Lacto-Fermented Zucchini Pickles

Or: The Largest Zucchini in the World

Squash deserve a place in every kitchen garden. I mean, they just make so much food! Zucchini is the summer squash that we’re most familiar with, so they are a good place to start. But what to do when your summer squash production outpaces your ability, and maybe even your neighbors’ abilities, to eat?

Make pickles! Lacto-fermented pickles require no special equipment or ingredients and take precious little active preparation time. But they do require patience. Lactic fermentation preserves food thanks to the action of certain bacteria. Most microorganisms can’t survive in the salty brine that you’ll bathe your pickles in, but lactic acid forming bacteria can. They eat the sugar in your vegetables and convert it into lactic giving the mixture its distinctive sour taste. This lactic acid lowers the acidity of the mixture, making it even more inhospitable to the microorganisms that would otherwise cause the vegetables to rot.

Fermentation was the traditional method of making pickles, but today, commercial pickles are made by soaking the cucumbers (or other vegetables) in vinegar and then canning them. This gives a similar flavor, and before they are opened, the jars will last indefinitely. But the canning process kills all bacteria. Traditionally fermented pickles are a great way to introduce a variety of beneficial bacteria into your body.

This is the recipe that I used, and it was delicious. But it was dictated more by the ingredients I had on hand than by culinary inspiration. The basic process will work with other vegetables and other spices. If you use more salt, it will just be very salty. If you use less salt, it may not last as long. For more information, recipes, and ideas, I highly recommend the book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz.

Lacto-Fermented Zucchini Pickles

This recipe is scaled to fit in a one gallon glass jar. If you don’t have one, you can scale it up or down to fit whatever vessel you have.

Ingredients:

Zucchini, as much as will fit, chopped into bite-sized pieces

1 onion, sliced into rings

1-2 heads garlic, separated into cloves

2 tbsp mustard seeds

1 tbsp celery seeds

3 tbsp salt (more if necessary)

1/2 gallon water (more if necessary)

Equipment:

1 gallon jar (or a jar of any size – scale recipe accordingly)

Object to use as a weight

1. Put mustard seeds, celery seeds, and garlic cloves in the bottom of your jar.

2. Mix together onions and zucchini (I did it on the cutting board.) Add them to the jar.

3. Dissolve salt in water. Pour saltwater over the zucchini mixture. If it does not cover everything, dissolve additional salt in additional water at the same ratio of a little less than a tablespoon per cup.

4. Vegetables float in saltwater, and anything that sticks up above the saltwater brine will develop mold. To keep your pickles from molding, weight them down so they are totally submerged under the brine. I used a small jar that fits into the mouth of the larger jar. You could use a small plate, a scrubbed and boiled rock, or even a ziplock bag full of saltwater (use saltwater in case it leaks.) Just try to make sure that whatever you use pushes the pickles safely under their protective brine.

5. Wait. Try to taste your developing pickles every day. When you like the taste, eat away! This might take a few days, and it might take a few weeks. When it happens, you can pack your pickles into smaller jars and refrigerate them to slow down the fermentation process. Or, you can leave them out and experience the flavor getting stronger and stronger over time.

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17 Responses to Lacto-Fermented Zucchini Pickles

  1. Micah says:

    I had the pleasure of tasting these pickles after a few days. Had I made this jar for myself, without having to consider saving pickles for future munchers and continued fermentation, I would have gone into pickle-binge-mode and loved every moment of it. The flavor was sharper than any store-bought pickle, but very pleasant, without the cough-gasp of overwhelming vinegar. The zucchini made for a soft texture that the crisp-or-squishy cucumber can’t match.

    Long ramble short: make and eat these pickles, you won’t regret it.

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  3. Yolanda says:

    I have 1 zuchinni left from our garden from this year. I think I will make a quart of these pickles. Thank you!

  4. Yolanda says:

    I just tasted one and I really like it! A little soft and pleasant in the mouth. I ended up putting it in a 1/2 gallon jar, and now that it has started working, there are about a quart of pickles in there. Thank you again. This is great! Oh, and I added 1 Tablespoon of kefir whey to it, just in case. I’ve had things go back before, so thought the insurance would be worthwhile. I am excited!

  5. Yolanda says:

    I meant “bad” before, not “back” :) .

  6. Eat Already! says:

    I was going to ask about the water – hot or cold, also, if cold, was it previously boiled and cooled off?
    I tried to pickle cucumbers this way, and they developed white mold, even though they were completely immersed in the brine. I wonder what I did wrong. Thanks!

    • admin says:

      Hmm. I use cold water. I’m not sure whether boiling it would help or not, as there are plenty of mold spores in the air that could get in if the ferment isn’t working properly. You could try it.

      If the mold was only at the top, it may be that there was some residual vegetable matter that floated up and fed the mold. You should be able to scrape that off and still eat the pickles. If it was throughout the jar, my guess would be that you didn’t add enough salt. If it’s salty enough, mold shouldn’t be able to grow in the brine. You could try adding more. Or, you could innoculate it with a culture to jump-start the ferment. Some people add whey that they strain from yogurt or kefir. You could also buy freeze-dried starter cultures. Cultures for Health sell them. (That’s an affiliate link.)

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  8. Karyn says:

    How tightly do you pack the veggies? It kind of looks like they are floating around free in the jar, but I have often heard of ‘packing’ the jar so you can’t queeze another one in. What works for you? Thanks!

    • admin says:

      Hi,
      I actually took that picture after I had started eating the zucchini pickles! So yes, I pack them tightly…I hadn’t thought about the fact that that might have been deceptive. Once I start eating them, I store them in the refrigerator.

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  11. Tattin' Kat says:

    Can you can these instead of refrigerate them? Thanks for the recipe!!!

  12. Ed says:

    I drilled holes in a few mason jar lids and bought some cheap plastic fermentation locks (99 cents each) and stoppers at the local brew store (they are also on Amazon). I’ve never had any problems with mold even on the occasions where veggies float above the brine because the locks let CO2 escape without letting O2 in. Lactobacillus and other such bacteria are anaerobic while molds are generally aerobic so it establishes the optimal conditions for lacto-fermentation. Just a suggestion, though.

  13. ann says:

    Have you tried mixing zucchini with other vegetables to get a fermented vegetable like cucumber, carrot, beets, etc?
    How would that work with salt ratio etc

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