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How to Make Pickles From Cucumbers
Why should I can my own vegetables?
I was gifted a half bushel of cucumbers one summer and had no idea what to do with them. The only logical thing I could think of was to can them. I didn't have my own canner at the time so I borrowed one from a friend, did my research and jumped right in. This is a testament to 'If I did, you can too!'
Canning of fruits and vegetables goes back maybe 200 years, and basic preserving, such as curing meats by covering them with salt, has been practiced even longer. It’s nothing new; however, home canning does seem to be making a resurgence. Will you save money? Probably not at first because you will have your initial outlay of money for supplies. If you grow your own produce or find a great deal at a farmer’s market you will definitely come out ahead of buying ready-made products in the store. Plus it will taste so-o-o much better!
NOTE: This is not a recipe, but rather an outline of the steps you would follow when you are canning at home. PLEASE consult an official canning book for precise instructions concerning times, quantities and temperatures. This author will not be held liable for any misfortune!
Canning is a process of preserving food for use or consumption at a later date. There are two methods of home canning: water bath and pressure cooker. The water bath method is used for high acid foods, while the pressure cooker is used for low acid foods. The method outlined here is for water bath canning.
You will want to use Mason jars for your canning. These glass jars are designed specifically for home canning--do not use any other type of glass containers. They come in several sizes, usually half-pint, pint, quart, and also come with either a wide-mouth or a regular mouth.
The lid is the metal disc that fits over the mouth of the jar and the band, or ring, screws onto the jar to hold the lid while processing. The lids will be permanently held in place though by the vacuum seal created during the water bath process. The bands can be re-used, but you must use new lids every time. They cannot be reused because the seal will be no good.
A Water Bath Canner is an Inexpensive Investment
Gather your supplies
The first thing you will want to do is purchase and gather all of your supplies ahead of time. Here are the supplies you will need:
- Water bath canner with a rack
- Mason jars with lids and bands
- Jar tongs* for removing the Mason jars from the hot water bath
- Magnetic lid wand* for removing the lids from the hot water prep
- Bubble remover* - this is a small stick that will help get air bubbles out of the jar before processing
- Candy thermometer
- Towels to set the finished jars on while they cool
- Cheesecloth and string for holding herbs
* These four utensils can be purchased in a kit or individually
* A Note on pH
pH is a measure of the amount of acid and base properties in foods, solutions and even soil. Beyond the fact that pH stands for "the power of hydrogen", we'll leave the logarithm calculations up the the scientists and mathematicians.
The scale ranges from 0 to 14, with a measure of 7 being the mid-range. The lower numbers indicate a higher concentration of acid and the higher numbers indicate a lower level of acid. Some high acid foods include lemons, apples and tomatoes, while some low acid foods include corn, peas and green beans.
The reason you need to know whether the food you plan on canning has a low or high pH is because of the temperature needed to properly process each type of food to keep it safe. High acid foods need to be prepared in a water bath canner whereas low acid foods must be prepared in a pressure cooker because it can reach temperatures high enough to destroy certain bacteria present in low acid foods.
Ingredients you will need
Since I had so many cucumbers, I decided to try four different types of pickles (Bread and Butter Pickles, Dill Pickle Spears and Sweet Pickle Relish - all from the Ball Blue Book, and spears made from Mrs. Wages Sweet Pickle Mix). Here are the ingredients I needed:
- Pickling salt - do not use table salt, rock salt, or salts with iodine
- White Vinegar - make sure you use 5% acidity (recipe may call for Cider Vinegar)
- Sugar (if making sweet pickles)
- A variety of spices and herbs as per your recipe: peppercorns, garlic cloves, celery seed, cinnamon, dill heads, mustard seed, turmeric, onion, sweet bell peppers, hot peppers, etc. You can also purchase pre-made seasoning packets like Mrs. Wages
- Pickle Crisp (Optional) - helps pickles retain crispness
*Note - It is important not to substitute items as recipes are tested for pH and other safety measures!
Pickling was the only solution for all these cucumbers!
It is better to do several small batches over a couple of days rather than trying to do one large batch all at one time. Once you begin canning you must finish the process! I divided my canning venture into two sessions.
Fresh is best!
Whichever vegetable or fruit you choose to pickle, whether it be cucumbers, green beans, okra, watermelon rind, peaches, etc., you want it to be as fresh as possible. A common misconception is that canning is a great way to use up old vegetables. But the truth is that you want your produce to be the freshest and best quality that it can be. To get a good final product you must start with a good product. You want to remove any bad or moldy spots and any bruises as these areas could harbor bacteria.
Wash jars, lids and bands
Slice your cucumbers
Prepare the seasoned liquid
Use a funnel to fill the jars
Basic water bath canning procedures:
You will want to follow your specific canning instructions, but here are the general steps you will take when you home-can your cucumbers:
- Wash your jars regardless if they are new or old. This can be done by hand or dishwasher. Make sure they are rinsed well.
After jars are washed, place them in a large pot (I used the water bath canner), cover with water, and bring to a simmer (180 degrees). Keep them in the hot water until ready to use.
Wash and rinse the lids and bands by hand in hot soapy water. Dry the bands and set aside. The lids now need to be heated to soften the seal. Place clean lids in a small pan, cover with water, and bring to a simmer (180 degrees). Keep them in the hot water until ready to use. *Do not boil as this will destroy the seal.
Prep your vegetables by washing then cutting or slicing into a size that will fit into the size jar you have selected. *Note - Most recipes will require you to place your cucumbers in a bowl and layer with salt, cover with ice and let stand for an hour or two, then drain and rinse before putting them into the jars.
Prepare canning liquid per recipe instructions. This is the seasoned liquid that you will pour into the jars. Some recipes will instruct you to add your vegetables to this liquid and bring to a boil. Other recipes will instruct you to put the raw vegetables into the hot jars and then pour the hot liquid over the vegetables in the jar.
You will work one jar at a time. After a jar is filled remove any air bubbles, making sure you have the proper amount of headspace (the space between the top of the liquid and the rim of the jar).
With a clean cloth wipe the rim of the jar so you will get a good seal.
Place lid on top of jar and screw on the band.
Place the jar into the water bath canner. Repeat with only enough jars that will fit into the canner at one time.
Process for the amount of time indicated in the recipe. It is important to adhere to this length of time. I began my timing when the water began to boil.
Remove jars with tongs and place on folded towels on the counter to cool. Make sure to choose a place where the jars can remain while cooling.
You will begin to hear the lids "pop" or "ping" as the seal is formed as they cool.
Leave the jars in this location for the next 24 hours. Do not move or disturb them
Use tongs when placing and removing jars from hot water
Consult the Ball Blue Book Guide. It is the canning Bible!
Let jars cool on a folded towel
The finished products!
After the jars have rested for 24 hours, check the seal on each lid before storing by gently trying to lift with the edge of your fingernail. If any jar did not seal you can process it again, but you must empty and reheat the contents, put into a clean jar, use a new lid and reprocess in the hot water bath. If you don't want to do all of this you can immediately put the jar in the refrigerator to be eaten within the next couple of days.
The properly sealed jars can be stored unopened for up to one year. Keep in a cool, dry, dark place.
Label your finished jars
Label jars and remove bands for storage
Make sure you label your jars with the date and contents. Home canned products can be kept for up to one year, and even with just a few jars you can forget when they were made or what is in them. There are all types of decorative labels available--choose the kind that is best for your purposes, whether gift-giving or basic storage. Some come with permanent adhesive and others can be removed by dissolving in warm water if you want to reuse the jars.
Also, remove the bands while storing. Here are reasons why:
Bands may harbor moisture or food residue, leading to rust or mold, and could attract bugs and other critters.
Corroded bands may be difficult to remove.
Bands may give you the false impression that the lids are still sealed properly.
So unscrew the bands, wipe the lids and jars with a damp cloth, and dry thoroughly. Save the bands for re-use as long as they are free from rust.
Enjoy your pickles!
Have you done any home canning?
All photos by the author.