Pickles (Lacto-Fermented Cucumbers, Beets or Turnips)

Bread & Butter Pickles (Lacto-Fermented)

Bread & Butter Pickles (Lacto-Fermented)

by Cat, September 2007 (Photo, right, by Cat)

This post includes Bread and Butter Pickles and Pickled Beets and/or Turnips recipes as inspiration for creating your own pickles.

Did you know that in times past, condiments such as sauerkraut, kimche, pickles, ketchup (catsup), marmalade, and chutneys were fermented with lactic acid instead of vinegar (acetic acid)?  And that this fermenting with lactic acid preserves the raw food without the heat of canning?  Sauerkraut is a well-known example of lacto-fermented food.  It’s a shame that recipes changed to using vinegar followed by the canning process, as this process kills the vital elements in the food.

See also: 1. Culturing, Curing & Lacto-Fermentation Menu; 2. Tonics Menu; 3. Beet Kvass; 4. Lacto-fermented Vegetables, by Lynnet Bannion, March 2007 (Links to saved html file)

Mom’s Pickles

I remember my Mom’s famous dill pickles that she made for snacks at our bar.  She used salt that kept the bad bugs away while allowing the good fermenting bugs (naturally present in the vegetables) to multiply and produce lactic acid, which continued to keep the bad bugs away after the salt was used up. She made them in big crocks and let them ferment in our root cellar, then transferred them to big jars for storage in the bar’s backbar cooler.  She used a similar method for pickling beets. She learned this method when she was growing up in a Danish Children’s Home in Minnesota.  Her pickles were delicious! and in high demand.

Unfortunately, Mom’s recipe got lost somewhere along the way, but I watched and helped her so many times that it’s been a part of me all my life.

Many modern recipes start with fermenting the veggies, but then remove the salty brine and replace it with vinegar for canning. But they are far more heathful if you store them in their brine in your fridge or other cold storage (like a root cellar in the winter).

NOTE: I have used hints from Eat Fat, Lose Fat; or from Nourishing Traditions, both by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig, Ph.D. for some of my recipes.

Jump-start the fermentation

Sally Fallon’s pickling recipes include the addition of whey (from yogurt or cheesemaking) to jump-start the fermentation and ensure a mold-free product, but this leaves a harmless powdery white substance on the top of the fermented product which most people don’t like.  Alternatives:

  • I have found that using leftover brine from another veggie fermentation product (sauerkraut, pickles etc) produces a better flavor and doesn’t leave that white substance floating at the top. If you have some beet kvass, use that to jump-start your beets. Or brine from fermented onions.
  • Most veggies, such as beets or turnips don’t require the jump-start addition, but fruits like mango, papaya, peaches, apples and cucumbers (yes, technically that’s a fruit), require the jump-start liquid to ensure they ferment rather than produce alcohol or mold.
  • Alternately, you can add powdered starter culture such as that from Body Ecology.
  • If you don’t add a jump-start liquid/culture, increase the salt by 1 Tbsp

See also: Lactofermented Vegetables, by Lynnet Bannion, March 2007

Bread & Butter Pickles — Divine!

See photo, above

The grape or cherry leaf is an optional addition to each jar, used to help keep the cucumbers crispy, and to keep molds at bay.  Choose pickling cucumbers if you can find them.  Young salad cucs can be substituted, but the pickles will not be as crisp.  This recipe is surprisingly easy and yields a product with wonderful taste–an excellent digestive– in 2 days! But of course, they will continue to improve in flavor over time, even in the fridge. I like to let them ferment for at least a week before eating and transferring to cold storage.

Makes 2 quarts.

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • fresh grape or cherry leaf (optional)
  • 7 cups thinly-sliced pickling cucumbers
  • 1 cup thinly-sliced sweet onion
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup liquid from another lacto-fermentation product (or ½ tsp culture starter mixed with a few Tbsp water)
  • 1 cup honey or maple syrup
  • 3 Tbsp unrefined sea salt
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp whole celery seeds
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 1 Tbsp yellow mustard seeds
  • Equipment:
  • 2 quart-sized, wide-mouth Mason jars with 2-piece lids
  • large bowl


  1. Put leaf into bottom of your jar so that it lies flat.  This helps the cucumbers to remain crispy.
  2. Mix cucs with onion in large bowl. Transfer to canning jar and press down lightly with a pounder or meat hammer. I use a small potato masher for a half-pint or pint jar.
  3. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over cucumbers, adding more water if necessary to cover.  Keep the top of the liquid 1 inch below the top of the jar.
  4. Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for about 2 days (or longer).
  5. Transfer to the refrigerator.

Pickled Beets or Turnips

Beets at market

Beets at market

(Image of beets from Wikimedia Commons)

See also my recipe for Beet Kvass, a fermented beet beverage.

Commercial pickled beets are made with sugar (or high-fructose corn syrup) and vinegar, and do not provide as many health-enhancing benefits as lacto-fermented beets.  Nor do they have the same wonderful flavor! Beets are a very sweet root and really do not need additional sweetener.

This recipe, based on my memory of Mom’s recipe, flavors the beets with cardamom, a popular spice in Scandinavia, but you can use other spices such as ginger (ground dried root, or fresh root minced).

I jump-start the fermentation using a bit of brine from a previous fermentation, or of beet kvass. Alternately, you can increase the salt but this makes them too salty unless you let them cure for more than a year before eating.

You can use beets/turnips raw, steamed, simmered or baked. I find that cooking them a bit  (not long enough to be “done”) helps them to ferment more quickly, and they are more tender.

Do not use a food processor or grater with beets, as too much liquid is released, which can cause the fermentation to form alcohol instead of lactic acid.  Instead, use a knife or mandoline to slice, julienne, or cube the beets.

  • Raw beets:  (See options below if you want to  steam, simmer, or roast them to not-quite-done, for a faster fermentation). Simply peel, quarter, and slice the raw beets about ⅛” thick  and pack into jar, cover with salt/whey/water mixture and let sit at room temperature 3 days before transferring to cold storage (see recipe below for quantities). If you use baby beets, use them whole if tiny (nickel-size) or halve/quarter them if larger.
  • Raw beets & turnips: Just to be different, you can use turnips and beets together.  Use about 2 ½ cups raw turnips and ¾ cup beets, both peeled, quartered and sliced before measuring. Pack into jar in layers, cover with salt/whey/water mixture and let sit at room temperature 3 days before transferring to cold storage (see recipe below for quantities).
  • Baked/Roasted beets:  This is my preference in cooler weather. Leave beets whole and do not peel.  Prick each in several places and wrap together in foil.* Bake at 300°F about 3 hours, or until soft.  Slide off outer layer (peel) for compost; cut beets into ¼” julienne or ½” cubes.  Pack into jar, cover with salt/whey/water mixture and let sit at room temperature 3 days before transferring to cold storage (see recipe below for quantities). *NOTE: Nourishing Traditions says to place beets on a baking sheet to bake, but when I tested this method, it was very hard to remove the peel after baking, and I lost a lot of the beets to the process. Wrapping in foil retains moisture which gets between the beet and the outer layer (peel) so that it slides off easily.
  • Simmered beets: This is my preference in summer to avoid the hot oven. Cook whole until just tender (don’t overcook); drain and remove peel. Slice, julienne or cube the beets. Alternately, use a method from Katy She Cooks (2), but cutting them before cooking means they will give up a lot of their nutrients to the cooking water. Bring a large saucepan of water to boil, and stir in 1 Tbsp salt. Meanwhile, wash, peel and slice beets 1/8″ thick; add to the boiling water, and cook for 3 minutes. At end of the cooking time, use a slotted spoon to remove beet slices to a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking, then drain.
  • Steamed beets: Steam whole until just tender (don’t overcook; drain and remove peel. Slice, julienne or cube the beets.
  • Pickled beets can be eaten right after the 3-day fermenting period, but they develop better flavor and more enzymes if you allow them to rest in cold storage for a 4 week mellowing period, before consuming.  If kept below 400F, they will keep for months.

Amounts in the following recipe are adapted from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig (1).  The flavoring is from my Mom. Makes 1 quart.  You can increase the recipe to make them in a half-gallon jar, then transfer to pint or quart jars for storage, if desired.

Ingredients & Equipment

Original recipe (1 – 2 quarts):

  • 12 medium beets/turnips
  • crushed seeds from 2 cardamom pods (optional; about 1/16 tsp)
  • 1 Tbsp unrefined sea salt or Kosher salt
  • 4 Tbsp leftover fermentation liquid or liquid whey (see above)
  • 1 cup filtered water
  • Equipment:
  • 1 – 2 quart-sized, wide-mouth Mason jars with 2-piece lid
  • glass measuring pitcher
  • pounder

Smaller recipe (1 pint):

  • 12 oz (about 4) small-medium beets/turnips (depends on size of veggie)
  • crushed seeds from 1 cardamom pod (optional; a tiny pinch)
  • ½ -1 tsp unrefined sea salt or Kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp leftover fermentation liquid or liquid whey (see above)
  •  filtered water as needed, ¼ cup or less
  • Equipment:
  • 1 pint-sized Mason jar with 2-piece lid
  • glass measuring pitcher
  • pounder


  1. See above for preparing raw beets, baked, simmered or steamed beets.
  2. Cut into ¼″ julienne or ½″ cubes; or quarter then cut into ⅛″ – ¼″ slices. If you use baby beets, you can leave them whole, or halved.
  3. Place in jar; press down lightly with a wooden pounder or meat hammer.
  4. Combine cardamom or other spice, salt, whey (see notes about whey, above) and water in pitcher; pour over beets, adding more water if necessary to completely cover beets.  The top of the beets should be about 1″ below the top of the jar.
  5. Optional: Cover with some type of weight, such as a smaller jar that just fits inside the pickling jar, filled with water; or sterilized rocks. OR for an anaerobic environment for the beets, turn the smaller jar upside down, then push it down on top of the beets in the fermenting jar, pressing them below the surface of the liquid. See a photo on Hip Girls Guide to Homemaking (4); scroll down for photo.
  6. Cover tightly and keep at room temperature (70° – 75°F) in a dark corner of the kitchen and check after 2 days, scooping any scum off the top (it is harmless (5)), and press beets down again. Check every 2 – 3 days and repeat as necessary. Beets can get fairly vigorous and frothy, so set the jar on a saucer or plate.
  7. Transfer to fridge or other cold storage where they will continue to ferment more slowly after 3 – 7 days (or more,if you kitchen is cooler than 70°F).

Testing Beets/Turnips

July ’15, Pickled Beets. Used 3 smallish beets in a pint jar. Peeled, then sliced raw, 1/8″. Added more salt because I didn’t have any whey. Let sit on counter 4 days, then transferred to fridge. Did not notice any appreciable frothiness on top of the liquid. Tasted a week later – way too salty and the beets are as crisp as they were before fermenting. Will let them rest in fridge for another 30 days or so. August: gave them a check; still too salty and too crisp. 9/9: Checked on them to see if they had softened and become less salty, but neither had happened. So I poured off about half of the too-salty brine, and replaced with filtered water. Then stirred in some whey and returned to fridge. Will see if they improve.

9/4/15: Pickled Beets. Making ¼ recipe (for a half-pint jar), using 3 medium beets (2″ – 2½” diameter) . Baked unpeeled beets at 300°F; 2 smaller beets were tender after 3 hours, but larger one needed total 3 ½ hours. It was extremely hard to remove the peels, and I lost a fair amount of the beet in the process. I’d intended to slice them but after all the trouble removing the peel, I decided to dice them. Next time, I’ll wrap the beets in foil before baking/roasting; or I’ll lightly steam them; I’ve updated recipe with these options.. (See Katy She cooks blog (2) for Fermented Beets that are peeled and sliced then cooked briefly in boiling salted water before brining). Needed ½ cup water to cover, so added 1½ tsp unrefined sea salt and a shake of ground cardamom to water and 1 Tbsp whey (needed 2 Tbsp for ½ cup water, but 1 Tbsp is all I had, but added more on 9/6, after it had drained off the yogurt. Set in dark corner of kitchen for 3 or more days. 9/8: A bit of froth on top; tasted one. It’s a bit chewy but not hard like the first batch, and has the right flavor. I’ll give it another day in the cupboard before refrigerating. 9/9: Pressed down the  beet cubes once more, then transferred jar to fridge.  Result: 10/10/15: Nice texture, but after a month in the fridge are too salty (but otherwise taste like pickled beets). So I poured out half of the liquid, then replaced with fresh filtered water and some beet kvass (no added salt), and let them sit on counter for 4 days, then transferred to fridge for a year. Thanksgiving 2016: still too salty. July 2017: Still too salty. So I saved a bit of the fermentation liquid for next batch, and added the rest to my compost pile

Next batch will use the saved liquid and less salt. In February 2017, I made a batch of Fermented Apple and Beetroot Relish which was not too salty, so I’ll base my new brine on that.

7/22/17: Pickled Beets. Making small recipe (for a pint jar), using Fermented Apple and Beetroot Relish, Small Footprint Family (5) and LA Healthy Living (6) recipes as a guide for amount of salt in the brine. Simmered the washed but unpeeled beets until just tender, about 20 minutes, then rubbed off the peel, and sliced beets about ¼″ thick. Sterilized pint jar and lid, then packed down sliced beets. Jar is about 2/3 full. Added crushed cardamom, ¾ tsp unrefined sea salt, 2 Tbsp of liquid from last (salty) batch; packed down again and added enough filtered water to cover. Screwed on lid, covered jar with dish towel and set in ‘cool’ spot on kitchen counter (it’s 75 degrees all around my kitchen, but at least it’s in a spot that doesn’t get any sun). 7/23-24: removed white ‘scum’ on top. They don’t stay submerged so sterilized a couple rocks for weights. Will order glass weights. Tasted small bite – beginning to taste like pickled beets and not too salty. Returned to ‘cool’ spot with dishtowel wrap. 7/26: scooped scum again, then placed in fridge.8/1/17: delicious and not too salty.

7/16/18: New batch using 3 medium fresh beets (3″ diameter).  Steamed 20 min, let them cool enough to rub off the peels, then sliced them 1/8″ thick rounds and cut those into quarters. down in sterilized jar with lid. Pressed into sterilized wide-mouth quart jar. Jar is about half-full. Added crushed cardamom, ¾ tsp Kosher salt, 2 Tbsp of combined liquid from recent batch of fermented oranges and 2017 batch of fermented beets. Filled a quart jar about 2/3 full – more than last year. Placed 2 sterilized rocks on top to keep beets from floating, screwed on lid, covered jar with dish towel and set in ‘coolest’ spot on kitchen counter. 7/18: Have not gotten any scum. The liquid is unusually thick; perhaps I didn’t add enough water. After shaking then pressing down each day, I addd a bit more water to keep them covered. And today I tasted a slice. It tastes like I forgot to add the spice, but I didn’t. I added a bit cardamom and some cinnamon, and about ¼ tsp Kosher salt. 7/20: It is chewy, not soft like my previous batches; I could have steamed these large beets longer. It still doesn’t taste like pickled beets, so I mixed in what was left of the 2017 batch, including the liquid, and added another ¼ tsp Kosher salt, and ¼ cup filtered water, then put it in the fridge. I think the problem is that I got twice as many beet slices as previous batches – they overflowed a pint jar, while previous batches fit nicely in a pint. 7/29: beets still are chewy and not as flavorful as past years. I think they need at least another month in the fridge.


  1. Eat Fat, Lose Fat by Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enid, PhD.
  2. Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enid, PhD. (see Beloved Cookbooks for more about this book)
  3. Katy She Cooks, Fermented Beets (katymcarter.com/2012/07/ferment-friday-no-1-beets)
  4. Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking, photo of anaerobic setup (hipgirlshome.com/blog/2010/9/13/pickled-green-zebra-tomatoes.html)
  5. Small Footprint Family recipe: smallfootprintfamily.com/pickled-beet-recipe
  6. LA Healthy Living recipe: lahealthyliving.com/recipes/how-to-make-naturally-fermented-pickled-beets

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1 Response to Pickles (Lacto-Fermented Cucumbers, Beets or Turnips)

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