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How To Make Perfect Pickles


Fermented foods are having a bit of a moment in the health food world right now.  They're not actually a fad though. Like all of the best medicinal foods, ferments have been around for ages.

Fermented foods go through the process of lactofermentation in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food creating lactic acid. This process acts to preserve the food, and creates vital enzymes, vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, and lots of probiotics (good for you bacteria in the gut) [1].

Collectively our gut contains 500 species and 3 pounds of bacteria [2]. And if you're like "ewwww get it out!" I'm here to tell you that we actually want these little guys in our bodies for all the amazing things they do for us. The bacteria in our gut help us digest food, regular our metabolism, produce vitamins, regulate hormones, and help keep our gut healthy [3]. So we want to take care of them by putting good food into our bodies.

There are two ways to make pickles: vinegar and brine. Using vinegar is the most common way to pickle, but it drastically inhibits the growth of pathogenic microbes and yeasts and doesn't give us the variety of probiotics that fermenting in brine does.  Consuming vinegar, however, is good for us in other ways.  There is a lot of conflicting evidence regarding vinegar’s actual health benefits, but what we do know for a fact that the acid content can help to acidify the stomach and therefore aid in the digestive process which is huge. Read more here about the importance of stomach acid in the gut and why most of us actually have to little rather than too much (and then get dive deeper into this book by Jonathan Wright).

If you’re new to pickling, it’s a good idea to start with recipes that include vinegar, since they require less skill and produce more consistent results. My first brine pickle making attempt failed miserably (I got the salt water proportions all wrong. Too excited to read directions). So I'm going to provide you with both methods to pickle so you can experiment with each!

For this pickling adventure, we went to the masters. Here is Grandpa Rankin & Carol's Dill Pickle recipe. These guys are the real deal:

Vinegar Dill Pickles


Ingredients (For multiple quart jars)

3 quarts water

1 quart vinegar (we used apple cider vinegar)

1 cup pickling salt or sea salt (any non-iodized salt)

Garlic cloves, peeled (2 cloves per jar)

Red pepper flakes or small hot red peppers (1-2 per jar depending on desired spice)

Fresh dill

Pickling cucumbers (we had 20lbs and used about 4-5 per quart jar, but you can do it with any amount!)



In a large pot heat water, salt and vinegar to boiling.

In each jar put 2 cloves of garlic, 1-2 small hot red peppers or 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, and a few fresh dill sprigs at the bottom.

Cut 1/4 inch off the blossom end of the cucumber. Find the blossom end by looking for the rough dot (instead of the smooth, indented dot) at the end of the cucumber. Why? There’s an enzyme in the blossom that can make the pickle soft and possibly unsafe to eat they tell me.

Stuff jars with pickles (we fit about 4-5 in each quart jar).

Top with more dill.

Fill jars (leaving 1/4 inch of space at the top) with hot brine liquid.

Seal jars and store in a cool, dry place for 6 weeks.

Open jars 6 weeks later and have yourself a pickle party.


Brine Pickles


Ingredients (for 1 quart jar)

4-6 small pickling cucumbers

1 quart water

2 tbsp sea salt

1-2 garlic cloves, chopped

1-2 tsp dill seed

1/4 cup fresh dill

2-4 fresh horseradish leaves, grape leaves, or 1 oak leaf

Optional spices: Coriander, cumin, red pepper flakes, mustard seeds, cinnamon, and caraway.



Soak cucumbers in ice water for an hour to enliven them.

Place leaves, garlic, and spices in the bottom of a quart jar.

Add the cucumbers into the jar, packing them in tightly.

Dissolve the sea salt in the water and pour it over the cucumbers. If the cucumbers are not completely submerged in the water, add extra salt and water to cover them.

Leave 1-inch of space between the top of the water and the top of the jar and cover loosely with a kitchen towel or cheesecloth (if using cheesecloth, secure with rubber band). If using a jar with a clamp lid, remove the plastic seal. For screw tops, twist on half way.

Leave on your counter in a cool place for 3-7 days. Check daily. The liquid will begin to get cloudy and slightly bubbly. When pickles reach desired taste, cover and refrigerate.

*Recipe from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition