If you are new to home canning, one of the easiest canning projects you can start with is pickles. Yes, whether you like sour dill or sweet bread ‘n butter, pickles are the perfect gateway into canning.
Pickles are high in acid. Because of the acidity, it is very hard for bacteria to grow. In home canning, bacteria is one of the biggest threats to preserved foods. With pickles, as long as you follow the instructions for canning in a water bath, and your jars seal up, you will be successful.
Once you get a good sealed batch of jars under your belt and you see how easy, fun and rewarding canning your own foods at home can be, you will want to branch out and do more. The experience of canning those pickles will serve as the foundation for your new found hobby.
How are pickles made?
Pickles are so easy to make. You simply wash and prepare your cucumbers. (You can make pickles out of many different vegetables. We will talk about that later.) You can slice them lengthwise like spears, or slice them in disks if you are going to put them on sandwiches. The trick is a good uniform thickness to all of your slices. If you are doing a lot of cucumbers, I recommend picking up an electric vegetable slicer. You can check the pricing on Amazon. This will save you a LOT of time and give you an even slice every time. Next, pack them into your canning jars. Make sure you are using canning jars. You never want to use or re use leftover jars from store bought pickles for canning. Once packed and our spices are added to the jar, a solution of boiling water and vinegar is poured into the jars and the lids are attached.
From there the jars are placed into a water bath canner and processed in boiling water. If you do not have a water bath canner, they are available on Amazon. This is one of my favorites. Once processed, Remove from the boiling water and allow to sit until the jars seal. There will be an audible pop heard as the heated liquid inside the jars cools and the pressure outside becomes greater than the pressure inside. This is what keeps your pickles fresh.
What is pickling spice?
A lot of the recipes that you see will call for pickling spice. You can buy it in stores. McCormick’s, one of the largest spice companies, sells it as do other brands. Pickling spice isn’t like oregano or basil. It doesn’t grow on a little bush or shrub, at least not all together. Pickling spice is a mixture of spices that are added to pickling recipes, kind of like pumpkin spice, except you wouldn’t want to have a pickle spice cappuccino. Pickling spice usually consists of:
- Mustard seed
- Black Pepper
- Bay Leaves
It is really a mishmosh of everything in the spice drawer. There is no real steadfast rule on pickling spice. The nice thing about pickles is it allows you to experiment a little bit. If you like a spicier pickle, add some more chili powder. If you like it a bit sweeter, put in some more sugar. Pickle recipes can be played with. Take notes so that when you find your perfect blend, you can mix up your own pickling spice and have it ready for your next batch.
Do I have to can my pickles?
Yes and no. If you are looking at preserving pickles for more than a week or so, you need to can them. And by can them, I mean process them in a water bath. There is a method out there called inversion canning where you do not need to process the jars in boiling water. This process does not form a tight enough seal for long term preservation of your pickles and may not kill all of the bacteria in your foods. It is better to can in a water bath to be safe.
On the no side, there are whats referred to as refrigerator pickles. These pickles are made just like regular pickles except they are not processed in a water bath. Refrigerator pickles are, as the name implies, kept in the refrigerator. They will keep for a couple of months, but will start to lose their crunch the longer they sit.
Can you make pickles without dill?
Sure. They won’t be dill pickles, but you can certainly omit the dill if you would like. A lot of time you will find Dill and cucumbers planted closely in the garden. This is because the smell of the dill attracts predators that feed on insects that would harm the vegetable plants. The also make great companions in pickle jars. The taste of a cold, crisp dill pickle with a Reuben sandwich is one of my favorites. But, just because they are good together, doesn’t mean they have to stay together. My mother makes the absolute best sweet Bread ‘n Butter pickles on the planet. They are the best on a peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwich (don’t judge me). Maybe someday I will be able to wrestle that recipe from her, but in the meantime, you could try these:
Bread ‘N Butter Pickles
Makes 3 Quarts
15 cups sliced pickling cucumbers
3 medium onions, sliced
¼ cup pickling salt (Using regular salt will make your pickle brine cloudy)
2 ½ cups cider vinegar
2 ½ cups sugar
¾ tsp turmeric
½ tsp celery seed
1 Tbs mustard seeds
Combine cucumbers, onions, salt large bowl and Mix well. Allow to stand 3 hours. Rinse and drain thoroughly. Next, combine vinegar, sugar, turmeric, celery seed and mustard seed in a large pot over medium low heat. Slowly bring the heat up in the liquid, but do not allow it to boil. While heating the liquid and spices, pack cucumbers and onions in sterilized canning jars. Do not pack too tightly. You want the vinegar mixture to be able to flow around all of the cucumbers. Once liquid is ready, pour over cucumbers in jars. Use a canning funnel to minimize spillage. Place lids and rings on jars and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.
Can I substitute Cider Vinegar?
Absolutely! A lot of the recipes you will see call for white vinegar. White Vinegar is a clear colorless vinegar made from grains. Cider Vinegar comes from apples. The fruitiness of the cider flavor compliments many of flavors of the spices that are used in pickling. Using cider vinegar in your recipe may give it an unexpected pop of flavor.
How soon can I eat my pickles after I can them?
The brine or juice of the pickles needs time to permeate through all the flesh of the cucumbers. This is why it is important to get a nice uniform slice on all your cucumbers. Once it has saturated the cucumbers, they will be good to eat. Refrigerator pickles usually need to sit about four days before they are ready (I can never wait that long) A good jar of pickles should sit for about a month before you tear into it. Good luck with that.
Can pickles go bad?
Just because they are easy to make and beginners shouldn’t have any issues with them, home canned pickles can and do go bad. If the seal never takes and you don’t notice it, your food could spoil. Typically under the right conditions a jar of canned food should last between 12 and eighteen months before the quality of the food begins to deteriorate Notice I didn’t say go bad. You can still eat canned food for a long time, several years even after it was first canned, but the product quality may not be as good.
If you want to know if your pickles have gone bad, be on the lookout for the following:
Mold on top when opened,
A funny or peculiar smell
The rule of thumb I use when it comes to canned goods it: “When in doubt, toss it out” You can never be too careful. Botulism can kill you, after all.
What’s the difference between Pickles and Gherkins?
Pickles can be made from any number of vegetables. Carrots, Cauliflower, any number of pepper hot or sweet, onions, garlic, onions, and the list goes on. Gherkins refers only to pickled cucumbers. And in some parts of Europe, only small whole cucumbers. The pickling process it the same for just about any variety of pickle you choose to make, Pickle or Gherkin.
Where do pickles come from?
Pickles have been around since about 2000 BC. That’s almost 4000 years! The Bible and Egyptian hieroglyphics has references to the humble pickle. Cleopatra guarded the pickle as one of her greatest beauty secrets. The word pickle comes from the dutch word pekel which means salt or brine. Pickles were one of the earliest mobile foods allowing sailors and travelers to take a source of food with them wherever they went. They were one of the first foods preserved for long term storage.
So. If you are thinking of trying your hand at canning(there’s no good reason why you shouldn’t) then give pickles a go. They are easy to make. Hard to screw up and really tasty. I think they are even more tasty when you make and can them yourself. If this post inspired you to give it a go, I would love to hear from you! Feel free to leave a comment in the section below.