Pickling and Preserving for Dummies-How to Preserve Cucumbers Like a Pro
Making your Own Pickles Is Easy!
Let me start off by saying that I never thought I would learn to make pickles, not in a million years. Heck, I don't even like to eat pickles to be brutally honest! But when the cucumbers start sprawling, and spreading, and taking over the garden and producing unheard of quantities of produce, something must be done. They can't be left to rot after all! So, I started to pickle, because even if I don't like them my husband and other family members and friends do. Who doesn't love a jar of homemade pickles?
I love pickling because, while it is canning, because of the acidity of the vinegar you do not need a pressure cooker, just a pot big enough to give the jars a hot water bath. If you have extra produce, from cucumbers to asparagus (great on Bloody Mary's) pickling can be a great way to preserve those veggies rather than wasting them. Let's give it a try, shall we?
Step 1-Plan Your Garden
If you want to get serious about making your own pickles the first step is to plan a garden that will provide most of your pickling needs. Plant lots of cucumbers of course, but also be sure to plant plenty of dill weed (essential for tasty pickles), garlic, and peppers if you like spicy pickles. Some of my favorite peppers for pickling include Hungarian sweet peppers and the spicy Habanero. You can either buy pre-chopped garlic, or grow your own.
Step 2- Chop and Pack
So, your garden has produced a wealth of veggies and you are ready to start packing, congratulations! First, gather together all your goodies, you'll need:
- Cucumbers (about one per jar for the largeish ones)
- Dill Weed-Fresh
- Chopped Garlic
- Salt (Canning)
- White Vinegar (LOTS!)
- Peppers if you like spice
- Mustard Seed
- Large Pot (The kind with a rack is nice)
- Jar tongs (trust me you need these to pull jars out of boiling water)
- Jars of course (pint size)
- Fresh lids (to ensure sealing) and rings
Many canning kits have all sorts of other neat tools, but these are the basics.
Chop your cucumbers into whatever shape you desire, whether sandwich or or spear pickles, it doesn't matter. Pack the sterilized jar (boil in hot water) about halfway full of cucumbers and then layer in about 1/4 cup dill weed, 2 teaspoons whole mustard seed, and 3 tablespoons chopped garlic. Finish by packing cucumbers in the jar until they reach the neck, but no further, we need our brine to cover the pickles completely.
Step 3-Make the Brine
Now that your jars are packed with flavorful ingredients it's time to perfume your house with the smell of vinegar. Yum! To make the brine dump the following into a large pot:
- 10 cups water
- 4 cups vinegar
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup salt (canning)
Bring this mixture to a boil and then turn down heat. Using a ladle and your funnel spoon the brine into the jars almost to the top, leaving about 1/4 inch space of air. Gently place the lids on the jars and tighten the rings, but don't put them on with a death grip! Be gentle but firm.
Step 4-Hot Water Bath
To completely sterilize the jars and to help them seal we need to place the cucumber and brine filled puppies in a hot water bath. Fill a large pot about halfway full of water and bring to a boil. Remember, the weight and volume of the full jars will push the water up. Once the water is boiling place your jars in the pot, and make sure that they are completely covered with water. If you need more use a measuring cup to pour in more warm water. Leave the jars in boiling water for ten minutes. Once finished take out jars with jar tongs and set on a flat surface to cool and seal. You'll know the jars are sealing when you hear happy little popping sounds coming from the lids.
Making pickles is easy and fun, even this pickle hater doesn't mind doing it! Plus, pickles can be a part of a great gift basket, and who isn't looking for affordable yet meaningful gifts these days? Have fun pickling, experimenting, and if it's your thing, eating your very own pickles.