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Pickles Without Vinegar

David Ross

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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.

I totally agree. I do it the same way.

~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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Aren't salt-fermented (aka brined) pickles best left uncovered to start the process?

Are those jars (David R) tightly sealed?

No, just placed on top of the jar and turned about halfway to let some air escape.

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As I said in my post yesterday I've been using Bittman's recipe.

Reading through this thread, however, I'm now a bit confused about how long to wait before sealing the pickles. Here's a picture of the type of jar I use.


I've been closing it, but leaving room for air circulation before clamping down the lid.

I usually wait about 12 hours before sealing & putting in the fridge.

So, I am I doing this at least roughly right? Is this type of jar really suitable for pickles. (Mason type jars are hard to find in France, but I suppose I could use empty cornichon jars as they seal.)

Any & all help appreciated.

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I haven't pickled pickles, mainly because I have a great supply of pickles but can't find good cukes. But I've picked lots of other stuff. It's all basically the same, from pickles to hot sauces to sauerkraut to okra...

If you haven't already, you should check out Sandor Katz's writings and books. He's been doing this for decades, and using him as a reference, I'm going to reiterate loki's statement that there seems to be a lot of misinformation.

In my experience and understanding, no one can tell you how long to leave at room temp. Even if you were trying to replicate somebody's outcome, your environment is different from anyone else's. everything matters. Iirc, katz says even the air you expel from your lungs influences the outcome. Not only that, we might prefer different pickle properties, and thus that should influence the result too. Like all things, experience is the best teacher.

I sample my stuff pretty much every day, and refrigerate one or two days before I think I will be happy (experience indicates for my setup the pickling will continue at a good clip for a couple of days in the fridge). I've had stuff go south, but it's been obvious so far.

Your jar is fine. You can close it and latch whenever you want, remembering to release pressure occasionally. The stuff you want is on your pickles/cukes, and you are not trying to catch anything from the air. I use the same style jar, as well as mason jars.

Edited by Ttogull (log)
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I use wide-mouth quart or half-gallon Mason jars most of the time.

I don't bother with the bands I just place the lid on the jars and top that with a pint Mason jar full of water.

There's zero chance of creating a pickle bomb. :biggrin:

Tattler reusable lids won't rust.

~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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  • 2 weeks later...

Two weeks later and unfortunately, my pickling without vinegar experiment didn't result in a decent pickle. Nice and crisp and they retained a lot of color.....but the flavor? Way too salty, not "sour" and pretty much inedible.

I used this recipe http://www.marksdailyapple.com/naturally-fermented-dill-pickles/#axzz2gnclCg9U, loosely covering the jars and storing them in a dark cupboard for three days before putting them in the fridge. I'm thinking the first problem was that the pickles never started to ferment, they didn't sit in a room temperature environment long enough and fermentation never started before they were put in a cold fridge. Secondly, I'm wondering if the addition of citric acid to keep the pickles crisp halted the fermentation process?




I'm turning to this recipe from Sara Dickerman that appeared in the October, 2011, issue of Saveur, http://www.saveur.com/article/Techniques/Preserving-Plenty.

The ratio of salt to water is the same in both recipes. But the difference comes in the fermentation-


Loosely set the lid on top of the jar and let the pickles ferment on the counter for 3-10 days before refrigerating, (One of my fatal mistakes. I only let my pickles ferment 3 days).


Don't cover the pickles, just put a bag filled with water on top of the jar to weigh the pickles down and let them ferment at room temperature, (ideally 70-75 degrees), for 3-4 weeks.

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  • 3 weeks later...

My next attempt to make a "sour pickle" without vinegar turned to the recipe from Sara Dickerman that appeared in the October, 2011, issue of Saveur, http://www.saveur.co...eserving-Plenty.

For every 1 1/2lb. of pickling cukes, use this ratio of brine-

1/2 cup dill

1 tsp. whole black peppercorns

10 cloves garlic, peeled

5 dried chiles

1 fresh grape leaf (optional)

6 tbsp. Kosher or sea salt

6 cups filtered water

Now remembering that a precious heirloom was sitting on the counter holding my spoons and spatulas, I turned to the crock that most likely came from my Aunt Bertie Pink's home. Aunt Bertie most likely used this crock for pickles or sauerkraut and it rings in at about 110 years of age. The lid is long gone, but given the recipe calls for simply covering the crock with a kitchen towel, I was in business.

Aunt Bertie's pickle crock-


The dill and aromatics are packed in the bottom of the crock-


The cucumbers are packed on top fo the aromatics, then the brine is poured in-


A plastic bag is filled with water and placed on top of the pickles to keep them submerged in the brine-


Now what is quite the difference with this recipe is that the pickles sit on the counter at room temperature, (ideally at 70-75), for up to 4 weeks. We'll see how sour the pickles get!

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  • 5 weeks later...

Well, the pickles fermented on the counter for one month. The result? Decent sour flavor, a bit too salty, still not as good as Bubbles commercial brand.

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  • 9 months later...

David, your photo of the pickles was way too few cukes per brine (so they will turn out saltier unless you use my method of measurement - salt per jar, not salt per amount of water). I looked at the recipe and for one thing - I'm pretty sure that is a quart jar in the photo - not 16 oz.  If it is 16 oz that is way too much salt - more than twice what you need.  Then it does not leave out air - and it talks about scum - you don't want scum!  You want some bacteria in the brine - a white powdery looking material - that is not on the surface. Then he says they only keep for about a week - well if you really have fermented the cukes they will last for months - as long as you keep them in the fridge and the air out as much as possible. It gives me the impression of a complete dilettante.


Also, you should completely stuff as many cukes in as possible. Use a large jar or crock and put in smaller jars later. Though I have made them in several Quart sized jars successfully.  NO air space - that is for canned pickles (which you can do after fermentation, but I don't like the result). I put a layer of food-grade plastic over the brine - and try to have as few air bubbles as possible.  Then the lid is put on somewhat loosely - over the plastic - and the jar is in a container that catches the spillage.  Fermentation is Anaerobic=no oxygen.  You want no air at all or mold will form.  The old method in a crock with a plate on top could not exclude air and you needed to scrape off the mold every day (but you could sometimes still get a moldy taste!). That is what's posted above - works but not ideal. There are commercial crocks - Harsch Fermenting Crocks - that work very well - expensive but will last forever.  These have an air-lock.  These if another commercial way of pickling with something called the Picklemeister - which is similar to fermenting beer or wine - and this seems quite a logical method too.  Both of these produce an oxygen-free environment quickly. The other 'secret' is 1 to 1.5 tablespoons of salt (non-iodized - a little more if coarse) to one quart - cukes included.  If it's too salty you can add less but then you chance mold and other nasties more (though once they are sour you are past the bad part).  It should sour in less than a week. Then I just put in a fridge and don't can. I take off the plastic layer and now use plastic lids that don't rust.  the glass with a rubber gasket type work well too.


Too-salty-pickle can be revived a bit - drain half the brine (once they've soured to the stage you like), then add pure water and vinegar 2:1 ratio (only water might work but you may get a less sour pickle too), and the salt will leach out and they should taste better.  Or use these salty pickles to make pickle relish - and add no salt to the recipe.  There are other pickle recipes - usually sweet - that you use already fermented pickles in as well - and these are quite good. I think you could actually make any canned pickle recipe out of fermented pickles instead of fresh and they would turn out fine (but leave out the salt).


Sweet pickles - can be made simply this way. First find out how many jars your cukes will fill and then make as much of the following to suit. To me these taste better than 'regular' sweet pickles.


Fermented cukes

Syrup of 1 cup sugar to 1.5 cups water and 1/2 tsp salt (leave out if fermented pickles are too salty) - You usually need a little less than 1/2 a quart = 2 cups of syrup per quart of packed pickles.

2 cloves per quart

I 1/4 inch slice ginger per quart

1 1/4 inch chunk of cinnamon per quart

1 cardamom pod per quart


Boil the syrup for at least 5 minutes.  Pack the jars with as many pickles as you can - and add the spices per jar. You can vary the spices to suit.  Pour over the boiling syrup and seal according to your local conditions in a hot water bath (look up your County Extension suggestions).  You can just put them in the fridge too.

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Hopefully I don't appear antagonistic above.  I've been making pickles since the 70's and relatives or friends of the family have made them before me - especially the fermented types.  I love the Katz' book Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods too, and only find a little fault with his brine method especially for kimchi. As I've mentioned I measure salt per the whole product and not in only the brine.  And as for kimchi - I don't use brine - I add salt to the chinese cabbage and veges, let it macerate overnight, then add the spices the next day and ferment from there. That was how Korean grandmothers taught me! But way before I even bought that book I was making cucumber pickles, okra pickles, green beans (these were not successful - but I think there is a way they would be), sweet corn on the cob, sauerkraut, kimchi (using many different veges, fruits, and fish/shellfish), radish, turnips, greens, green tomato, and probably more I forgot about, through biological fermentation.  I worked out ways for it work for me - often by perusing books and talking to people who've done it successfully.  I've also experimented - but with a pretty good understanding of the process (I'm a biologist).  It irks me to see how much misinformation is out there and it's hard for me to keep quiet. For instance, famous chefs have talked about sauerkraut being pickled in vinegar (no - it's cabbage and salt plus fermentation). I am not tied down to one method either, but I do tend to stick to some guidelines.  I make pickles in plastic bags sometimes!  Anyway keep trying and you will make something you like. I am really intrigued by using an airlock - like the kind used for home-brewing - I think that may be a very successful method. 


The Bubbies pickles are wonderful.  I have made some that are very much like theirs.  I think they achieve them by keeping things very consistent - which pretty much requires large batches, fresh cucumbers, a particular  cucumber variety (not a secret one, just the same one so their process works consistently), and controlled temperatures.  Also look at their label - they use calcium chloride - for crisping - as I usually do with cucumbers.  It's a naturally occurring salt found in sea salt - as well as other salts found as deposits from ancient bodies of water - so don't be afraid. This is used instead of grape leaves, cherry leaves (these are not recommended anymore as they contain cyanide - but only in small amounts usually...), horseradish leaves, etc.  I've not found these to work that well, but I do like the flavor of horseradish leaves. Also Bubbies kosher pickles contain live cultures and keep in the fridge for a long time (once opened they will not keep as long, and will slowly loose crispness). Transfer home-made pickles to smaller jars with plastic lids and fill to near the brim with the brine they've been pickled in, and top off with pure water as necessary (almost no air space but not zero, or you will get leakage), and they will keep longer once opened - well you will eat a smaller jar faster - so they aren't in the opened-jar stage for long! Keep in the fridge, or a seasonal cold spot like a garage (that does not get much below freezing).  You can water-bath can them to make them shelf stable, but you will loose crispness and the live culture as well.  For me, vinegar based pickles work better for this method (which I also make and like).

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Great thread here.  What I make are much like the Clausen's Pickles.   I use the Horseradish leaves in mine as I have many horseradish plants growing on public lands. Don't want them in my yard LOL.  


It's my understanding that the bloom end of the cuke produces, pectinolytic & cellulolytic enzymes that will travel down through the center of the cuke to cause it to decompose quickly so the fruit can seed the ground.  I cut up to 1/2 inch off the bloom end of my "National Pickling" variety to remove that area and then cut 1/4 inch off the stem end.  I never put my cukes in water when I bring them in from the garden or market.   I use a damp sponge to scrub the dirt and grit off them so they won't absorb water.


Grape, Horseradish, Wild Cherry, and even Oak leaves have been used where I live.  But only a small portion of an Oak leaf as they are so potent.  These leaves contain tannin which stops those enzymes.  The stores used to sell a commercial canning chemical called "Pickle Crisp" but it's calcium chloride If you want to buy it from a Pharmacist. 


I've been making these Refrigerator Pickle this summer while the Dill and Horseradish have thrived,putting up pickled caulaflower, and will be making sauerkraut soon.   But as for trying to make those Pickles like Clausen's,  you have to watch the price you pay for the cukes pretty close or otherwise it's about as cheap to go ahead and buy them from Clausen's and save your time..

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