Making pickles from cucumbers is a personal favorite of mine when it comes to food preservation. To ensure a year’s supply of pickles, I cultivate approximately six plants of a pickling variety and half as many hybrid slicers. Growing cucumbers vertically on a trellis increases productivity and facilitates easier harvesting. The upright growth also helps maintain straight fruits, making cleaning and slicing them a breeze.
Once the cucumbers are ready, I store them in the refrigerator until I have enough for a batch of pickles. While scrubbing the bumpy fruits to remove dirt, I decide how to cut them. I usually slice them into flat coins as they work well in sandwiches, but you can opt for different sizes, spears, or even leave them whole. Thicker slices tend to stay crisp better than very thin ones, although paper-thin bread and butter pickles with thin slices of onion are hard to resist.
Following a recipe is crucial, as it provides the right balance of vinegar, sugar, and salt, ensuring the brine achieves the desired level of acidity and flavor. For beginners, bread-and-butter pickles are an excellent choice as they consistently turn out well. Alternatively, you can experiment with various sour pickles, including fermented ones. Traditional salt-brined pickles are fantastic, but they require more time and effort compared to other types.
Some recipes suggest placing the cucumbers in the simmering brine before filling hot jars, but I prefer to pack sterilized jars with cold slices as they are easier to handle. To prevent the slices from floating after sealing the jars, I firmly press the pickles down using my fingers and fist, removing any large air bubbles with a table knife. This is not feasible with boiling hot cucumber slices!
I fill the jars with cold cucumbers, and the hot brine doesn’t heat them up significantly. To avoid cracking the canning jars, I gradually raise the temperature by placing them in a sub-boiling water bath canner. Rushing this process can lead to jar breakage, so caution is necessary.
Follow the instructions in your recipe for sealing the jars, typically involving about 15 minutes of processing in a water bath canner. The cooled pickles can be stored for over a year, although their quality may diminish slightly after that period. However, during the first few months, the flavors meld together, transforming ordinary cucumbers into delicious homemade pickles.
Unless I’m giving them as gifts, I don’t usually label my pickles as labels can be challenging to remove. Instead, I write the type of pickle and the date on the canning lid and then move the pickles to their designated storage area in the basement. Who would like some pickles?