How to Adapt Recipes for One

One of the greatest frustrations my widowed mother faced in the kitchen was cooking for just one person. After raising a large family, she was accustomed to cooking in quantity. She was not alone. Young single people also need to adapt recipes written for the typical household of four to six. Here, Sarah gives some great tips to help with this dilemma.

While I love experimenting with fermented foods and new recipes, there is one awkward thing that most recipes have in common—they are for large quantities. As a single person living alone, I don’t need a gallon of dill pickles, or any other recipe. But, when that’s what the recipe is written for, what am I to do?

Learn how to adapt recipes for one, that’s what. Fermentation works best when built on the basis of ratios, percentages and a healthy dose of experimentation. There are certain best practices that anyone can follow for a successful ferment, and within those best practices are a wealth of options, variations and room to have fun.

Things to Consider When You Want to Adapt Recipes

Fermentation Ratios:

The first thing to consider when desiring to shrink a recipe is the ratio of salt to water/jar volume. This is the easiest ratio to maintain for a successful ferment, but also the easiest one to mess up on and have your ferment go soft. The salt is what enables your lacto-bacilli bacteria to flourish, and it is what keeps your ferment crisp, even after storing it for months.

The average fermentation ratio is 2/3 of a teaspoon salt to one cup of water. So a pint jar usually only needs 1-1/3 to 1-1/2 teaspoon salt, while a quart jar usually needs about 1 tablespoon of salt. A very finely minced ferment may need a touch more salt, as it ferments faster and has a higher propensity for going soft.

You can figure out the ratio in an average recipe by calculating the number of teaspoons of salt, (3 tsp per tablespoon), and the cup-volume of the jar and dividing the salt into the water. Then calculate the cup volume of the jar you will be using and salt accordingly.

Fermentation Time:

A gallon jar may take up to two weeks to fully ferment successfully, even under prime fermenting conditions. A pint can ferment in two days in prime conditions, or a week in cooler sub-prime conditions. Doing smaller fermentation batches means that you need to keep a closer eye on your ferment, just to make sure it doesn’t over ferment. While over fermenting isn’t usually a problem, it can change the texture of the food and make it less pleasant to consume. Personally, I like a crisp and slightly crunchy ferment, so when a ferment accidentally goes into the softer texture I will avoid eating it, even if it is otherwise a perfect ferment.

Spices and Flavorings:

Most recipes will either give you an exact quantity or measurement for spices, or will say the ambiguous “to taste.” Now the challenge with ferments is that the taste changes and it’s super difficult to tell beforehand how much spice will be enough, and not too much.

If you are given an exact spice measurement, like twenty garlic cloves for a gallon of garlic dill pickles, you can create a similar ratio to that used for salt. A gallon is, roughly, sixteen cups of liquid, if you have 20 cloves of garlic it is 1.5 per cup. A pint jar version would have only 3 garlic cloves so that the spice was not overwhelming, a quart would probably be comfortable with 6 cloves.

You can figure out a similar ratio for most spices used in ferments, even ones such as ginger. If you personally like your ferments more, or less, spicy you can also adapt each recipe to your personal taste. The ratio idea is just to help give you a quick estimate of how much you will need, for the jar size you have.

Fermenting is fun, and it doesn’t need huge jars that take over your entire fridge to be successful. Don’t be afraid to experiment with smaller jars, try different recipes and generally have fun. This is one time it’s perfectly acceptable to play with your food, it’s fun and healthy!


The trickiest part of adapting recipes is figuring the salt ratio. The label of Fermentools’ Himalayan Powder Salt includes a conversion chart for making your own pint, quart or gallon of 2%, 3 ½ %, and 10% brine solutions—the most common solutions used in fermenting. If you are new to fermenting, I highly recommend you buy at least one bag of salt because the conversion table will help ensure you get started off on the right foot.


Sarah Dalziel is passionate about DiY skills, knowledge, and self-sufficiency. She was homeschooled K-BSc, and enjoys questioning, researching, and writing about hands on skills and preparedness. Ethnobotany, natural dyes, and self-sufficiency fascinate her. If she isn’t writing about them, you’ll find her dipping yarn into a steaming dye pot, or stirring up a batch of woad pigmented soap. Sarah blogs at, a natural dye and fiber skills blog, and also at, an interdisciplinary skills and writing blog.

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