Ever wondered how to start pickling cucumbers? The thought might cross your mind during the growing season, a time when gardens and farmer's markets will be bursting with fresh cucumbers. That's a stark contrast to what you'll get if you buy this veggie at the store, where it's likely coated in a wax that should be peeled off, robbing you of healthy fiber and vitamin C housed in the skin. It's best to grow your own, or stock up at farmer's markets, to try your hand at pickling cucumbers. And remember pickle recipe rule No. 1: "Make pickles your family likes," suggests Jean Nick, author of RodaleNews.com's Nickel Pincher column. "If no one ever eats dill pickles, don't make them."
• Match the cucumber to the pickling recipe. Whether you're interested in making whole dill pickles to crunch or pickle slices for sandwiches, choosing the right cuke is key. "Cucumbers make great pickles. Bread-and-butter pickles are very easy, and can be made with regular slicing cukes," explains Aimee Good, organic farmer and co-owner of Quiet Creek Farm in Kutztown, PA. "Dill cukes are delicious, but to stay crisp, it's best to use small cukes, and cut off ends [before pickling]" she adds. Also, only use fresh, firm cucumbers for pickling, not ones that are starting to soften up.
• Slice 'em how you like 'em. If the pickles are going to be used on sandwiches, cut large, thin slices on an angle to make long ovals, instead of small rounds, suggests Nick.
• Select the proper salt. When pickling cucumbers, you must use pickling or canning salt, not iodized or table salt, Good adds. Sea salt is OK.
• Make refrigerator pickles for free. Here's the easiest way to make homemade pickles: "After you eat all the pickles out of a jar, reuse the juice by slicing leftover cucumbers, onion, beans, cauliflower, or just about any fresh or cooked veggie into it, and putting the jar in the fridge overnight—or even better, for a week or more," suggests Nick. "They just get better with time!"
• Think beyond cukes! Pickles and cucumbers are not synonymous. "Think outside the box—pickled peach halves and spiced pickled crabapples are great," says Nick. Good suggests pickling hot peppers, beets, and even dilly beans for more fun pickling variations.
Here is a fast, basic, USDA pickling recipe to get you started:
QUICK FRESH-PACK DILL PICKLES
Note: Use jars that are big enough for the cucumbers to fit inside, with a half inch of space between the top of the pickle and the top of the jar.
8 pounds of 3- to 5-inch pickling cucumbers
2 gallons water
1¼ cups canning or pickling salt (divided)
1½ quarts vinegar (5 percent)
¼ cup sugar 2 quarts water
2 Tablespoons whole mixed pickling spice, which includes: about 3 Tablespoons whole mustard seed (1 teaspoon per pint jar) about 14 heads fresh dill (1½ heads per pint jar) or 4½ Tablespoons dill seed (1½ teaspoons per pint jar)
Yields 7 to 9 pints
Large pot with lid, or canner (available commercially)
Canning jars, lids, and screwbands
Jar lifter or tongs, to remove jars from boiling water
Jar funnel, to fill jars easily and cleanly
(Learn how to heat-sterilize your jars from the Nickel Pincher's canning guide.)
Wash cucumbers. Cut a 1/16-inch slice off the blossom end of the cuke and discard. Leave ¼ inch of stem attached. Dissolve ¾ cup salt in 2 gallons water. Pour the mix over the cucumbers and let stand for 12 hours. Drain. Combine vinegar, ½ cup salt, sugar, and 2 quarts water. Add the mixed pickling spices, tied in a clean white cloth.
Heat this picking solution to boiling. Fill hot, properly sterilized jars with cucumbers. Add 1 teaspoon mustard seed and 1½ heads fresh dill to each jar, and pour in enough boiling pickling solution to cover the cucumbers. There should be a ½ inch of space between the top of the liquid and the top of the jar; add more solution if needed. Remove all air bubbles from the jar by running a clean, nonmetal spatula around the inside of the jar. Wipe the jar rims with a dampened clean paper towel. Seal with hot, properly sterilized lids (review the Nickel Pincher's canning page for details).
Process the jars of cucumbers by placing them in a pot or canner of boiling water: Boil 10 minutes for pints, 15 minutes for quarts. If you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet, you'll have to add 5 to 10 minutes to your boil time. The canner or pot you use must be deep enough so that at least an inch of boiling water covers the tops of jars during processing. After you remove the hot jars from the canner, don’t retighten the lids or you could damage the seal. Let the jars cool at room temperature for 24 hours, on racks or towels.
After a full 24 hours, remove the screw bands and test the seal by pressing the middle—if it pops back up, it's not sealed correctly and you shouldn’t eat the pickles. (You can try to process the jars in boiling water again to get a correct seal.) Store the jars in a cool, dry place. Canned pickles are safe to eat as long as the seal remains intact; after opening a jar, refrigerate the uneaten portions. You can begin eating the pickles after they’ve been sealed for at least 24 hours, or wait longer to let the seasoning set. Keep a record of when you open each jar, and how the pickles taste, and you'll learn the optimum time for aging them.
• If you're not familiar with canning, visit the USDA's canning page for more information and updates.
• If you want an easier version of preserving pickles, learn how to make refrigerator pickles.
• For more of a challenge creating pickles that contain beneficial bacteria, learn how to make fermented pickles.
Published on: August 27, 2009