Craft the classic crunch of your favorite deli pickles right in your own home. Making your own half sour pickles is easy and requires minimal ingredients.
We are going old school, ladies and gentlemen! No vinegar, no canning, no cooking. We are fermenting half sour pickles like its 1899. Don't let the word "fermenting" scare you. We are literally just putting pickles in salt water and letting them sit for a week. If your grandma can do it, you can do it. Don't let granny show you up, I hear she's already talking smack.
What are Half Sour Pickles
Half sour pickles are a popular delicatessen pickle that relies on fermentation rather than white vinegar for its classic sour flavor. As they sit in a saltwater solution they begin to ferment, becoming increasingly sour with each day. Half sours are typically done fermenting 1-2 weeks, however, you can let them ferment longer if you wish. It is all about what tastes best to you. Personally, seven days is my sweet spot.
Why Use Pickling Salt
I always use pickling salt when canning or fermenting. There is no iodine in it or anti-caking agents, so it does not discolor the brine or darken the pickles. In a pinch, you can use table salt, but your pickle quality may suffer a bit. Kosher salt doesn't have iodine in it, but the granules are larger, which makes substituting it more difficult.
Why Use Non-Chlorinated Water for Fermenting
It is important to only use non-chlorinated water, such as bottled or filtered water, for fermenting. Additives such as chlorine can alter the fermentation process, or prevent fermentation from starting altogether.
Ingredients and Substitutions
- Pickling Salt
- Non-Chlorinated Water
- Pickling Cucumbers
- Fresh Garlic cloves
- Pickling Spice - You can use your favorite pickling spice from the grocery store or my spice recipe instead. My pickling spice includes a mixture of coriander seeds, black peppercrons, mustard seeds, allspice berries, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, cloves, crushed red pepper flakes, and ground ginger.
- Pickling Crisp - You will find this by the canning supplies at your local grocery store.
How to Make Crispy Pickles
There are a couple of easy tricks to ensuring your half-sour pickles are crisp as possible. First, I recommend trimming off the blossom end of the fresh cucumbers. The blossom end contains an enzyme that will soften the pickles, trimming 1/16" is all that is needed to get rid of it. Additionally, I also add pickle crisp to my fermentation, though grape leaves work just as well if you can find them. The tannins keep the pickles crunchy as they ferment.
How to Ferment Pickles
Fermenting pickles is quite easy to do. To begin, you need a fermentation vessel. Quart jars work for a small test batch, but half gallon jars are considerably better due to their larger size. If you really want to go all out, get a fermentation crock. These things are a little pricier, but they also come with food safe weights to keep the pickles submerged in the brine, plus they just look really cool.
When fermenting pickles it is important to keep the salt to water ratio of your pickling brine the same as you scale the recipe up and down. Therefore I typically add the salt and water directly to my fermentation vessel and then mix it, instead of mixing the salt brine separately and dividing the mixture into my vessels.
Finally, make sure to keep your cucumbers and garlic submerged in the brine. Exposed produce can mold and ruin your whole batch. You can easily keep everything submerged by placing a food safe weight, such as a cabbage leaf, or wax paper, inside the jar. The brine can still flow above the leaf, but the pickles are pushed down. Keep your pickles in the jar at room temperature, covered loosely with a lid on top of the jar in a cool dark place for 7-10 days, then enjoy!
Sour Dill Pickles
Half sour pickles are made with fresh garlic and pickling spice. However, I have often used this same recipe to make sour dill pickles as well. To do so, simply replace the pickling spice with one or two heads of fresh dill, or you can add dill with the pickling spice.
How to store half sour pickles
When you are satisfied with the fermented flavor of your half-sour pickles they can be placed in the refrigerator to slow the fermentation and preserve their flavor. They should be eaten within two weeks, or they will progress into full sour pickles. Refrigerating them does not completely stop fermentation, it just slows it down.
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Half Sour Pickles
- Quart Jars or a fermentation crock
- 2 tablespoons Pickling Salt
- 1 Quart Non-Chlorinated Water
- 5 Pickling Cucumbers (or as many as will fit)
- 2 Garlic cloves (smashed)
- 1 ½ ounces Pickling Spice (Or substitute 1-2 heads of fresh dill)
- ¼ teaspoon Pickling Crisp (or substitute 1 grape leaf)
- Wash cucumbers and trim off the blossom end of the cucumber.
- Stir salt and water together in a quart jar, then add cucumbers and seasonings leaving at least 2" of headspace.
- Keep produce submerged in brine with a food safe weight such as wax paper or submerged cabbage leaf.
- Cover loosely with lid (airlock not needed) and let sit in a cool dark place for 7-10 days, or until it reaches your desired sourness, then refrigerate to slow fermentation and store.
- Pickles will become more sour each day they ferment and the brine will turn cloudy.
This recipe was originally published on FoxValleyFoodie.com on August 3, 2018.
I made this recipe and the flavor was AMAZING!!! However they were way too salty to eat. Any recommendations?
Fox Valley Foodie
You need to keep the salt levels in your brine the same for safe fermenting. Any chance you used pickling spice that had additional salt added to it?
Are you living in Fox Valley, outside of Chicago? Just curious.
Fox Valley Foodie
No, I am from Wisconsin.
I can't wait to make me some. After they have have reached the flavor you like, can you then finish the canning process in a water bath or use the pressure canning method?
Fox Valley Foodie
No, I don't recommend attempting to can these pickles. Not only has this recipe not been tested to confirm if it is safe for canning, but you will also lose all of the fermented goodness as soon as it is heated.
Do these have to stay refrigerated for storage. Can’t imagine they will last long but would love some to last thru winter
1 1/2 oz of pickling spice sounds like a whole lot - is that correct??
I'll try 1 1/2 T and see how that works.
TIP: As salt densities vary widely, it's best to weigh everything, including the water and the cucumbers themselves. To get a perfect 3% pickling brine, simply weigh your cucumbers, add the weight of the water you'll be needing and multiply the sum by 3% (or .03). That's how much pickling salt to mix in your water. I use a digital scale that has a grams option. So for 659 grams of cucumbers and 1450 grams of water, the weight of salt you will need is 659 + 1450 = 2109 x .03 = 63.27 grams of salt. This is foolproof because you are weighing the salt, not dry-measuring it, so it works with any density or grind of salt.
Hey Ed, how long do the pickles in this recipe keep? Thanks!
Dana -- I ferment my cukes (National Pickling variety) thoroughly, about 21 days. So they are well preserved with the "sour" lactic acid. I have kept them crunchy and tasty in the fridge for six months and longer.
Evelyn A Greenleaf
Can't wait to try this in the summer! Any idea how long these will keep?
pickles ARE AMAZING
I was looking for a way to use the grape leaves that grow in my yard.
Okay, that's not entirely true; just like my mom (who lived to be just over 100 years of age), I love half-sour pickles. She also used to eat pickled herring in sour cream but I'm not that brave just yet.
This morning I prepared 5 pounds of cucumbers, mixed the brine (I used Kosher salt), added garlic and one hot pepper (minus the seeds), and am on my way to the store to buy mixed pickling spice. I jumped on here to see if there is anything else I need while I'm at the store to make the perfect half-sour pickles. Yes, thank you! Canning weights...or something similar that will get the job done.
Thanks for the recipe. I don't follow Pinterest but never did take candy from a baby so I'll head over to Facebook and give you a 'like'.
Bonus for good behavior:
Since you are into fermenting and such...if you cut the stem of a few chili peppers the stems can be used in place of starter to make yogurt. Don't believe me? Look it up. Heck, I don't even know you so why would I tell you a lie?!
Hi! Half sour pickles are my absolute favorite and I can’t wait to try this recipe. Do you have any suggestions of how to make these half sours spicy?
Fox Valley Foodie
Adding a washed Thai pepper, or your favorite spicy pepper, to the jar should do the trick. I would probably cut the pepper in half so its flavor can incorporate better into the brine.
A few shakes of red pepper flakes
Hello! I just wanted to drop a line and say I just made these today and I cannot wait to try them in a week! The Dane County Farmers Market has been bountiful with baby cucumbers and I've been searching for a great way to use my new pickling crock. Thanks so much for the recipe!
Abbe@This is How I Cook
Can't wait to try these! Great tips!
Fox Valley Foodie
Thanks! I seriously get an undue sense of satisfaction making these. There is just something completely satisfying about mastering old cooking/preservation techniques.