Top | Wild Fermentation

Sour Pickles

(recipe, Sandor Ellix Katz)


Some old-time recipes for fermented pickles call for brines with enough salt to float an egg. This translates to about a 10 percent salt solution. This is enough salt to preserve pickles for quite some time, but they are too salty to consume without a long desalinating soak in fresh water first. Low-salt pickles, around 3.5 percent brine, are “half-sours” in delicatessen lingo. This recipe is for sour, fairly salty pickles, using around 5.4 percent brine. Experiment with brine strength. A general rule of thumb for salting your ferments is to use more salt to slow microorganism action in summer heat, less salt in winter when microbial action slows.


    1. 3 to 4 lb. (1.5 to 2 kilograms) unwaxed cucumbers (small to medium size)
    2. ⅜ cup (6 tablespoons) sea salt
    3. 3 to 4 heads fresh flowering dill, or 3 to 4 tablespoons dill in any form (fresh, dried, or seeds)
    4. 2 to 3 heads garlic, peeled
    5. 1 handful fresh grape, cherry, oak, and/or horseradish leaves (if available)
    6. 1 pinch black peppercorns
    1. Ceramic crock or food-grade plastic bucket
    2. Plate that fits inside crock or bucket
    3. 1 gal. (4 liter) jug filled with water, or other weight
    4. Cloth cover


    1. Rinse the cucumbers, taking care to not bruise them, and making sure their blossoms are removed. Scrape off any remains at the blossom end. If you’re using cucumbers that aren’t fresh off the vine that day, soak them for a couple of hours in very cold water to freshen them.
    2. Dissolve the sea salt in ½ gallon (2 liters) of water to create a brine solution. Stir until the salt is thoroughly dissolved.
    3. Clean the crock, then place at the bottom of it the dill, garlic, fresh grape leaves, and a pinch of black peppercorns. Place the cucumbers in the crock.
    4. Pour the brine over the cucumbers, place the (clean) plate over them, and then weigh it down with a jug filled with water or a boiled rock. If the brine doesn’t cover the weighed-down plate, add more brine mixed at the same ratio of just under 1 tablespoon of salt to each cup of water.
    5. Cover the crock with a cloth to keep out dust and flies and store it in a cool place.
    6. Check the crock every day. Skim any mold from the surface, but don’t worry if you can’t get it all. If there’s mold, be sure to rinse the plate and weight. Taste the pickles after a few days.
    7. Enjoy the pickles as they continue to ferment. Continue to check the crock every day.
    8. Eventually, after one to four weeks (depending on the temperature), the pickles will be fully sour. Continue to enjoy them, moving them to the fridge to slow down fermentation.