There is no better way to enjoy a harvest of cucumbers all year around than to pickle them. Surprisingly, many gardeners believe that pickling is a difficult, laborious process that requires a lot of canning equipment. In reality, there are a lot of ways to pickle cucumbers and most of them require nothing special at all.
Ways to Pickle Cucumbers
Besides the standard canning method, cucumbers can be made by fermenting either on the shelf or in the refrigerator, made into relishes, or made into fruit pickles. Those options are just a start. There are literally hundreds of recipes for making pickles out of cucumbers.
What You’ll Need to Pickle Cucumbers
The prime ingredient, of course, are the cukes themselves. There are specific varieties for pickling and others meant to be used fresh. Pickling cucumbers are usually longer, thinner, and lighter-skinned than their sandwich-bound brethren. Any cucumber, however, if not over-ripe, can be pickled. The difference in variety usually means a longer shelf life once pickled and a crispier slice out of the jar.
You will also need jars. Quart jars, available in many grocery stores and most home supply stores, are also needed for just about every pickle recipe you can name. Whether they are used to can the pickles for the long term or just as convenient storage containers, glass pickling or preserves jars are one of the most versatile things you can have in your kitchen regardless.
The other items you’ll need will depend on your choice of pickling recipe. For traditional pickles in a jar, you’ll need a pickling mix (or your own spices, usually including dill seed), vinegar (apple cider is best), salt, and jar lids and rings (these usually come with the new jars). And, of course, a non-pressure canner.
Step by Step Process for Traditional Dill Pickles
Pickling cucumbers are usually thicker-skinned than other varieties, which helps them stay crisp. If you plan to slice them (do not skin dill pickles), then the sizes won’t matter. To pickle them whole, you’ll need to select pickles that will easily fit into a jar – the thinner varieties often work well for this. Whichever you choose, the process for making the pickles themselves is the same. Most importantly, you want pickles that are just ripe, not over-ripe (seeded). Whether pickling whole or sliced, cut off the ends of the cucumber (about a quarter inch) as the blossoms have microbes that hasten the softening process.
Begin boiling water in your canner and a small sauce pan. Sanitize the bottles either by washing them on a hot cycle in a dishwasher or by putting them into the canner (do this well before it’s boiling so the jars can acclimate to the heat). If you’re using refrigerated apple cider vinegar, it’s a good idea to put the (glass) bottle into the sauce pan as the water heats in order to warm the vinegar. Once the water in the saucepan is boiling, remove the vinegar and put in your jar lids (not the rings, just lids) to sanitize.
An average cuke (about 2-inches around, 5 inches long) will fill about 1/3 of a pint jar when sliced. So cut them (if not pickling whole) with that in mind and fill the jars so that you have at least a quarter inch left at the top and a little wiggle room between each slice inside the jar.
Add your pickling spices (usually including salt, sea salt is preferred) and then fill the jar with vinegar until there is about 1/4″ of space left at the top. Put the lid and ring on and place into the boiling canner. Jar grips are handy at this point, but if you have an insert tray for your canner, you can set it on top (they usually hook around the sides) and fill it with jars and then lower the whole thing into the water. Note that some pickling spices require you boil the vinegar and spices together before adding them to the jar, so make sure you check the spice packet recipe.
Once they’re in the water, make sure they’re covered by at least an inch of water and let them boil for 10-15 minutes. Shorter is better as all you’re doing with the boiling is creating the lid seal to the jar. Too long in the boiling bath and the cukes will become soft.
Lift the jars out of the water (again, the rack or a jar lifter is handy) and carefully set them somewhere room temperature to dry and seal. Try not to bump them or disturb them. Within an hour or two, you will likely begin hearing snapping sounds as the lids compress and seal. The jars should all be sealed in four or five hours (or overnight). You can check, once they are cool, by pressing a finger at the center of the lid. If if pops (isn’t firm), the jar isn’t sealed. You can often give those unsealed jars a second go in the canner to try to seal again – just remove the lid and wipe clean to be sure there isn’t an obstruction causing the seal failure and repeat the process. This usually ends up with soft pickles, however.
All is not lost, though. These unsealed jars are good for a month or more in the refrigerator.