Make crisp, tangy pickles just like your grandmother used to make them with these step-by-step instructions for naturally fermented pickles. It’s a truly simple process and you can taste and adjust as you go.
What is the difference between pickling and fermentation?
Pickling involves soaking food in an acidic liquid – usually vinegar-based – to achieve a sour flavor. With fermentation, the sour flavor occurs as a result of a chemical reaction between a food’s sugars and naturally occurring bacteria. No matter the process, you will end up with pickles. But not all pickles are fermented.
When I saw it in the pages of a feed store magazine, this recipe brought back an instant memory of a gallon jar of pickles on my grandmother’s Fountain Avenue kitchen counter. I was amazed when she told me that the jar would sit there for a whole month before the pickles would be ready to eat. That sounded like an eternity to have a jar of fermenting cucumbers on the counter, not to mention an awfully long time to wait before we could eat them!
In general, I make a habit of vetting out new recipes before I post them here at The Fountain Avenue Kitchen. My main goal is that readers find the recipes to be low risk and high reward. I’d rather have a flop in my kitchen and learn from it so that you don’t have the same experience in yours.
In this case, my husband picked up a magazine called Capper’s Farmer while buying feed for our chickens at the farmer’s supply store. He noticed it had a few recipes and some interesting articles, and he thought I might enjoy it. While skimming the pages, my eyes went to a horseradish pickle recipe that not only evoked memories of my grandmother’s pickle jar, it reminded me of a store-bought horseradish pickle that all the guys in my family adored.
It occurred to me that, by the time my 30 days are up, it may be hard to find the small cucumbers that are ideal for pickle-making. So, I thought some of the risk takers out there might enjoy experimenting along with me. So many recipes from community cookbooks are real treasures, and I’m hoping for the same outcome from this lovely magazine. Given the presence of horseradish, these pickles will likely have a little kick.
So, who’s in? I, for one, will report back over the next 30 days. In the meantime, I would love to know if anyone else is tempted to try this new recipe along with me. For the record, you don’t have to make a whole gallon jar! As I note below, you may choose enough cucumbers to fill your jar of choice, and make enough brine to cover.
And though the wait is long, the initial effort is low. These pickles really are easy.
Day 7: We tasted the pickles and adore the flavor. The pickles have less kick than I thought they might have–in a good way. They are still loaded with flavor and smell wonderful. I’m putting some in the refrigerator now and allowing the rest to continue to ripen on the counter. Also, I did an experiment and left the blossom end on some of the cucumbers (see notes, below). I stored these in a separate jar and, sure enough, the enzyme in the blossom end created a soft pickle.
Day 14: The flavor of these pickles was such a hit with my family that I started a second batch after one week. Two weeks after starting my first batch, I compared the two and the flavors were similar. The biggest change in flavor definitely comes in the first week. So if you prefer not to have a big jar of pickles on your counter, feel free to transfer them to the refrigerator around day seven.
Day 21: My dill-pickle-loving sister was visiting from out of town and she raved about this old-fashioned horseradish version. The flavor becomes slightly more developed each week, but they have truly tasted delicious since week one.
Day 28: Until now, this seven-day pickle recipe has been my hands-down favorite. Now I have two must-make pickle recipes. The recipes are completely different, and I love them each for their own distinctive flavors. Interestingly, I don’t usually gravitate towards dill pickles, but I adore the dill flavor in combination with the kick of horseradish in the recipe below. I kept one jar on the counter for the whole month and, as I mentioned before, the flavor does continue to develop, although more slowly in the later weeks. In a warm kitchen, the pickles would likely ferment faster and some might notice a white film floating on top of the brine. Our kitchen tends to stay on the cooler side, and none of my pickle jars had this. For those who may encounter it, the film is harmless. Simply skim off the top.
If you make this recipe, please comment and give it a 5-star review if you deem worthy. The feedback is always appreciated! 💚
- 3 pounds cucumbers (small pickling cucumbers are ideal)
- 5⅓ cups white vinegar
- ⅔ cup granulated sugar
- ⅓ cup kosher salt (iodine in table salt may impede fermentation)
- 2 tablespoons dry mustard
- ¾ cup horseradish
- Garlic (optional; I used 10 cloves in the gallon jar)
- Dill (optional; I used 4 heads (sprigs) to the gallon)
Wash and drain the cucumbers, and leave them whole or cut in half or into spears, as desired. Do make sure to slice off ⅛ to ¼-inch of the blossom end. (See notes)
Place the pickles in a large jar or crock. (Avoid using a metallic container; even the ceramic insert of a Crock Pot works.)
In a large mixing bowl (I’ve since done this directly in the gallon jar I’m using for the pickles), combine all the remaining ingredients, and stir until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Pour over the cucumbers to cover. (Placing a small, non-metallic lid or saucer－even a cabbage leaf－over the top will help keep the cucumbers submerged.)
Put the lid on the jar, and let the pickles sit at room temperature for up to 30 days. After a week, you may begin tasting for flavor. When the pickles achieve a “ripeness” that you like, transfer the jar to the refrigerator. The colder temperature will stop the fermenting process and preserve the flavor you enjoy.
- In my grandmother’s day, cherry or grape leaves were often added to jars or barrels of cucumbers as a natural way to encourage crisp pickles. The tannins in the leaves were what did the trick. People have also found that adding a small amount of tannin-rich black tea leaves will accomplish the same goal. Some people have reported adding a whole tea bag to a gallon jar. To ensure my pickles don’t carry the flavor of tea, I add ¼ teaspoon of black tea leaves per gallon.
- Also, depending on how well the cucumbers have been washed, there can be an enzyme in the blossom end of a cucumber that can lead to softening. Trimming this end off and washing well will eliminate the potential problem.
- Depending on the temperature in different kitchens, the pickles will ferment at different speeds. If you notice any white mold on the top, simply skim to remove. It will not compromise the pickles in the brine below.