Pickling is one of the oldest ways to preserve food. You simply ferment vegetables in a salt brine or vinegar solution, and store them when the process is complete. Pickling is the best way to keep cucumbers once the harvest is over.
There are a few different ways to pickle. Either ferment vegetables in a brine for many weeks, or fresh-pack the produce in a vinegar solution in Mason jars, seal them using a boiling water bath, and let them ferment in the jars for four to six weeks.
To ferment in a salt brine, use stone crocks or kegs, or clean, watertight, hardwood barrels lined with enamel, glass or paraffin. Although pickles will keep fairly well stored in such containers, for safety reasons you should transfer fermented pickles to canning jars and process them for storage.
Use slightly under-ripe pickling or dual-purpose cucumbers that grow just 2 1/2 to four inches. Their small size and thin skins make them ideal for curing.
One key to crispness is to use only fresh, just-harvested cukes that you've picked in the morning before the sun has warmed them up. Vegetables stored in the refrigerator lose quality with each hour that passes after they've been picked. The ingredients you use for the pickling brine are also important to ensure crisp, flavorful, evenly-cured vegetables.
Use only pure, granulated salt with no noncaking material or iodine added. This is sold as pickling salt, barrel salt or kosher salt. Do not use table salt or iodized salt.
Use a 4-to 6-percent acidity cider or white vinegar. If the label doesn't list the acidity, don't use it for pickles or relishes. Use as much vinegar as the recipe specifies; the amount of acidity is crucial to safe processing.
Soft water is best for pickling. You can soften hard water by boiling it, skimming off the surface scum and letting it sit for 24 hours. Don't disturb the sediment at the bottom when you use this softened water.
Boiling Water Bath Canning
Once your cukes and pickling ingredients are ready, use the fresh-pack method or a salt-brine fermentation. Then follow these steps for boiling-water-bath canning. If your canner instructions vary from these, follow the instructions that came with your canner.
Assemble all utensils: Canner with rack, Mason jars, lids, tongs or jar lifter, cooling racks and nonmetallic spatula.
Use only Mason jars for home canning. They're made by a number of manufacturers and are safe because the glass is heat-tempered and can seal perfectly. Always use brand new dome lids for canning. The rubber compound loses its ability to seal perfectly after one use. Metal screw bands and Mason jars may be reused.
Examine and clean all equipment: Check all bands for rust, dents or nicks and the jars for chips or cracks. Don't use them for canning if they aren't perfect. Wash all equipment in hot, soapy water. Rinse in clear, hot water. Keep jars and screw tops hot. Keep dome lids in hot water until ready to use.
Follow recipe instructions for filling jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace for pickles. Once jars are filled, release air bubbles by running a rubber spatula around the insides of the jars. Wipe jar tops and threads clean with damp cloth. Put lids on jars, rubber side down, and screw bands on firmly, so they're "fingertight."
Place the rack on the bottom of a canner half full of water, and bring it to the boil. Only fill as many jars as the canner will hold in one batch. As each jar is filled, place it carefully in the rack. The jars should not touch each other or the side of the canner.
Add hot water, if necessary, so the jars are covered with at least one to two inches of water. Cover and turn up heat under canner. Start timing when the water reaches a boil. Follow timing instructions for each recipe.
To complete the processing, remove the jars and place them upright on a rack or thick towel in a draft-free area, allowing enough room between jars for air to circulate.
Testing Your Pickles
Do not tighten the metal rims -- you may break the seals. After 12 hours of cooling, test the seals. These three tests are recommended for checking the seals on dome lids:
If some jars have incomplete seals, reprocess the contents, using a new lid and a clean jar. Or, simply put the jars in the refrigerator and use these pickles first.
Wipe the jars with a clean, damp cloth; label clearly; carefully remove the outer screw-rims; and store jars in a cool, dry, dark place.
Don't open the jars for several weeks -- this will allow the flavors of the herbs and spices to develop fully.
Before serving, check pickles or relishes for signs of spoilage, sliminess, softness, frothing or a foul odor. Don't eat any pickles you think are bad; don't even taste them. Throw them out if there's the slightest doubt as to whether they're good.
For additional recipes and pickling ideas, consult All About Pickling, Ortho Book Series, National Edition and the Ball Blue Book, a guide to home canning and freezing.
Harvest tiny two- to three-inch-long cukes for dill pickles.
Per quart jar:
Wash quart jars. In each jar put salt, mustard seed and dill. Sort the cucumbers according to size and put similar-sized cukes in each jar, so they pickle uniformly. Use only small cucumbers or spears. Leave an inch of headspace at the top of the jar.
Measure vinegar and water for each filled jar and heat to boiling. Pour hot liquid into jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process 10 minutes in hot water bath.
1 gallon crock
Fill the crock with cucumber spears. Mix canning salt in enough boiling water to cover spears. Cover them with a weighted-down plate or lid and let stand one week. Drain thoroughly. Add enough boiling water to cover the cukes. Let stand 24 hours and drain well.
Mix together vinegar, sugar and pickling spice. Bring to a boil and pour over pickles. Let stand 24 hours, then drain again, saving the syrup. Repeat this procedure once a day for four days, bringing the syrup to a boil each time.
After the fifth day, put pickles in canning jars and add hot syrup to fill jars leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Seal and process in a boiling-water bath 10 minutes.
Large batches are easy to make. Use a larger crock, and proportionately more cucumbers and other ingredients.
Watermelon Rind Pickles
8 cups watermelon rind (1 large watermelon)
Remove skin and pink from rind. Cut rind into 1-inch cubes or chunks. Soak chunks overnight in brine mixture of 1/2 cup salt and 2 quarts water. Drain and rinse in fresh water. Drain again. Place rind in saucepan and add more fresh water to cover; simmer until tender, then drain. Make syrup of vinegar, brown sugar, lemon and spices. Simmer 5 minutes. Add to rind and cook until clear. Pack rinds into hot jars and fill with syrup, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process in hot water bath for 10 minutes.
This article is a part of our Vegetable Gardening Guide for Vine Crops / Harvesting.