Lacto-Fermented Dill Pickles

by Ann Marie Michaels on August 11, 2011

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lacto pickles

I love pickles! When I was a kid, I spent my summers at the pool where I would order a Moon Pie and a delicious dill pickle.

I had no idea that pickles could be supremely healthy and actually probiotic until I read Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon Morell. It’s traditional to make pickles in summertime when cucumbers are in season. Modern pickles are canned with vinegar — which doesn’t do jack for your digestive system.

Lacto-fermented pickles, on the other hand, are akin to eating yogurt or drinking kefir. If you are not a fan of eating a pickle spear or a whole pickle, make pickle relish and add it to your tuna, egg or potato salad to give a probiotic boost.

Recipe Notes

This recipe is from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon Morell. The oak or grape leaf helps to make the pickles crisp and crunchy. I have tried making pickles without a grape leaf and they came out soggy.

Lacto-Fermented Dill Pickles

Ingredients

Cucumbers, organic if possible, pickling (4-5) or gherkins (15-20)
Mustard seeds (1 TBS)
Dill, fresh (2 TBS)
Sea salt (2 TBS) — where to buy sea salt
Filtered water (1 cup)
Optional: Oak or grape leaf (1)

Equipment

Glass jar with lid, quart size

Directions

1. Wash cucumbers well and place in a quart-sized wide mouth jar.
2. Rinse an oak or grape leaf and add it to the jar.
3. Combine the mustard seeds, dill, sea salt and filtered water together.
4. Pour over the cucumbers, adding more water if necessary to cover the cucumbers.
The top of the liquid should be at least 1 inch below the top of the jar.
5. Cover tightly and keep at room temperature from 3-7 days before transferring to the refrigerator. Depending on the size of the cucumbers, it may take up to one week to fully sour.

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{ 73 comments… read them below or add one }

Bethany Nash August 11, 2011 at 4:02 AM

I should try these again… mine came out soggy, but I didn’t use a leaf. Also, I think maybe I put them in the refrigerator too soon. Either that or I just need to get used to the lack of vinegar taste.

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Jeannette August 11, 2011 at 6:57 AM

I like the vinegary flavor, too! I find that lacto-fermented foods of any kind just lack that satisfyingly sour vinegar taste.

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Lacey0ne August 11, 2011 at 10:45 AM

I find that the strong flavor will develop over time. My pickles have a great flavor, but are getting soft as time goes by. Didn’t add the leaves on that batch. I did carrot strips a while back and didn’t much care for them at first, but after they’d been in the fridge for a couple of months the flavor was awesome and very vinegary! I’m going to make more of those very soon. Also, I use a pickl-it jar, so I leave mine on the counter for up to 14 days.

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cheeseslave August 11, 2011 at 6:12 PM

Yes, a pickl-it jar helps a lot to ensure crisp pickles

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Coral August 11, 2011 at 6:08 AM

Don’t know f I can find the grape or oak leaves fresh, can I use dried. Is there somewhere to get these dried or something else to make them crispy. One more question, I grew up on Vlasic and was wondering if these taste anything like that. Mine always seem to be fizzy when I bite into them, any ideas why or are they supposed to be???

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cheeseslave August 11, 2011 at 6:38 AM

Fizzy?

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Lisa August 11, 2011 at 6:44 AM

No whey to ferment?

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cheeseslave August 11, 2011 at 6:13 PM

I don’t use whey for pickles because I think it makes them mushy. I just use sea salt.

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Sheridan August 15, 2011 at 6:38 AM

I agree about the mushy pickles when you ferment with whey. I discarded two bottles of fermented pickles because I couldn’t get past the mushy factor. Any other ferments in NT that you suggest using sea salt instead?

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Sharon September 9, 2013 at 7:06 PM

I ferment jalapenos with salt and no whey. They are far superior to the jalapenos I canned last year with vinegar.

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Sunny August 11, 2011 at 7:22 AM

Two years ago I made THE BEST fermented pickles. Tried again last year (same recipe) and they were AWFUL! I noticed you did NOT use whey?? Isn’t that necessary in order for the pickles to ferment?

Blessings,
Sunny

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Christine August 11, 2011 at 7:52 AM

They turn out fizzy if your lid is on too tight during fermentation. The gasses build up just like when making water kefir or kombucha.

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Lauren August 11, 2011 at 3:50 PM

Thank you for a mystery solved!

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Christina August 11, 2011 at 6:08 PM

I just tried making these this week for the first time and mine turned out fizzy as well. It’s a bit…off-putting. Do you lightly tighten the lid or just rest it on top to prevent the fizziness?

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cheeseslave August 11, 2011 at 6:13 PM

You don’t need whey. I find that it makes them mushy. You can just use salt.

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anna August 11, 2011 at 8:58 AM

where can i get grape leaves?

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cheeseslave August 11, 2011 at 6:17 PM

I’m not sure in your area. Sometimes you can find grape leaves at farmer’s markets. I just bought a small grape vine and stuck it in the backyard.

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Robin August 11, 2011 at 9:31 AM

Thanks for the recipe, I’ve been looking everywhere for this recipe. My aunt made these pickles when I was a little girl and she would set them out for me every time I visited. Once my Dad and I tried to make them ourselves in a big crock. Dad insisted on adding more salt, because he said that the brine just had to be saltier than aunt’s recipe. Well, a few days later we had a big crock full of mush and a big ‘I told you so’ from my aunt. I can’t wait to try your recipe.
Robin

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Lacey0ne August 11, 2011 at 10:40 AM

I have lots of oak trees on my property. Will any oak leaf do, or does it have to be a certain kind of oak? Also, is one leaf enough?

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cheeseslave August 11, 2011 at 6:18 PM

I think one leaf is enough. I’ve always used grape leaves so I don’t know. Experiment!

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Sharon September 9, 2013 at 7:08 PM

I use 3 pin oak lives, but a regular oak leaf, I use one.

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Jen August 11, 2011 at 12:03 PM

I finally made delicious lacto fermented pickles this year… so exciting! I used 3 cloves of crushed garlic, 4 whole black peppercorns, and a handful of fresh dill in the bottom of my quart jar. I’ll definitely try mustard seeds next time. Yum! My brine was 1.5 T sea salt to 2 cups water. I don’t have access to grape or oak leaves, but I read on the Wild Fermentation website that cherry leaves work to prevent mushiness. We have a bush cherry, so I put 2 leaves in each jar. I left them on the counter for 3 days, then moved to the fridge. They are crunchy, dilly and delicious!

Last year my pickles were a HUGE flop. The cucumbers were too big, so I speared them. I tried fermenting in a gallon jar with grape leaves. They were nasty, and mushy. Definitely go with smaller, whole cucumbers and quart size jars.

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Rachel August 11, 2011 at 12:30 PM

That’s really interesting. Is the point of the oak or grape leaf to get the bacteria on it?

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cheeseslave August 11, 2011 at 6:18 PM

You know, I’m not really sure why it works. My co-chapter leader taught me to do it this way.

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Gay Hullar May 4, 2013 at 2:47 AM

I believe it is the tannins in the oak and grape leaves that help keep the pickles crunchy.

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Gay Hullar May 4, 2013 at 2:55 AM

Guess I should have kept reading, lol!

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Marianne August 11, 2011 at 3:14 PM

The purpose of the added leaves is actually tannin. And you don’t want too much of it. One small grape leaf will do nicely. The site Pickl-It is a wonderful resource for fermenting info. This page discusses oak vs grape leaves. Red oak is the worst, apparently.
http://www.pickl-it.com/blog/177/crispy-pickles-grape-leaves-experiment/
Poke around the site for more info

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Jen August 11, 2011 at 7:27 PM

Raspberry leaves work, too!

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ImaTo6 August 11, 2011 at 4:56 PM

I’ve been making lacto-fermented pickles like crazy this summer!!!! I still have a whole drawer full of cukes waiting to be canned. My family goes through a quart every 2-3 days. I do use whey but of course, you don’t need to- salt is sufficiant. We crush about 4-5 cloves of garlic into ours and add a heaping TBSP of organic pickling spice and fresh dill weed as well, making sure to add in 2 good size wild grape leaves. Absolutley fabtastic. I really enjoy slicing the larger pickling cukes… you know the ones you forget to pick for a day and they turn into monster fattys? Yeah, those. I enjoy slicing them really thick, like about a good half inch or more. Did some spears too but our faves seem to be the thicky slices and crunchy whole daddys ;-) I haven’t tried relish yet though… it’s on the list. Thanks for featuring this- such an easy peasy probiotic to add to almost any meal!

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Luana Hiebert August 12, 2011 at 4:15 PM

This is NOT the recipe for pickled cucumbers from Nourishing Traditions, nor is it lacto-fermented. Lacto-fermented means that it contains lactic acid from whey, which is in the Nourishing Traditions recipe, but not in this one. I doubt that this one would even make pickles at all, but I am not even going to try it.

Lacto-fermented cucumbers would be, according to the book, far less acidic than those pickled with vinegar. However, they do have several nutritional advantages, which are enumerated in the book as well.

I did try using the recipe last year from this book for making lacto-fermented Sauerkraut with whey. and found it to be both easy and delicious!

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Ladybee56 August 16, 2011 at 6:53 AM

This is recipe is from NT book —I just checked it. Also you don’t have to use whey to have lacto-ferments you can use extra salt, like this recipe does which is also mentioned in Nourishing Traditions!

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Luana Hiebert August 16, 2011 at 7:14 AM

You can use salt to ferment, I agree… But does it really have lactic acid in it then? MY NT BOOK INCLUDES WHEY IN THIS RECIPE!. I have made sauerkraut before by just using salt, but when used whey according to the NT book, the results were very superior! Where would lactose (milk sugar) come from if you don’t add a milk product like whey? If it doesn’t have lactose or lactic acid, it would seem to me to just fermented, not LACTO-FERMENTED. Please explain. Thanks!

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Sonia August 16, 2011 at 4:30 PM

I’m not 100% sure on this but maybe it’s Lacto due to the lactic acid created by the Lactobacillus (bacteria).

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Luana Hiebert August 16, 2011 at 7:02 PM

That would be a good guess, I think, but I always thought that those bacteria came from milk, not from salt….? In fact, salt is supposed to be anti-bacterial, not bacteria supporting. I’m so confused. Does anybody have the answer to how this works?

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Natalia August 20, 2011 at 5:45 PM

I’m sorry if this is no help, but this link: http://www.pickl-it.com/faq/148/process-microbial-lacto-fermentation/ explains that 1. the “lacto” refers to lactobacillus, not milk and 2. after the initial few days, salt inhibits the bad bacteria but the good ones are then allowed to grow b/c of the bad ones not liking the salt. I didn’t read in all detail so I don’t actually know where the lactobacilli come from in the first place. I would like to have more guarantee of it myself so that I don’t make a huge batch when cukes are in season only to have them not turn out because one little thing wasn’t right.

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Beth July 2, 2012 at 7:45 PM

The way I understand it, lactobacillus, the friendly bacteria that we want in our digestive tract, occur naturally in the vegetables we are fermenting, and it is not neccessary to use whey at all in the process. Whey, which also contains strains of Lactobacillus, and can be used to give your pickles, sauerkraut, etc a boost and ensure that the correct bacteria get started, but it is optional. Lactic acid is produced by the bacteria, but is not a dairy product, despite its misleading name (lactic acid sounds rather similar to lactose, which is in fact a milk product); Rather, the milk (in the form of yogurt, etc) happens to be a good medium for the lactobacillus to grow, and therefore, the whey from yogurt and other cultured dairy can be good starter culture for your fermented vegetables. I learned this from some friends of mine who are professional fermenters (they could probably explain better than me), and they prefer to start the process without whey and claim it makes a better product.

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FarmerKimberly August 13, 2011 at 6:06 PM

I have a pin oak tree on my property. Will those leaves work? There isn’t any chance it would be poisonous, is there?

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Natalia August 20, 2011 at 5:35 PM

I don’t know how different oaks behave but links from Pickl-it, http://www.pickl-it.com/blog/177/crispy-pickles-grape-leaves-experiment/, and http://www.pickl-it.com/blog/36/crisp-pickle-oak-leaf/, say that the oaks that they tried were very bitter.

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Norma August 27, 2011 at 6:23 AM

Are these lacto-fermented? I thought you used whey for lacto-fermentation. I can’t see mention of using whey.
thanks.

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Natalia August 27, 2011 at 7:09 AM

According to http://www.pickl-it.com/faq/148/process-microbial-lacto-fermentation/ , the “lacto” refers to lactobacillus, not milk. HTH

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peter young August 30, 2011 at 8:03 AM

I just posted a youtube video on this very subject. Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iy4PEn2fdIQ

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peter young August 30, 2011 at 8:07 AM

No whey, by the way.

The lacto-fermentation bacteria were first identified in milk products, hence the name. But there’s no milk in lacto-fermented vegetable like these pickles, or true fermented kraut or kimchi.

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Richard Washburn September 10, 2011 at 3:02 PM

I have a great new product for doing lacto fermentation of vegtables in canning
jars.

The product is glass weights, shaped like a disc, that are made to keep the
vegtables down in the jar during fermentation.

If you go to this link:

http://www.ebay.com/itm/110737857697?var=410035989773&ssPageName=STRK:MESOX:IT&_\
trksid=p3984.m1559.l2649

you can see a picture of how they work.

I can also give discounts to groups who want to do a combined order, just email
me if you are interested.

Richard
central Maine

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Anita September 17, 2011 at 3:46 PM

Can you tell me more about those weights for lacto-veggies?

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Wendy Plache May 6, 2012 at 10:53 PM

My son loves vinegar. I do, too, but am willing to put it aside for a yummy-bacteria pickle instead! :-) I was wondering if I added vinegar, after the fermentation is done, would that kill the good bacteria? I would be adding just for the taste, and do NOT want to kill the good stuff.

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Becky Beach July 18, 2012 at 2:16 PM

Do not multiply this recipe for large quantities. They come out so salty you can not eat them. I wasted 2 cases of cukes.

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Wendy Plache July 23, 2012 at 4:08 AM

So would it harm the good bacteria to add vinegar as well? Just for taste?

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Karen from The Probiotic Jar August 3, 2013 at 10:35 AM

If you add vinegar at the onset, you will change the pH in the Jar, and change the lacto-fermentation process. You won’t need to add vinegar at the end, either; you’ll be surprised at how yummy they are, with depth of flavor instead of the flat flavor of vinegar!

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Tammy Adams August 25, 2012 at 1:53 PM

Removing the blossom end of the cukes should help reduce the mushiness that some folks are experiencing.

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cheeseslave August 25, 2012 at 7:23 PM

@Tammy

Thank you for the tip!

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Suzanne Jordan September 6, 2012 at 8:11 AM

I’m confused. If they are lacto fermented, lacto meaning milk lactobacillus, where is the lacto part in the lacto fermented pickles?

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Tammy September 6, 2012 at 8:42 AM

Lactobacillus is a bacteria that is utilized in fermenting pickles, yogurt, etc.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lactobacillus

Lactose is milk sugar
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lactose

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Suzanne Jordan September 6, 2012 at 9:02 AM

What I’m asking is if the recipe is called lacto fermented and whey is not used, then how are they lacto fermented? It looks to me like they are salt fermented, unless I’m missing something?

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Tammy September 6, 2012 at 9:26 AM

Yes, I understood the question, they have the same root word lac, but they are not the same thing.The answer is the fermenting agent is actually Lactobacillus, not lactose.

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Pete K December 29, 2012 at 12:47 PM

Suzanne, the lactobacilli are naturally present on the vegetable surfaces, so even without adding whey it is still lactofermentation. However there may be insufficient quantities of lactobacilli present when whey is not added to ensure they are the dominant bacteria grown during the fermentation process, so extra salt is added to inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria.

http://www.westonaprice.org/food-features/lacto-fermentation

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Suzanne December 29, 2012 at 3:40 PM

Thank you very much for that info! That always confused me.

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Luana Hiebert December 29, 2012 at 7:15 PM

Thanks for clarifying this, it has been confusing to me, too. I thought that ‘lacto’ meant milk, so that lacobacillus had to come from milk.

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Pete K. December 29, 2012 at 12:32 PM

I think I would personally stick with the grape leaves vs oak leaves, as oak can be toxic- possibly not from a single leaf in this recipe, but why take a chance? http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/vetext/INF-BE_cca/INF-BE_cca01/INF-BE_cca0101.html.

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Karen from The Probiotic Jar August 3, 2013 at 10:34 AM

Raspberry leaves work great too.

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Deanna May 3, 2013 at 9:31 AM

After a few days, you put the pickles in the fridge…how long do they last in the fridge and can they be processed for long-term storage (I don’t have an entire fridge to dedicate to fermented pickles)??

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Karen from The Probiotic Jar August 3, 2013 at 10:33 AM

It depends upon the vessel you used to pickle them. A completely anaerobic system will keep them for years in a cool environment 45-60F.

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Pete K May 4, 2013 at 4:30 AM

I don’t think I’d process them: that would kill the lactobacilli, removing a major benefit of lactofermentation. Think of it like yogurt- one wouldn’t want to boil it.

I think how long they last would vary a bit for each batch- look for signs of spoilage. I did some bitter melon a few months back and they seem to be hanging in ok.

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Richard May 5, 2013 at 7:04 AM

After the fermentation I keep mine in my root cellar, 45 degrees in winter and 60 degrees in summer.

My ferments last at least a year that way. I have some that are older than a year that still look and taste great. Kraut especially gets better when it is older.

The bacteria is what is important in pickles, do not heat treat them.

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Luke July 10, 2013 at 11:55 AM

The Polish nailed down lacto-fermented pickles perfectly.

In addition to the mustard seeds and grape or oak leaf, there’s also some peppercorns or allspice berries (not much, just a pinch), a few sticks of horseradish, a few garlic cloves, and as much mature dill (as in, dill that’s woody and gone to seed) as you can pack in around the cucumbers.

To ferment, you’ll need a ball jar, or a ceramic fermentation pot with a good air lock. If any oxygen can get it, your pickles won’t come out as well as they could.

First, wash your cucumbers in cold water. You don’t want any dirt or spines in your brine, but you want to preserve the natural flora on your cucumbers.

Next, you’ll need to dissolve 1 slightly heaped tablespoon (as in the actual soup spoon, not the unit of measure) of salt per liter of water, brought to a boil. Any salt will do, but sea salt of mined salt will give the tastiest results.

Sterilize your pickling vessels of choice with boiling water. Add the leaf (grape or oak, your choice), the mustard, and the peppercorns. Pack in as many cucumbers as will fit without crushing them. Wiggle in the garlic and horseradish, roughly one clove of garlic for every three good-sized cucumbers and one stick of horseradish for every five.

Once the boiled salt water has had a chance to cool until tepid, pour it over your cucumbers until well covered (make sure all the air has had a chance to bubble out) and seal it well. The brine will make the pickles inhospitable to more or less anything but lactic acid bacteria, and without competition, they’ll be free to make your pickles sour.

At this point, your pickles will go through three stages. First, the low salt stage; your cucumbers haven’t really had a chance to ferment very well, but the brine has had a chance to penetrate a little and add some flavor. The skin will have a slightly gummy texture, and the flesh is still mostly the milky color of fresh cucumbers with a translucent edge.

About a week to two weeks in, you reach the second stage, which is half-sour. Fermentation is well underway and the brine is getting quite sour, but the pickles aren’t quite pickled yet. The probiotic flora is most active at this stage, so if you’re into that, this is probably the stage where you want to crack open your pickle jars. If you put a good enough seal on your jars, the cucumbers should be pleasantly fizzy when you bite into them. It might be unusual if you didn’t grow up eating that, but once you get used to that delayed crackling fizz, there’s no going back. It adds a whole new dimension to sandwiches too.

The last stage is where your pickles are fully pickled, and no longer fizzy. They’ve got that pickled softness with a nice crisp and translucent flesh, and have that sour, salty, garlicky, and vaguely radish-y flavor characteristic of Polish fermented pickles.

A few of notes of advice: First, do not slice your cucumbers before pickling. They won’t come out right, mushy and way too salty. Ferment them whole, and slice them when you’re ready to eat them. The flavor and texture will be vastly better, and they’ll keep much longer. Same goes for spices — use whole spices. The only things that should be in any way cut up are the dill and horseradish.

Second, if you’re using ceramic jars, don’t be alarmed if you find some mold floating on top of the air lock. If you did it right, it’s only Penicillium (most species of which are quite edible), and it shouldn’t reach your brine anyway.

Third, do boil your brine (for sanitation’s sake), but do not pour boiling brine over your cucumbers, and you will cook your cucumbers and kill the lactic acid bacteria on the pickles, thus utterly ruining your pickles.

Fourth, the garlic and horseradish are still quite edible after pickling, and very tasty too. Don’t let them go to waste.

Enjoy!

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Karen from The Probiotic Jar August 3, 2013 at 10:32 AM

Raspberry leaves work great, too. I have used them two years in a row in my jars, and we’re eating pickles that we packed last August (we’re on the last jar) and they’re wonderfully crunchy and the flavor is spectacular. They were stored at about 45 degrees all year in our well-house. I’d call that success!

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Steve B August 30, 2013 at 9:41 AM

I’ve never used leaves, but have found that calcium chloride does wonders in keeping them very crunchy. It’s a secret ingredient that commercial pickle makers use, and perfectly safe. You just need a small amount – 1/4 tsp for every quart of brine. It’s sold by Ball under the name of Pickle Crisp. My garlic dills have been coming out perfect every time, whether I use the Perfect Pickler on a jar or my Karsch crock.

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Amy September 9, 2013 at 8:13 PM

I thought ‘lacto’ meant using whey, as it lactose. So fermenting it like this ‘is’ creating its own probiotics? I tried whey fermenting and also used a grape leaf in the jars. They were mush within a week. So I am gathering from this feed, that was probably the whey. :-(. I now have 7 pints fermenting and 21 canned. We caved and use the calcium stuff to keep it crispy. I am going to attempt a few jars, fermenting, without the whey. I have a ton of grape leaves growing around our fence line.

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Luke September 9, 2013 at 9:32 PM

“Lacto-” refers to lactic acid in this case, as opposed to “acetic”. It’s only named that because it was first discovered in sour milk, but it’s a product of anaerobic metabolism of sugar, not a byproduct of lactose. Your muscles use the same process to burn sugar when their oxygen stores are exhausted — lactic acid contributes part of that sore, burning feeling after a workout.

Avoid using whey at all costs. It’s misguided and it’ll ruin your pickles. The cucumbers have all the bacteria and sugar they need to ferment themselves.

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Steve B September 10, 2013 at 2:08 AM

You can use a starter culture made just for vegetables, which will give your pickles a nice jump start before the natural bacteria on the cucumbers start to kick in. It isn’t necessary, but it does make the process more foolproof.

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bonnie September 11, 2013 at 10:37 PM

Pardon my ignorance… but how is this lacto fermented if there is no whey or product like it? I’ve been making pickles like this for a long time since I cannot stand the taste of vinegar pickles.

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Pete K September 12, 2013 at 2:25 AM

Bonnie, scroll up to my previous answer to this question.

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Richard September 12, 2013 at 6:14 AM

I think you need whey only in sugary stiff like chutneys and bread & butter pickles.

This is because they are more susceptible to other organisms culturing the food.

If you don’t have or don’t like whey, try some pickle juice from a previous ferment, it works pretty much the same as whey.

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Steve B September 12, 2013 at 7:01 AM

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