Cucumbers are either grown for immediate eating or for pickling. Varieties such as the Bush Pickle are recommended for pickling because they maintain their crispness even after brining. To create your own homemade pickles, you let the raw cucumbers pickle in their brine for as long as you want, as long they are kept in the refrigerator after opening.
Cucumbers, like most vegetables, come in many varieties. Straight 8 and Fanfare are species that bred for slicing, which means you eat them raw in salads straightaway. Other types such as Bush Pickle and Carolina are grown specifically for pickling. They usually grow no more than 2-inches in diameter and they stay crunchy even after soaked in the pickling mixture for long periods of time. Cucumbers are easily grown from seed in the spring and take approximately 60 days to harvest from planting. Pickling cucumbers need to be picked every day in the early morning so they do not grow too large and to encourage the vine to continue producing.
Select fresh, just-picked cucumbers from a farmers’ market or from your own backyard garden. Many grocery store cucumbers have wax on the outside, which make pickling difficult. Choose cucumbers that are dark green and full of warts, and they should be crisp to begin with. Yellowing and bloated cucumbers are a sign that the vegetable has developed seeds already. Do not use soft cucumbers or ones that have been left out in the sun too long. Approximately three to four cucumbers will fit one pint jar.
Clean your pickle jars and lids before adding the brine and cucumbers. Use the “Sanitize” cycle on your dishwasher or boil them in a large pot. Mix white vinegar with your own mix of pickling spices and bring to a gentle boil in a nonmetal pot. Fill your jars with sliced or whole cucumbers until they are packed in. Pour the hot pickling brine into the jars. Leave a 1/4 inch from the top free of liquid to prevent leakage. Screw on the canning, or jar, lids tightly.
Properly can your pickles by placing the filled jars into a large pot or canner with water that covers the jars at least 1 inch. Boil the water for 10 minutes. By boiling the jars, you prevent spoilage and botulism. After using this canning method, you then store them in a cool, dark place. Remove the jars and place them on the counter to cool overnight. Be sure the lids do not pop up when you press the tops. The pickles are ready after 24 hours but taste better in about 2 weeks. Keep a notebook and write down how the pickles taste after a certain time period so you know in the future the best time to open a jar.
References and ResourcesRodale; Pickling Cucumbers at Home: Easier than You Think; Leah Zerbe
University of Illinois Extension: Cucumber