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Pickles Without Vinegar

David Ross

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Does anyone have experience or a recipe for making pickles without vinegar? My favorite brand of pickles, Bubbles, uses a salted brine, spices and no vinegar. I've seen some recipes that call for using grape leaves. We're in the midst of pickling season up here in Eastern Washington, so I'm going to give this a try.

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~Martin :)

I just don't want to look back and think "I could have eaten that."

Unsupervised, rebellious, radical agrarian experimenter, minimalist penny-pincher, and adventurous cook. Crotchety, cantankerous, terse curmudgeon, non-conformist, and contrarian who questions everything!

The best thing about a vegetable garden is all the meat you can hunt and trap out of it!


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Linda Ziedrich's book The Joy of Pickling has a large section of recipes for fermented pickles - no vinegar, fermented in brine. They range from basic dill and half sour cucumber pickles to fermented daikon, Vietnamese soured mustard greens and brined cherry tomatoes. I have not personally made any of these - however all the fresh (vinegar) pickles, relishes and chutneys I have made from this book have been wonderful. If there is a specific recipe you are looking for, let me know and I can post it. However her sections on process and safety in pickling are worth the price of the book on their own.

As to the grape leaves, in theory they help maintain crispness. I have read extensive discussion of this on another forum site ( Garden Web Harvest). Some of the very expert canners who post there have experimented with and without grape leaves and conclude that they make very little difference but do look pretty. However if you are making pickles from whole cukes be sure and slice off the blossom end - the blossom scar is a weak area and can cause pickles to become flaccid. And no one wants a flaccid pickle, do they?


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If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. Cicero

But the library must contain cookbooks. Elaina

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I think he meant that a salted brine is a sort of oxymoron.

At least I think so. I certainly don'''t know of any brines that aren't made with salt.

I second that link to the Mark Bittman recipe. I've used it a number of times with great success.

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If you're less into long term storage, the Ecuadorian approach to quick pickling uses lime juice as a basic pickling bath. Red onions, sliced finely, and beefsteak style tomato in cubes, cured in lime juice overnight, is a tremendously tasty condiment.

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Elizabeth Campbell, baking 10,000 feet up at 1° South latitude.

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I use a 5% salt solution (5g salt/100cc water). I use weight and make sure that my salt has no additives. This works well with a variety of vegetables, so don't just limit yourself to cucumbers. Make sure all the vegetables stay submerged and skim any scum. A basement is usually a great place to ferment it as you want to keep it at cool room temperature. When the pickles are sour enough for you, move them to the refrigerator to slow the fermentation.

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I haven't fermented pickles, but I've done okra, corn, eggplant, sliced jalapenos, garlic, and some hot sauces. As Jonathan J says, it's pretty much the same. I use a 4% salt solution, but that's just a matter of personal taste.

The one thing I will add is that you might want to use distilled water, not tap water. Municipal water can have chloride and chloramines added to the water to prevent bacterial growth in pipes. That might also inhibit bacterial growth in your ferments (a bad thing). As I understand, chloride can be evaporated off, but not chloramines.

I am not sure if it matters. I have had a successful ferment and an unsuccessful one using tap water. I have had failures using distilled. By success, I mean the ferment has a pleasing, appetizing smell. By failure, I mean the ferment just doesn't seem right. The smell, while not bad, isn't particularly pleasing either. I figure if the smell doesn't entice me,t hen it's a failure.

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I've been doing a lot of vacuum chamber pickles recently, so no fermentation involved. In some recipes I've not included any vinegar, so to get the necessary sourness I've simply added some malic acid. That has worked really, really well..

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Momofuku cookbook describes a technique he calls "quick pickles." Essentially you cut up a veggie (cucumbers and radishes work really well) to 1/4-1/2 inch pieces and toss them in a 1:1 mixture of sugar and salt. Let them sit for 20-30 minutes, gently rinse, and they're ready to go. This gives them a nice crunchy texture and a bit more flavor.

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This thread got me in the mood to makes dill pickles. Mixed up a brine with 80g of salt per 64 oz of water plus pickling spices and dill seeds


Will let them ferment on the window sill for a couple of days and then refrigerate until they reach the level of sourness I want

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This thread got me in the mood to makes dill pickles. Mixed up a brine with 80g of salt per 64 oz of water plus pickling spices and dill seeds


Will let them ferment on the window sill for a couple of days and then refrigerate until they reach the level of sourness I want

I can already tell those are going to be crunchy and delicious.

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Not meaning to hijack this thread (just a tangent), but it never occurred to me that making pickles could be sort of the same process as making sourdough bread. (Duh.) This is pretty much exactly what I do to make a starter, except I use flour instead of cucumbers. (And I omit the salt, of course. Aye, there's the rub.) Well, fermentation is fermentation, I suppose. One of the posts above mentioned chlorine content in tap water, and that's what made the penny drop. I use tap water for my starter, but I let it sit out overnight so the chlorine dissipates. I never had any desire to make pickles before, but now I'm out the door to buy some cucumbers at the market.

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  • 2 weeks later...

You might also want to try this recipe. http://www.marksdailyapple.com/naturally-fermented-dill-pickles/

I've read from the page that it's really a lot better to use brine instead of vinegar because the latter prevents natural fermentation from occurring.

Thanks for the link. This is the basic recipe that I settled on. I did four different varieties of pickles, all using small persian cukes I found at the Asian market. Unfortunately, the local stores in my area were out of local pickling cukes today and the next delivery isn't scheduled until tommorrow--I couldn't wait to get this going!

For three of the jars I used Kosher salt in the brine and whole cucumbers. For the fourth jar I used canning and pickling salt and halved cucumbers. No science behind my madness other than I want to taste the difference between the two salts. I also added some Ball brand Fruit Fresh to the brine. I've had success with it in the past in setting the color and keeping vegetables crisp. All four jars included garlic, dill and black peppercorns.

Left to right-

Kosher salt/mustard seed, Kosher salt/chile flakes, Kosher salt/pickling spices, Pickling salt/pickling spices-


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Inspired by this thread I made pickles last week. I checked out the Bittman recipe, the Mark's Daily Apple and the treatise by the fermentation god Sandor Katz. I like the Bittman time frame better; I can't imagine leaving the pickles out to ferment for 10 days at room temp. I thought they were perfect after less than 24 hours partially covered, and then good for a week in the fridge as directed. I prefer a half-sour crispy pickle and these were great. Hard to find half-sours outside of NY! Good advice is to buy the freshest pickling cukes you can find and pickling them right away. Also cutting the pickles lengthwise in half allows more pickles per jar.

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weinoo You're right. They do need to be left unsealed for XX hours depending up how 'pickled' you want the to be.

I made three jars about two weeks ago using Mark Bittmans recipe. I added dill,mustard seeds, little hot chillies and garlic.

No pictures possible as they're all gone. I ate two jars & the ones I gave to friends got polished off in one sitting.

I just wish I could get the right kind of cucumbers more often.

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I may be set in my ways, but I see a lot of misinformation out there about pickles. Some may be opinion, but some is just wrong. I've made fermented pickles for years now - since I was a kid, and that's a long time.

I first used the old cookbooks to do this - and advice from others (my parents or grandparents were not really into fermented pickles much - making them that is). But some friends of the family were, so that helped.

In the old cookbooks there is a lot of putting things in crocks, using a plate, a rag, scraping off the mold, etc. involved. It was not really that encouraging.

Fermentation: Being curious and of a scientific mind, I learned more about what was happening in the brine (yes salted brine IS an oxymoron). Bacteria are fermenting carbohydrates. Most of them are lactobacilli (a groups of lactic acid forming bacteria), but many others inhabit the ferment - at least at first (including other organisms like molds, yeasts, etc.). So you will likely get some vinegar (acetic acid), and other compounds produced as well. Fermentation is anaerobic by definition, though some organisms also use oxygen (respiration) too. The ones that produce lactic acid though, work best without oxygen.

Salt is also important. Salt produces an environment that selects for 'good' bacteria that will produce the desired ferment. Not enough and you could call it a rot. There are ways to make lower salt pickles, but that would be for someone else to describe. Kosher, canning, non-iodized, are pretty much all the same. (one of my pet peeves are the people claiming how Kosher salt is so special - it's NOT - it's just non-iodized salt - and not always coarse - it's just mainly sold that way). Kosher salt is usually more expensive so I almost always use plain, non-iodized salt.

Many recipes will start with a brine of a certain salt percentage. I used my brain and thought that was stupid. It's not the brine solution that is important, it's the total salt in the whole container, including the produce that is a more accurate indicator of salinity in the pickles - from start to finish. So I use the container size as my total volume and add salt appropriate to that volume. That way no matter how large or small, or how oddly shaped, or even if I don't have enough to completely fill the container, the amount of salt will be correct.

Now having said this, the salinity is not THAT critical. I use between 1 and 1.5 tablespoons per quart - for cukes, green tomatoes, okra, etc. Saurkraut and kimchi are a different matter.

Containers are another important consideration. Crocks were THE way in the past. Only problem was the cover, which would not prevent oxygen from getting to the pickles. This works well for large crocks, under cool conditions, with lots of attention (removing the mold and scum, etc.).

There are crocks out there now specially made for this task, with a lip that holds water, and a lid that fits into this. They are very expensive, but probably work very well. I use glassware.

I see from the photos that people are using canning jars, which I do too, but remember, fermentation produces CO2 also. If you tighten the jars they may explode, or at least get messy. Also the lids are metal - coated with plastic - but are not very pickle juice friendly. They will rust fairly quickly, and this is not a good flavor in the pickles.

Air space in the jar is also of concern. I leave as little air space as possible, and tighten the lid slightly, but not a lot. Some leakage will occur, but this is OK, put them in a container where this will not matter.

Do NOT put them in the sun. UV will ruin pickles. My opinion, but I don't like the off tastes of sun-struck pickles. Indian pickles are made this way, but they are a much different animal.

I most often put my pickles into a large glass container, fill up to the rim, and cover with plastic (cut from a food storage bag) then the screw-top lid over this. Some times I've cut an ice-cream (or other food-grade plastic) lid big enough to fit into the container - and larger then the rim - so that when pushed in the produce is kept below the brine. I've found though, that this is not really necessary most of the time.

Time and Conditions: I like the taste of half-done pickles. These have various names, but it simply means that fermentation is only partly finished. I like the fully fermented ones too, and can't eat all the partly fermented ones anyway, but they are a treat and you can't get the partly fermented ones unless you live in a place where they make them (like New York City for instance).

I put my pickles in an out of the way place. It's better to be cool and dark. The refrigerator is way too cool though. This way the fermentation will occur evenly and you can gage when the pickles are 'done'.

I taste them after a day, and usually after two or three days they are done to my liking. Top up with water, and a little salt after tasting. I also will add a little vinegar at times (this prevents mold).

I put them in the fridge at this point. They will generally keep for a very long time. Fermentation is still occurring for awhile so you might keep the jar on a plate to collect leakage. Once fermentation is complete you can really tighten the lids. Keep the brine up to near the top and you will have very little problems with mold. You can simply remove the mold as it's not harmful. If they do get an off taste, however there is nothing to do, and you will need to dump them. Putting them in smaller containers will help too. And finding plastic lids is also great. They make plastic canning jar lids (for storage not for 'canning').

Other Ingredients: Water can be important. I use tap water, as it's really fine where I live. But if it smells of chlorine, either treat/filter it to remove it, or use bottled water. Spices are up to you. I vary these, but nearly always use fresh and dried dill, with seeds and stems (these add different flavors), allspice, bay leaf, peppercorns, hot peppers, and garlic. Many other spices are possible. I am a fan of Calcium Chloride to keep the pickles crisp. It's found in sea water and not an unnatural compound. I add just a bit and it really works. Horseradish and it's leaves, cherry leaves, among others are supposed to do the same thing.

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