Broadly speaking, there are two main types of cucumbers: pickling cucumbers and slicing cucumbers.
Understanding Pickling versus Slicing Cucumbers
When we talk about “pickling,” we are referring to cucumbers that are primarily used for processing or pickling. These cucumbers have thin skins, are short and blocky, and typically have a color gradient from dark green at the stem end to light green at the blossom end[^1].
On the other hand, “slicing” cucumbers are sold fresh for immediate consumption, often as a salad item. They are characterized by thick, uniform, dark green skins and are longer than pickling cucumbers[^1].
The pickling cucumbers are mostly grown for canning purposes, while the slicing cucumbers are grown for fresh eating.
Slicing cucumbers, including English cucumbers, can be used for pickles, but they may result in a softer texture. However, slicing cucumbers can always be used in relishes without any hesitation, as the softness won’t matter as much in this case.
To achieve firmer pickles using slicing cucumbers, it is advisable to chill the cucumbers well before starting.
Pickling Cucumber Measurements
In general, there are around 6 to 7 pickling cucumbers per 500 g / 1 lb. Here are some measurements to keep in mind:
- 500 g (1 lb) pickling cucumbers = 1 x ½ litre (US pint) jar of pickles
- 4 kg pickling cucumbers = 9 x ½ litre (US pint) jar of pickles
- 6 ½ kg (14 lbs) of pickling cucumbers = 7 litre (US quart) jars of pickles
- 1 US bushel of pickling cucumbers = 21 kg (48 lbs)
For gherkins, look for pickling cucumbers that are about 4 cm (1 ½ inches) long. For dill pickles, opt for pickling cucumbers that are around 10 cm (3 inches) long. Larger or older pickling cucumbers are ideal for sliced pickle products, such as bread and butter, dill pickle slices, and relishes[^1][^5].
Trim the Ends Off Cucumbers
Leaving the blossom end on your cucumbers can result in undesirably soft pickles. The blossom end contains enzymes that can cause softening, so it’s best to remove at least 1/16th inch from that end[^2].
It’s important to note that controlling enzymes in cucumbers can be challenging. Natural enzymes in some foods, especially cucumbers, are particularly resistant. When making pickles, the heat resistance of enzymes becomes as crucial as the heat resistance of bacteria, molds, and yeasts. This resistance can be controlled through the heat of the processing bath and the acidity of the vinegar-loaded pickling solution[^3].
You can easily identify the blossom end by looking for the opposite end from where the stem was. To simplify the process, many canning recipes recommend trimming a bit off each end of the cucumber instead of distinguishing the specific end.
If you do trim the ends, the experts at the USDA and its university extensions suggest that you usually won’t need to employ any old tricks, such as adding a grape leaf. Chilling the cucumbers beforehand is usually sufficient. However, some suggest considering the addition of Pickle Crisp® (also known as Calcium Chloride) to the jars[^2].
Avoid Waxed Cucumbers
It is generally recommended to avoid cucumbers with waxed skin when making pickles. The wax on the skin can interfere with the brine’s penetration and affect the safety of your cucumber pickles[^6].
That being said, waxed cucumbers can still be used in recipes that call for peeled cucumbers since the presence of wax doesn’t matter in such cases[^6].
Large field cucumbers (as opposed to small pickling cucumbers) are often sold with waxed skin to extend their shelf life. However, English cucumbers are typically sold shrink-wrapped in plastic. Therefore, more conservative recipe writers may specify using English cucumbers to ensure no interference from wax. The pickling liquid cannot penetrate the wax on field cucumbers[^4].
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[^1]: Schultheis, Jonathan et al. Commercial Production of Pickling and Slicing Cucumbers in North Carolina. NC Cooperative Extension Resources. Nov 2014 revision.
[^2]: Penn State Extension. Crispy Pickles. Blog Posting 19 July 2012. Accessed December 2015.
[^3]: Hertzberg, Ruth; Greene, Janet; Vaughan, Beatrice (2010-05-25). Putting Food By: Fifth Edition (p. 4). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
[^4]: Kingry, Judi and Lauren Devine. Side note to Chow-Chow Relish Recipe. In: Bernardin Complete Book of Home Preserving. Toronto, Canada: Robert Rose Inc. 2015. Page 221.
[^5]: United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Complete guide to home canning. Agriculture information bulletin No. 539. 2015. Page 6-5.
[^6]: Adapted from Healthy Canning.