I have, at various times in my life, made from scratch: yogurt, kefir, bread, tortillas, bone broth…I’ve cooked dried beans, I’ve canned fruit jam and yes, I’ve made lactofermented pickles. However, I have done NONE of these things since becoming a mom. As the saying goes, ain’t nobody got time for that. If I can buy it pre-made at the store, I do.
Yet here I am publishing a recipe for DIY pickles even though pickles are readily available at the store. Bear with me. For one, my toddler is a pickle fiend (more on that later). And for two, this month’s Recipe Redux challenge is all about gut health:
With cold and flu season upon us, the best defense may be good gut health. Since much of our immune health begins in the gut, show us your healthy, delicious recipe to bolster gut health.
You’ve probably heard about gut health. It means you should eat more yogurt and take a probiotic, right? Yes! Yogurt is among the more popular fermented foods, but sauerkraut, pickles, kefir, kombucha and beer are also fermented and can be a great source of the “good” bacteria that help things move along in our guts and boost our overall health.
But many store-bought fermented items like sauerkraut, pickles and beer don’t actually contain any live bacteria anymore. Refrigerated items like yogurt and kombucha still do, but beer is filtered to remove the live yeast and pickles and sauerkraut are typically made with vinegar rather than via fermentation because vinegar pickles are shelf-stable.
So these homemade lactofermented pickles are really not the same product you’d find at the store, which is why I decided to try my hand at making them again. They’re an excellent source of lactobacillus bacteria and they’re SO much more delicious than store-bought pickles. And with my kid being such a pickle fanatic, I figure I might as well be feeding her the good-for-her-gut kind!
And I PROMISE you, they are so, so easy to make. Can you put items in a jar, fill it with water and forget about it for a few days? If yes, then you can make pickles. Plus it’s a really fun science experiment to do with your kids. My daughter loved participating, she actually did almost all of the steps herself!
But since home fermentation probably still seems weird, here are some FAQs I anticipate you might have:
Where do I get the “good” bacteria to add to the pickles?
Nowhere! It’s already present on the skin of the vegetables you’re using. Unlike making yogurt, you don’t need to add a starter.
It’s just going to sit there on my counter for days? What about mold?
Many pickle recipes will tell you to weigh down the vegetables with a special weight so that they stay underwater, lest the parts that are exposed to air start to mold. My pickles were ready in just three days, so I didn’t worry about molding, but go ahead and use a clean rock to weigh the cukes down if it concerns you.
Your recipe says to add tea bags…why?
Most pickle recipes call for grape or oak leaves, which contain tannins that help the pickles stay crunchy. Right, like I’m just going to run out to the vineyard in my backyard and grab some grape leaves… It can even be tough to get your hands on fresh oak leaves if you don’t live in the ‘burbs. But black tea also contains tannins and I can buy that at the grocery store! And no, the pickles don’t taste at all like tea (although it does turn the water brown.)
Why do I need to use bottled water and iodine-free salt?
Tap water often contains chlorine and both chlorine and iodine can inhibit fermentation.
Why do I have to cut off the blossom end of the cucumbers?
The blossom end of a cucumber contains enzymes that can make the pickles mushy. Get it out of there!
So have at it! They’re good for your gut and your salt-loving toddler will probably gobble them up. And after you make them with cucumbers, try using other vegetables like carrots, cauliflower, peppers and beets. Maybe your kid will gobble those up, too!
Easy Homemade Pickles
- 1 quart bottled water
- 2 tbsp iodine-free salt
- 14 small cucumbers give or take
- Garlic cloves
- 1 small bunch dill
- 2 black tea bags
- Additional seasonings such as peppercorns mustard seeds and/or hot peppers, as desired
Wash the cucumbers and cut off the blossom end (see photo).
Divide garlic, dill, tea bags and any additional seasonings between two one-quart mason jars.
Pack the cucumbers into the jars.
Dissolve the salt into the water and fill each jar to the top with the mixture.
Cover each jar with a coffee filter and secure it with a rubber band.*
Allow to sit at room temperature for several days until you reach your desired taste (mine took 3-4 days).
Eat pickles! If you don't finish them all right away, store the jars in the refrigerator to slow the fermentation process.
*Alternatively you can use the mason jar's metal lid, just remember to "burp" it (let the air out) once a day.