Last year I planted regular cucumbers, and my daughter and I decided to try our hand at making pickles. We tried several recipes, and the results were okay but not fantastic. The pickles were kind of… flabby.
This year I planted pickling cucumbers, and they came in last month with the idea to outstrip even the zucchini plant. Trying to find the cucumbers which were cleverly hidden and camouflaged, before they grew too long, became a game. When we had enough, we made pickles. I wanted a recipe that didn’t have too much garlic, and used cider vinegar, which is healthier than white distilled (grain) vinegar. Most recipes called for white wine vinegar, but that was very hard to find and only sold in small expensive bottles. Red wine vinegar, however, I could find in a gallon, but it would have discolored the pickles to an unappetizing greyish red, and just wouldn’t have had the right flavor. Cider vinegar was inexpensive, easy to find and has the ‘mother’ in it, which is that strandy thing that is suspended in the bottle. That is live yeasty stuff that makes the vinegar what it is, and what makes it more healthy. You should use vinegar that has at least 8% acidity, to keep the pickles from spoiling. Also make sure all the cucumbers are covered with brine or they’ll spoil, especially after opening the jar.
Pickling cucumbers make all the difference. They are smaller at maturity and don’t have as many seeds, and are more crisp. Recipes wanted the cucumbers to be pickled within 24 hours of being picked. You’d have to have twenty plants to have enough cucumbers to pickle in quantity all at once, and then you’d be pickling twice a week. I kept ours in the refrigerator until we had enough, with some loss of crispness but that couldn’t be avoided. I had planted some dill, but not enough and not early enough for the recipe. It calls for the seed head, but I used dried dill instead since mine weren’t in bloom yet. We also put a grape leaf at the bottom of each jar because the tannin is supposed to help keep the pickles crisp. Many old fashioned recipes call for the addition of alum for that purpose; aluminum has been linked to Alzheimer’s, so finding and adding alum is a personal choice. I learned that you must cut off the blossom end of the cucumber because it has enzymes that will cause the cucumber to rot. That is nature’s way of making sure the seeds are dispersed, but doesn’t help with pickling. Larger cucumbers should be cut into disks or slices and pickled. If the cucumbers are yellowish and seedy, don’t pickle them. They are too old.
Use wide-mouth jars if you have them. I don’t, and stuffing the cucumbers into the jar would have been a lot easier if I had.
No recipes tell you when you they are done. I read where a ‘freshly’ canned food was put up in the last two years. We tried ours after 5 weeks and they were very good.
The origins of this recipe is the Ortho Complete Book of Canning, but I have tweaked it. I hope you like it: many happy pickles to you.
- 3 quarts water
- 1 quart cider vinegar
- ½ cup pickling salt
- 1 fresh grape leaf per quart (optional)
- 1 head fresh dill per quart, or ½ teaspoon dried dill weed each quart
- ½ teaspoon mixed pickling spice per quart
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and halved, per quart
- 5 pounds small pickling cucumbers less than 4 inches long, washed and blossom ends removed
- 4-7 quart wide-mouth canning jars and lids, sterilized and kept hot
- Combine water, vinegar and salt in a pot and allow to simmer
- Place grape leaves, dill, garlic and pickling spice in the bottom of each clean, hot quart jar
- Pack in cucumbers without breaking or bruising them. (It is best to do one jar at a time so that jars and contents remain hot)
- Pour simmering vinegar solution over cucumbers, leaving ½ inch headspace from top of jar; run a spatula around the inside to release air.
- Wipe mouths of jars and seal with lids.
- Process in boiling water bath with water an inch over the jars, for twenty minutes
- Cool, label and store the jars in a dark place.
- Yields about 4 quarts, although we made 7.
- Try after five weeks and store in refrigerator after opening.