much less salt! 5 tablespoons kosher or sea salt to 2 litres of water (non-iodized salt is a must). Use fresh organic veggies. Don’t sterilize anything. Use oak, grape or horseradish leaves (even tea if you can’t find the above fresh). Don’t cut the ends off its completely unnecessary. Do trim the flowers off the cukes. Do loosen the jars every day or two to let the carbon dioxide out, or the jars will explode. Use carrot sticks to keep the contents submerged. Water is the old-fashioned version of an air-lock. My pickles are perfect and crunchy after sitting at room temperature for 4 weeks but they taste great at day 19 as well!

    Sean wrote on October 26th, 2013
  23. Can I do this with ordinary cucumbers? please let me know.

    Anne wrote on November 11th, 2013
  24. Just opened my first jar.. per your recipe!!

    Unbelievably deeeeee-licious.

    Thank you for that.


    Brigit Otero wrote on February 16th, 2014
  25. I can’t find any fresh grape leaves. Do you think using Kefir lime leaves would work?

    Maria wrote on April 16th, 2014
  26. These pickles are so awesome!!! I just used English cukecumbers. Love them with cloves–but they get sharp if you use too many.

    I saw in one comment you can use the juice for salad dressing or soup (but then it loses its probiotic qualities), which is a great idea. Any more ideas? Seems too good to waste, but too salty to just drink. Can it be used as a yogurt starter? For cashew or coconut yogurt, as rejuvelac would. I have been putting it in the compost to make it go faster until I come up with better ideas.

    Becky wrote on April 24th, 2014
    • I also wash my benches down with extra pickling brine occasionally, I want all those good bacteria in our environment. just wipe on and leave to dry, then rinse down with clean water… pushes out the bad bac’s if there are any places for them to hide., small crevices and joins etc. I usually do the benches with vinegar, though. I also pour some brine into any sinks or drains that have standing water and leave it to sit 48 hours before using again. the salt and acids kill moulds and the good bac’s gun down the bad bac’s.

      I also make a herbal punch… mix half brine and half water and add any herbs you like, and a couple slices of lemon. Stand for four hours and then drink it over ice in summer. Not too much though! the salt!

      gloria wrote on September 28th, 2015

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