Pickles are not only a favorite addition to many lunch and supper menus (as well as barbecues, picnics and buffet tables), they are probably the easiest way to preserve your cucumber bounty.
There are basically two different approaches to making and preserving pickles. There is the age-old tradition of making a pickle barrel, where you create the brine, add the cucumbers and basically leave the cucumbers to ferment over time, taking care to remove the scum from the top of the solution on a regular basis, until the cucumbers have become pickled. The other way to make pickles, and the method we’re going to focus on today, is simply sealing the cucumbers with the brine directly in jars, by water bath canning them. This is called Fresh Packing. While this method may be scoffed at by traditional picklers and canners, the results are often more reliable, especially if this is your first foray into the world of pickling.
For sweet, spicy, salty or zesty pickles, you can determine the taste just by changing up the spices and/or herbs you use when you can them. You can use whole cucumbers, sliced cucumbers, quartered cucumbers, etc. For traditional bread and butter pickles, you will want to slice your cucumbers on the diameter, and for those delicious dill slices to add to your burgers, you can slice them lengthwise. What is important is that you use the cucumbers when they are ripe, and still firm. If you miss the window with the cucumbers being firm, fear not – save them for relish. As cucumbers start to get over ripe, they often get quite bitter, and then they don’t make good pickles. They can still be okay for relish, however, fresh and ripe are best.
Use cucumbers you grew yourself, or buy a bushel from your local farmer’s market.
Before you get started
Many of the things you need you likely already have, but have a look over this list before you dive right in.
- Jars and the appropriate lids - I like the Mason Jars with the two piece lids
- Large deep pot to prepare recipe
- Canner - a large deep pot
- Measuring spoons and cups
- Non-metallic long handled spoons and spatulas
- Ladle or handled cup to transfer recipe to jars
- Wide mouth funnel – while not completely necessary it makes for a much tidier job and working space
- Jar lifter – these look like giant tongs, and are completely necessary for getting those jars in and out of the really really hot water
- Weight scale
- Oven Mitts
Using the Fresh Pack / Water Bath Method
Fresh packing pickles works best when the cucumbers are nice and crisp, and firm. Make an ice bath for your cucumbers and let them sit overnight to keep them crisp and ready for pickling. This is especially a good idea if you are canning the cucumbers whole, to make nice juicy dills.
You’ll need to prepare a pickling liquid for packing the cucumbers, and you’ll want to add some fresh or dried dill directly to the prepared jars along with some garlic and mustard seed. Experiment with quantities to get your desired taste, and perfect your own recipe.
To overnight ice 8 lbs of cucumbers, you will need:
- 16 cups of ice cubes
- 4 cups of water
- 1/2 cup pickling salt
Mix water, ice and cucumbers in a large pot with a lid, or a cooler, and add the cucumbers. Let the cucumbers sit overnight in the ice bath, until ready to use the following day.
Preparing to Can
- Fill your canner with fresh water and your clean canning jars. Bring to a boil. This takes a while, so once you’ve got this underway, you’ll have time to prepare your brine and slice your cucumbers (optional). Keep jars hot until ready to use.
- Set screw caps and lids.
- Prepare your area for filling jars with a non-metallic funnel, ladle, towels/dishcloths, tongs and screw bands.
- Prepare your area for putting the finished jars to set for 24 hours or so. I usually go with a tea towel in one corner of the counter that is out of reach of little hands, and out of the way.
Preparing to Pickle
To make pickling liquid for 8 lbs of cucumbers, you will need:
- 8 cups of water
- 6 cups of 5% vinegar
- 3/4 cup of pickling salt
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 tbsp. pickling spice
- Prepare the pickling liquid by combining all of the ingredients and heat to boiling. Let simmer.
- Lightly scrub the cucumbers and slice off the blossom end. Slice or quarter your cucumbers if you desire.
- Add fresh herbs and spices to your prepared jars. Experiment with quantities and varieties to perfect your own recipe. Start by adding a fresh dill head to each jar, a couple cloves of garlic, and a tiny bit of mustard seed.
- While your jars are still hot, and after they have the dill added, start filling your jars with the prepared cucumbers.
- Add the pickling liquid to the filled jars, covering the cucumbers and filling to within 1/2 inch from the rim.
- Wipe rim of jar, place the lid on and add a screw top to secure. Tighten only to fingertip tight.
- Repeat the filling process until your cucumbers are all used up. Place filled jars back in the canner.
- Jars in the canner should be under at least one and one half inch of water. Place the lid on the canner, and bring to a boil.
- Boiling times depend on the size of the jar and the altitude of your location. Pint jars need to be processed for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude.
- Turn off heat after processing time is complete, remove lid and let the water settle before removing the jars.
- Remove jars to a safe location while they cool. After they are cooled, check the lids for sealing. Lids that have sealed will not move when pressed. Unsealed jar lids will pop when you push down on the center. Place any unsealed jars in the fridge.
- Clean and dry jars and screw bands, label and enjoy!
Home Canning Is Rewarding and Satisfying
Growing your own food, preparing your own food and preserving your own foods are some of the easiest ways to become self-reliant. Having canned goods on hand can save you a lot in groceries, and that translates directly into time and money. Canned goods also make excellent gifts for all occasions, and the process itself leads to nearly instant gratification. Go ahead – because you Can.