From Garden to Jar: The Art of Canning Pickles

By: Kathy Gaudry

If you’ve ever opened a jar of homemade dill pickles or Bread and Butter pickles, chances are you’ve been impressed by their distinctive flavor and crunch. But did you know it’s easy to start canning pickles at home? For centuries, canning has been a way to preserve and store food. Home canning is a great way to save money and enjoy the taste of fresh-picked cucumbers without having to go out and buy them from the store. The process doesn’t have to be complicated. Let’s look at how you can create your own pickles in no time!

Canning Pickles

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The Basics of Home Canning

Home canning is the process of preserving food in special jars that have been heated and sealed in order to preserve nutrients, vitamins, and flavors. For pickles, you will need heat-proof jars, a boiling water bath canner with an interior jar lifter, a ladle, measuring spoons, a wide-mouthed funnel, and a vinyl-coated jar lifter. Another tool that is really handy is a magnetic lid lifter.

Choosing Your Pickles

Pickling Cucumber
Ideal size for pickling cucumber

Any cucumber variety will work for making pickles, but some varieties are better for pickling if you can find or grow them. Some people really like the medium to small Kirby cukes. Other favored varieties are Pickalot, National Pickling cucumbers, Wealthy, Sassy, Jackson, Homemade Pickling, Eureka, Calypso, Adam Gerkin, and Boston Pickling cucumbers.

Avoid using English cucumbers or many of the regular garden variety cucumbers. Their moisture content is higher and your cucumbers will tend to be a bit mushy.

The best pickles for canning are firm cucumbers that have not begun to soften yet. You should also avoid any cucumbers with soft spots or blemishes, as they won’t last as long in your pantry.

Garden Cucumbers

Garden Cucumbers
Save the smaller ones for dills and bread and butters. Chop the larger ones for relishes.

A fun way to start is by growing your own cucumbers in a garden; if you don’t have room for one, you can often find local farmers who sell cucumbers perfect for canning. Whether you go the farmer’s market or gardening route, make sure you choose cucumbers that are under 4 inches long — anything larger won’t fit into the jar. Shorter cukes tend to be easier to can.

Varieties of Pickles

There are many types of pickles and even more recipes for each type. Although there are usually a number of herbs and spices in each recipe, every type of pickle has a predominant taste. Pickles can be broken down into two types: sweet and sour.

Some types of sweet pickles are Bread and Butter pickles or Sweet Pickle Spears. Sweet pickles use quite a bit of sugar in their brines.

Sour pickles tend to be the most popular, and a good example is Dill Pickles, obviously named for their primary herb, fresh dill.

Other Ingredients

Canning Pickles

The other ingredients depend upon the type of pickle you are going to make. Typically for the sour pickles, when canning dill pickles, you might need fresh dill, vinegar, salt, garlic cloves, and alum. For sweet pickles, you might need apple cider vinegar, alum, dill seed, mustard seed, celery seed, or turmeric. It all depends upon your recipe, so read it carefully and have all ingredients ready when you begin canning pickles.

Making Pickles at Home

When it comes to making pickles, there are a few steps you need to take before you can start enjoying them. First, select a quality cucumber variety that will hold up well during the canning process.

Sterilize Your Canning Jars in Preparation

Mason Jar

Have your Mason canning jars (sterilized), lids, and screw rings available. You can use any size of jar for this: 1 cup jars, pint jars, or quart jars for canning. The size of the canning jar you use should depend upon the size of your family and how fast they will eat the pickles.

It is not advisable to use jelly or other types of commercial jars for canning. Use the standard Mason jars. Make sure they are free from any chips or cracks before you use them.

Cut Your Cucumbers

Cut Cucumbers

Cut your cucumbers in the appropriate shapes: crosswise for bread and butter pickles and vertically for dills.

Prepare Your Brine

Canning Pickles

Next, prepare your hot brine solution (which usually consists of vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and spices) by boiling it on the stovetop until all the ingredients have dissolved. For crunchiness, use an old-fashioned solution: put about one-fourth teaspoon of alum in your brine. Surprisingly, it makes a significant difference in the crunch factor.

Heat Empty Jars and Lids

Put your empty, sterilized canning jars and the loose lids into a hot water bath to make sure everything is hot and ready for your raw cucumbers.

Fill Your Hot Jars

Remove the hot jars, one at a time, and fill them with your cut cucumber slices or spears. Pour the cooled brine over them until they are completely submerged. Seal them with the hot lid and ring, then place them in boiling water for 10 minutes. (Depending upon your altitude, you may have to adjust the number of minutes you leave them in the boiling water bath canner.) Turn off the heat and leave the jars in the hot water, cooling down, for about another 10 minutes.

Remove Jars from Water Bath Canner

Then remove each of the jars from its water bath using tongs, place them on a towel and allow them to cool down to room temperature. Do not touch the caps for the vacuum is being created. A real joy at this point is to hear a simple pop when the vacuum is set. Leave the jars on your counter, untouched, for about another 24 hours.

Let Jars Sit A While

Canning Pickles

After the jars have been sitting for a day, clean the outsides of the jars and label the contents and date made on each jar. HINT: The water-soluble labels are terrific to use.

If you can wait, you will see the best flavors from your pickles after about six weeks of sitting on your shelf. When you open a jar, check to ensure everything looks right. If you see any problems at all with the contents, throw them out. Never eat anything questionable. If you carefully follow canning directions, however, you should have no problems.

Enjoying Those Homemade Pickles

Canned pickles may seem like an intimidating task but it doesn’t need to be. Canned pickles are an easy way to bring delicious flavor into your home. With just some basic supplies like Mason jars and vinegar, along with fresh cucumbers and fresh dill from either your garden or local farmers market, anyone can whip up some delicious homemade pickles in no time.

Plus, once sealed correctly in their jars, they’ll last up to six months, so there’s always something crunchy ready when those cravings hit. What’s more, home canning is a great way to save money on groceries while still providing nutrient-rich snacks for yourself or your family. So why not give canning pickles a try? You never know what delicious recipes you could come up with using just some simple ingredients. Happy canning!

Sources of Good, Safe Recipes

Kathy Gaudry

About The Author

Kathy Gaudry is a retired book publisher who has lived on acreage for the past 35 years. She now writes a blog, Profitable Small Farm, to help people learn how to make their land pay them. 

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