Naturally fermented pickles – Vinegar Free

Naturally fermented (aka cultured) pickles produce the most delicious sour flavour thanks to the naturally occurring good bacteria.  The pickles float in a cloudy brine that is delicious. Many are known to drink this brine for the flavour and beneficial bacteria. When we had sore stomach’s as kids, my mom or grandmother would have us drink a little sip of the pickle or sauerkraut brine. It really helped! 

The following recipe is directly from my European grandfather.   Some of my best memories growing up are visiting my grandparents house during harvest season, my favourite time of year.  Their cold storage was always pungent with the smell of heavy brine wafting from several massive earthenware crocks that were almost as tall as my ten year old self. Opening the heavy stone lid and reaching in for those super-sour-garickly pickles was so much fun!


Find a local source of pickling cucumbers that still have a nice hard crunch to them.  If you buy soft cucumbers or tough skinned cucumbers you might end up with bitter and soft pickles. The freshness of your cukes is very important in producing a fantastic finished product.


Immediately wash the cukes in very cold water. If they were not harvested that day let them soak in a cold bath to crisp up as I’m doing pictured above. Be sure to de-bud the ends of the stalk.


Wash your crock (or wide-mouth glass jars or other non-porous container) really well.  I use boiled water off the kettle to wash ensuring everything is sterilized.  Unwanted bacteria introduces molds that might cause the batch to go off. Once your container is washed and the cukes are ready, add the following herbs to the bottom of the crock: 

One fresh grape leaf (grape leaves are rich in tannins that inhibit an enzyme in the cukes from going soft. If you don’t have access to grape leaves skip this step and don’t worry)
Peeled, whole garlic cloves…as many as you want! I use 1 -2 whole bulbs, peeled, separated
Fresh dill weed and some dill seeds fresh or dried
Mustard seeds, whole
Peppercorns, whole
Coriander seeds, whole
All of these spices are to taste.  For one litre jar sized batch, I’d use half a teaspoon of each spice, and 1 whole head of garlic

Next, layer all the freshly washed cucumbers on top of all the spices and garlic. You don’t have to pack them tightly, just pile them in.

Now make your water solution (that will become the brine) to cover your pickles.  I find 3 litres of water nicely covered 6 pounds of cucumbers. So, in a clean mixing bowl I dissolve 6 TBSP of sea salt into non-chlorinated tepid (not boiled!) water. If this math scares you: Just fill a pot of water, eye-ball how much water you think will cover your cucumbers by three inches.  Then, add sea salt by the TBSP and keep adding salt until it reaches a mouth-puckering saltiness that’s enjoyable.  If it’s sickeningly salty, you’ve added too much salt. Too much salt means the environment will be too sterile, and the cukes won’t culture, all the salt just kills the good bacteria. Too little salt, and the unwanted molds will take over and you’ll have a rotten batch.  Once you’ve mixed your water and salt solution, pour over your pickles to cover them by three inches.
*note: if you are using chlorinated city water, boil all your water and then let it cool down (without a lid to off-gas) to room temp and use that for your brine. 

Keep the cukes under the brine and protect them from being directly exposed to air. Find a plate that fits inside your crock that can hold the cukes under the water brine and then set a weight to sit atop.  If you’ve made your pickles in a canning jar or other wide mouthed jar, use a smaller jam jar to act as the weight.  The goal here is to keep the veg under the water solution. Make sure your weight (a rock, jar filled with water etc) is also really clean!  I sterilize by boiling a giant rock in water for 5minutes. Now, cover with a lid, plate, etc, and let it sit undisturbed in a cool place (not the fridge). 


Check on it daily, and with a clean spoon. Scoop away the “skin” and foam that will begin to form (pictured above).  While this doesn’t look pretty, it’s not bad, it’s just a sign that the cucumbers are fermenting and turning into pickles! Put the plate, weight, and cover back (after quickly washing them), and return the crock to the cool location.

Check on the pickles every few days, scooping away the foam and skin.  If the plate and weight are getting slimy, I wash them with soap and boiled water. After about 7-10 days, you won’t have to scrape the foam anymore.  Just leave them and check for taste! After about three weeks, they can be put into mason jars and then into the fridge.  There, they will continue to slowly ferment, and age deliciously.  In the fridge, they can last up to a year.  Then they will be REALLY sour, but so goo

Here I’m checking on the pickles after about two weeks:

They are turning sour, but not quite finished culturing to my taste buds.  So I left them in the crock for another week. Below, after three weeks, they are nearly perfect! So, I transferred them into gallon jars  to store in the fridge so they can slowly ferment through the season.  They are SO GOOD!

Recap & tips:

Make sure you use fresh crispy cukes. Let them soak in very cold water to crisp them up even more just before preparing them in the crock 

When making your brine solution you want to find that “sweet spot” of salty brine to your liking. The saltier, the slower to ferment.  The less salt, they’ll ferment quick and you might risk them going moldy.
Make sure everything is really clean
It’s important to keep your cukes submerged in the brine. To do this place a clean plate then a weight over top. Then, use cover to keep away the dust and bugs (a lid, a kitchen towel, a plate etc)
Use a good quality salt, not generic table salt. I prefer sea salt.


Questions? please drop them below in the comments!




  1. Anna on October 15, 2020 at 7:28 pm

    My pickles are two weeks in. They’ve pretty well stopped foaming but they are covered in a white sediment and there are larger sediments floating. They don’t smell that great anymore (at first they smelled so much like pickles), they smell rather dull. Any thoughts? I haven’t worked up the nerve to taste as I’m new to fermenting.
    I also tried carrots with this method at the same time. They also have the white sediment on top and a proliferation of what looks like kahm bacteria. So perhaps the temperature was too high? Was about 20 degrees Celsius.

    • Seraphina Capranos on October 19, 2020 at 8:14 pm

      Hi Anna,
      The white sediment and not-so-great smell tells me they might be in a too-warm room. This is tough! I’ve saved batches when I catch them at the stage you describe and quickly put them in the fridge.
      A huge part of fermenting is learning about temperature….if it’s too warm, spoilage can definitely happen!

  2. Jennifer on August 29, 2017 at 11:19 am


    I was wondering if you could use this method/recipe to pickle cauliflower instead of cucumber?

    • Seraphina Capranos on September 2, 2017 at 4:47 pm

      Yes! most definitely! I recommend using this recipe to pickle any veg you wish. Enjoy!

  3. darlene bourne on August 6, 2017 at 7:24 pm

    I have made these pickles for about 10 years.All I need to know is what kind of water do you use.I used to be able to get well water from the farm but no more and the city water has to much chlorine in it .What is your suggestion ? Also I was told that you could use a slice of fresh carrot or horseradish plant,I have used both and the pickles are crisp.It could be just luck.I Pack glass jars with 1 tablespoon of pickling salt 1 teaspoon of pickling spice and 3 heads of dill.and the number of garlic in each qt jar is 5 I have to hide a few jars for Xmas My family and friends can not wait till this time of year . I like mine about 3 or 4 days .The rest of the crew likes them real sour . thankyou for your time

    • Seraphina Capranos on August 6, 2017 at 10:24 pm

      Hi There!
      So glad to hear you’ve been making these pickles for so long! Nothing better than traditional garlic-dills in my opinion. Thank you for sharing what you do!

      I use good well water because I have access to it living rurally. As you are in the city, I recommend you boil tap water, and then let it completely cool off until it’s room temp. The boiling off will off-gas chemicals (and kill many unwanted bacteria). Then, use that.

      Good luck! ~ Seraphina

      • darlene bourne on August 7, 2017 at 8:50 pm

        Thank you Seraphina For your info regarding water.YOU mention that you use well water Is it hard . They say hard water is the best water . Thankyou

        • Seraphina Capranos on August 7, 2017 at 8:59 pm

          Hi Darlene,

          Yes, my water is fairly hard.


          • Ayelet on October 2, 2019 at 6:21 pm

            Hi Seraphina. Making my second batch as first got devoured! I left unchecked for 5 days and when I checked mold formed on the top. I was able to clean it off and washed the plate in boiling water. I wanted to know If it is still safe or should I toss. It would be so sad to.
            I’m not sure what went wrong the second time.
            Thanks so much

          • Seraphina Capranos on October 2, 2019 at 6:24 pm

            Hi Ayelet,

            So glad the first batch was a success!

            Chances are high the batch is totally safe. If it smells good….or has not such a strong smell it’s just fine. If the liquid is mushy, the cukes mushy, or it smells foul give it to the compost and do not consume.
            But I bet given it’s only been 5 days it’s not a problem. Good thing to spoon away the film of mold and you did the right thing to boil and clean everything.
            Good luck and happy pickling!

          • Ayelet on October 3, 2019 at 3:36 am

            Thanks for responding Seraphina. I’m so relieved and hopeful this batch will be as delicious as the first. Thanks so much for this recipe!

  4. Tee Jay on October 19, 2016 at 12:56 pm

    Question: I put up pickles, garlic, peppers etc in a mixed Mason and put them through the water bath as usual. Forgot the vinegar and they have been in the fridge for a month. Jars are properly sealed. Are they safe or can I redo them with vinegar

    • Seraphina Capranos on October 19, 2016 at 1:35 pm

      Hi Tee Jay,
      I actually don’t put my pickles in a water bath nor do I ad vinegar, so I’m not sure if I’m the best person to answer this question. Sorry!

  5. Anna Schmidt on July 14, 2015 at 1:42 pm

    Seraphina, is there something I can use as a substitute for a grape leaf? I don’t have access to buying or harvesting one–do you think I could use birch leaves or some other tannin rich plant instead?

    • Seraphina Capranos on January 7, 2016 at 11:30 pm

      You know, quite honestly I’ve made them without grape leaves and they still turn out really great! So don’t worry, and make them with out leaves.

  6. Christine on October 19, 2014 at 12:18 am

    Hey Seraphina, just a quick thankyou from melbourne (Australia) for sharing your family secrets in such clear detail. I’m obsessed with lacto-fermentation- so much so that today I decanted 5lts of a carrot/Jerusalem artichoke ferment, planted out 12 gherkin seedlings and 2 grape vines (bargain ‘mystery’ vines, but who cares when it’s the leaves you need, right?!). Tomorrow I’m making a cauliflower/garlic/tumeric ferment for summer antipasto platters. I love that fermenting is such a great mix of old (the techniques, and recipes like yours) plus the new and novel aspects (you never really do know what’s bubbling away, huh?). Good luck with your ferments and blogging- seems you have a great talent for both! Cheers Christine

    • Seraphina Capranos on January 7, 2016 at 11:29 pm

      Hi, Thank you for your sweet note! Wow, all your fermenting sounds amazing! It must be delicious to hang out in your kitchen! Blessings from one continent to another!

  7. Debra Logan on September 15, 2014 at 9:39 pm

    Thank you for giving us this incredible gift, Seraphina! I really want to try this delicious and healthy science experiment! My mouth is already watering!

    • admin on September 15, 2014 at 10:09 pm

      You’re welcome!!!! They are so delicious, and seriously coveted in my family. Please try and let me know how it goes! I love to get feedback, swap ideas, and share our experiences. I find each person has their special touch and each batch is a little different.

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