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Pickling The Harvest


Clockwise from left: Pickled vegetables; Matt and Lentil harvesting cucumbers for pickling; Dill pickles. Photos by Matt and Lentil Purbrick


People have been preserving food forever. Before the invention of fridges, knowing how to preserve your harvest by salting and drying meats or fermenting vegetables was an absolute necessity. These days the need for preserving may seem to have disappeared, but we feel it’s as important as ever. We still see preserving your harvest as a fundamental part of living a full life. It’s in our blood: there is a deep satisfaction in preparing a larder so that you can enjoy foods that are out of season all year round.

There is no better time to learn to preserve than when summer is in full swing. Everything is ‘in’ and no other time of the year feels quite so abundant. Sometimes the late summer harvest can be so abundant that it’s quite overwhelming! Having a few preservation tricks up your sleeve will mean you are ready for anything. And winter will feel that little bit sunnier when you can pull out the summer treats you stored away.

There are loads of ways to preserve, but let’s focus on one of the most ancient: lacto-fermentation, an ancient technique that has kept humans healthy and fed for thousands of years. It preserves by helping the good bacteria (lactobacilli) overpower the bad.

Everything is preserved in the process of lacto-fermentation, including all of the original vitamins and minerals and the natural enzymes; as a bonus, the bioavailability of most of the vitamins and minerals is enhanced because of the pre-digestion performed by the good bacteria and enzymes. As a result, the taste of the food is enhanced, differing almost totally from its raw, unpreserved state. When we consume the good bacteria present in fermented foods, we are also maintaining the balance of good to bad bacteria in our digestive systems, and happy digestion equals lots of energy for our bodies.

There are many famous lacto-fermented preserves. Kimchi and sauerkraut are probably the most famous these days. But when it comes to fermented pickles, we think dill pickles are the undisputed kings. When winter arrives and you have no more fresh cucumbers, you’ll be glad you made these. Vary the recipe with whatever herbs and spices you love. Try tarragon instead of dill, or add a hint of chilli. Have a play!


Quantity: one litre jar

Time to make: ten minutes preparation, and õve to seven days fermenting.


400 ml pickling brine (see notes)

1 clove of garlic, halved (unpeeled is fine if clean)

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

600 g small cucumbers (you can pickle any size you like – the only restriction is the size of the vessel – and always keep them whole, otherwise they will ferment too fast and turn mushy)

2 dill flowers (or replace with dill fronds if you can’t source them).

You’ll also need a one litre glass jar.


Day 1

Make the pickling brine (see notes). Add the garlic and spices to the jar, and then stuff in the whole cucumbers so that they are all nice and snug. Pour the brine over the cucumbers, filling the jar to the brim. Place the dill flowers on top to make sure the cucumbers stay below the surface of the brine – this is critical, otherwise the exposed parts will become soft or mouldy. Put the lid in place, but don’t fully tighten it. Sit the jar on a plate (liquid will spill over the lip of the jar during the fermentation) and leave to sit for five to seven days at room temperature.

Days 5–7

The cucumbers should have turned from a bright green to a nice olive colour. They should be crunchy. If any pickles floated above the brine and turned soft or mouldy, just cut off the soft part and discard. If you’re happy with how they’ve fermented, put them in the fridge. If they’re not quite ready, give them a couple of more days (see note). If you want your pickles to last the longest and stay the crispest, drain the pickles from the pickling brine (which can be reused for the next batch) and cover in fresh brine before storing in the fridge (see note). Pickles have a very long shelf life when kept in the fridge, well into the following season of cucumbers.


Pickling brine is a solution of salt dissolved in unchlorinated water. For the fermentation to work the amount of salt needs to be 2–5% of the water volume. For example, to make 400 ml of brine you need to dissolve 8–20 g of salt in 400 ml of water. You must use unchlorinated water, as chlorine is an antibacterial, meaning it will stop all those wonderful lactic-acid producing (good) bacteria from doing their thing. Rainwater or spring water is best. We always use unrefined salt to make our brines, as we think it not only tastes the best but keeps the pickles extra crisp!

Timing. This recipe is based on summertime pickling. Fermenting takes longer when it’s colder (shorter if you’re in the tropics!). If it’s winter, and constantly below 12°C when you are trying to ferment, it’s not going to work very well unless you keep the food warm. Try placing it in a heated room, near a fire or on top of a coffee machine, or even wrap it in an electric blanket.

Storage. You can over-ferment food, which is why we say to refrigerate it after five to seven days fermenting at room temperature. When we say over-ferment, we don’t mean they spoil or go bad –technically it would be even better for your digestion. Over-fermented means that the good bacteria have started to digest the cellular structure of the food you are preserving, and that means it will begin to taste overly sour and eventually become mushy in texture. Again, it’s not bad for you, just not very pleasant to eat anymore. Stick to the refrigeration steps in the recipes and you’ll be fine, although you don’t necessarily have to refrigerate to slow the ferment. Lactobacilli are extremely sluggish below about 12°C, the average temperature of a traditional cellar. So if you have a cellar, use that.


Fermenting vegetables under brine extends way beyond cucumbers – you can ferment almost any vegetable. The technique works best with those vegies which start out super crisp when picked fresh. For maximum nutrition try to get the vegies under the brine as soon possible after harvest. The basic technique remains the same as for the Ultimate Dill Pickle recipe (above).


  1. Make up a 2–5% pickling brine.
  2. Add the spices to the jar(s).
  3. Add the vegetables to the jar(s).
  4. Fill the jar(s) with the pickling brine.
  5. Place a ‘sacrificial leaf’, such as a cabbage leaf or dill fronds or flowers, on top to keep all of the good stuff submerged.
  6. Put the lid in place but don’t fully tighten it.
  7. Sit the jar on a plate.
  8. Leave to ferment for 5–7 days at room temperature.
  9. Discard the sacrificial ‘leaf’ and refrigerate.

Each of the following recipes also makes a one litre jar full. Time to make: ten minutes preparation, and five to seven days fermenting.


We all know about blanching and freezing green beans for winter use. But try fermenting them this season. Fermented they are sharp, a little sweet and altogether a surprising and intriguing pickle, tasting totally different from their cooked state.


600 ml pickling brine

1 teaspoon cloves

5 tarragon sprigs

500 g green beans

2 dill flowers [sacrificial ‘leaf’].


We initially gave these to just a couple of our favourite customers when we would pull up to sell vegies in Melbourne’s laneways. But news soon spread, and it wasn’t long before we were completely unable to keep up with demand. We use them to spice up our sandwiches, a pizza, everything really. But beware, they are totally addictive. Maybe make a bigger batch than usual.


500 ml pickling brine

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 clove of garlic, halved (unpeeled is fine if clean)

600 g whole hot green chillies (jalapeños are our favourite)

2 dill flowers [sacrificial ‘leaf’].


Use the master recipe to make up your own variations with whatever excess vegies you have lying around. We often make up mixed batches of cauliflower, carrots, beans, onions, garlic and/or capsicums – anything crisp! Mix up the spices and herbs too. The choices are endless.

Happy pickling everyone!

Matt and Lentil are gardeners, farmers, authors and educators who farm on two-and-a-half hectares near Tabilk in Victoria: see


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