Making Fermented Dill Pickles and Sauerkraut


Fermented or brined products, such as dill cucumbers or sauerkraut, cure for several weeks. Curing changes the color, flavor, and texture of the product. Lactic acid produced during fermentation helps preserve the product. Satisfactory products can be obtained only when quality ingredients are used and proper procedures followed. Correct proportions of vegetables, salt, vinegar, and spices are essential.


Cabbage--Cabbage composition differs with the variety and growing conditions. Mature, large-headed types, weighing 6 to 15 pounds with a solid, white interior, are the most desirable for kraut. Red cabbage may be used but makes an unattractive product.

Cucumbers--Select fresh, firm unwaxed cucumbers about 4 inches long. Cucumbers deteriorate rapidly, especially at room temperature. For best results, use varieties developed for pickling.

Salt--Use non-iodized salt; iodine can prevent the bacterial fermentation. Canning or pickling salt can be purchased at most supermarkets. Changing salt proportions or using a reduced-sodium salt substitute in fermented products is not recommended because the product will not ferment correctly.

Spices--Use fresh, whole spices for best flavor in pickles.


The fermentation equipment must be washed in hot sudsy water and rinsed well with very hot water before use.

Suitable Containers

A 1-gallon container is needed for each 5 pounds of fresh vegetables. A 5-gallon stone crock is the ideal size for fermenting about 25 pounds of fresh cucumbers or shredded cabbage. Food-grade plastic and glass containers are excellent substitutes for stone crocks. Other 1- to 3-gallon, non-food grade plastic containers may be used if lined inside with a clean food-grade plastic bag. Be certain that foods contact only food-grade plastics. Do not use garbage bags, trash liners, or plastic buckets not meant for food use.

Covers and Weights

Cabbage and cucumbers must be kept 1 to 2 inches under brine while fermenting. Insert a dinner plate or glass pie plate inside the fermentation container. The plate must be slightly smaller than the container opening, yet large enough to cover most of the shredded cabbage or cucumbers. To keep the plate under the brine, weight it down with 2 to 3 sealed quart jars filled with water. Covering the container opening with a clean, heavy bath towel helps prevent contamination from insects and molds. The plate also can be weighted down with a large food-grade plastic bag filled with 3 quarts of water containing 4 1/2 Tablespoons of salt. Be sure to seal the plastic bag. Freezer bags sold for packaging turkeys are suitable for use with the 5-gallon containers.

Scales and Utensils

Household scales will be needed if the recipe specifies ingredients by weight.

When heating pickling liquids, use unchipped enamelware, stainless steel, aluminum, or glass utensils. Other metals may cause undesirable color changes in the pickles or form undesirable compounds.

Fermenting temperatures and times
below 55 degrees F--product may not ferment
55-65 5-6 weeks
70-753-4ideal temperature
above 80--product may soften or spoil

Can I make sauerkraut in the canning jar?

It is very difficult to make sauerkraut safely in this manner. Because of the high risk for spoilage, this procedure is not recommended.


Fermented Dill Pickles (by the gallon)

Use the following quantities for each gallon capacity of your container.

4 pounds of 4-inch pickling cucumbers
2 Tablespoons dill seed, or 4 to 5 heads fresh or dry dill weed
1/2 cup salt
1/4 cup vinegar (5 percent)
8 cups water and one or more of the following ingredients:
2 cloves garlic (optional)
2 dried red peppers (optional)
2 teaspoons whole mixed pickling spices (optional)

Wash cucumbers. Remove blossom end and discard, leaving 1/4 inch of stem attached.

Place half the dill and spices on bottom of a clean, suitable container. Add cucumbers, remaining dill, and spices.

Dissolve salt in vinegar and water and pour over cucumbers. Add suitable cover and weight.

Ferment pickles. Check the container several times a week and promptly remove surface scum or mold. If the pickles become soft, slimy, or develop a disagreeable odor, discard them.

Fully fermented pickles may be stored for about 4 to 6 months in the refrigerator.

Canning fully fermented pickles is a better way to store them. To can them, pour the brine into a pan, heat slowly to a boil, and simmer 5 minutes. Filter brine through paper coffee filters to reduce cloudiness, if desired.

Fill jars with pickles and hot brine, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process as below, or use the low-temperature pasteurization treatment.

Process time for Fermented Dill Pickles in a boiling-water canner
Process time at altitudes of
Style of pack Jar size0-1,000 ft.1,001-3,000 ft.
RawPints10 min.15 min.
Quarts15 20

Low-temperature Pasteurization

The following treatment results in a better product texture but must be carefully managed to avoid possible spoilage. Place jars in a canner filled halfway with warm (120 degrees F to 140 degrees F) water. Add hot water to a level 1 inch above jars. Heat the water enough to maintain 180 to 185 degrees F water temperature for 30 minutes. Check with a food thermometer to be certain that the water temperature is at least 180 degrees F during the entire 30 minutes. Temperatures higher than 185 degrees F may cause unnecessary softening of pickles. Use only for brined pickles when recipe indicates.

Quick Fresh-Pack Dill Pickles

8 pounds of 3- to 5-inch pickling cucumbers
2 gallons water
1 1/4 cups canning salt
1 1/2 quarts vinegar (5 percent)
1/4 cup sugar
2 quarts water
2 Tablespoons whole mixed pickling spice
3 Tablespoons whole mustard seed (1 teaspoon per pint jar)
14 heads of fresh dill (1 1/2 heads per pint jar) or
4 1/2 Tablespoon dill seed (1 1/2 teaspoon per pint jar)

Yields 7 to 9 pints

Wash cucumbers. Cut 1/16 inch slice off blossom end and discard, but leave 1/4 inch of stem attached.

Dissolve 3/4 cup salt in 2 gallons water. Pour over cucumbers and let stand 12 hours. Drain.

Combine vinegar, 1/2 cup salt, sugar, and 2 quarts water. Add mixed pickling spices tied in a clean white cloth. Heat to boiling.

Fill jars with cucumbers. Add 1 teaspoon mustard seed and 1 1/2 heads fresh dill per pint. Cover with boiling pickling solution, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Adjust lids and process as below or use the low temperature pasteurization treatment.

Recommended process time for Quick Fresh
Pack Dill Pickles in a boiling-water canner
Process time at altitudes of
Style of pack Jar size0-1,000 ft.1,001-6,000 ft.
RawPints10 min.15 min.
Quarts15 20


10 pounds shredded cabbage
6 Tablespoons canning or pickling salt

Yields 3 to 4 quarts

Prepare 5 pounds of cabbage at a time. Discard outer leaves and any insect-damaged areas. Rinse heads under cold running water and drain. Cut heads in four wedges. Discard cores. Shred or slice to a thickness of a quarter.

Put 5 pounds of shredded cabbage in a suitable fermentation container, and add 3 Tablespoons of salt. Mix thoroughly, using clean hands. Pack firmly until salt draws juices from cabbage.

Repeat shredding, salting, and packing until all cabbage is in the container. Be sure the container is deep enough so that its rim is at least 4 or 5 inches above the cabbage.

If juice does not cover cabbage, add boiled and cooled brine (1 1/2 Tablespoons of salt per quart of water).

Add plate and weights. Cover container with a clean towel. Ferment cabbage.

If you weigh the cabbage down with a brine-filled bag, do not disturb the crock until normal fermentation is complete (when bubbling ceases). If y ou use jars as weight, check the kraut two to three times per week and remove scum if it forms.

Fully fermented kraut may be kept tightly covered in the refrigerator for several months or it may be canned as follows:

Hot pack--Bring kraut and liquid slowly to a boil in a large kettle, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and fill jars firmly with kraut and juices, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Add lid and ring, then process.

Raw pack--Fill jars firmly with kraut and cover with juices, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Add lid and ring, then process.

Process time for Sauerkraut in a boiling-water canner
Process time at altitudes of
Style of pack Jar size0-1,000 ft.1,001-3,000 ft.
HotPints10 min.15 min.
Quarts15 20
RawPints20 25

Cabbage and cucumbers must be kept 1 to 2 inches under brine while fermenting. Use a proper weighting method, as suggested.


Information Complied by Marcia Jess, Extension Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences

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