The Ideal Time for Pickling
If you’re looking to preserve the delightful freshness of cucumbers long after their season has ended, late August to late October is the perfect time to start pickling. As nature blesses us with a bountiful harvest of cucumbers and other vegetables during this period, it’s the ideal opportunity to prepare for the long winter months. Keep in mind that this traditional pickling method is best suited for winter enjoyment, rather than for immediate consumption.
Choosing the Right Cucumbers
Different cucumber varieties yield different results when pickled. Consider the following options:
- Kirby cucumbers: These small cucumbers with bumpy skin and firm flesh are quite popular in Farmer’s Markets.
- Gherkins or cornichons: Another small cucumber variety that’s perfect for pickling. These are considered the best cucumbers for pickling.
- Garden cucumbers: The most common cucumbers found in North America. They have thick skin and lots of seeds. They can be used for quick pickling if you peel and seed them.
- Lemon cucumbers: These cucumbers resemble lemons and offer a sweeter taste. They are delicious both in salads and when pickled.
It’s important to note that English cucumbers are not recommended for winter pickles, as they tend to become softer the longer they stay in the jar. However, they can be used for pickles in the summer, especially for refrigerator pickling.
Pickling Methods: Vinegar vs. Brine
When it comes to pickling cucumbers, there are two main methods: vinegar and brine. In the United States, vinegar is the preferred choice, while Eastern Europe tends to lean towards fermenting cucumbers in brine. The popularity of the brine method stems from the long-standing belief that fermented foods offer various health benefits.
Both summer and winter pickling recipes exist. Summer recipes are typically made for immediate consumption and are often prepared in the sun. Winter pickling, on the other hand, was traditionally done to store food for the colder months.
Today, I’ll be sharing my family’s pickle recipe, which is perfect for keeping pickles delicious for an extended period. It’s important to note that this recipe is not for quick pickles or refrigerator pickles.
Ingredients for Pickling with Vinegar, Salt, and Sugar
Here’s the perfect formula for pickling using vinegar, salt, and sugar:
- Cucumbers (4-6 inches, 4 pounds): Choose firm and fresh cucumbers, preferably pickling cucumbers such as Kirby cucumbers, Gherkins, or Cornichons.
- Garlic (1 head): Adds depth of flavor (optional).
- Plain vinegar (5% acidity, 1 gallon): Preserves the cucumbers and provides the characteristic tang. Distilled white vinegar or white wine vinegar are recommended.
- Canning/pickling salt (4 tablespoons): Flavors and preserves the cucumbers. Avoid iodized table salt and opt for pickling or canning salt instead.
- Granulated sugar (2 tablespoons): Balances the acidity of the vinegar.
- Bay leaves (5-6): Provides subtle herbal notes.
- Dried thyme (1 teaspoon): Adds an earthy, slightly minty flavor.
- Dried dill or whole dill stems with umbels and green seeds (6 teaspoons): Gives a distinct flavor.
- Mustard seeds (1 tablespoon): Contributes a spicy kick.
- Black peppercorns (1-2 tablespoons): Adds a hint of heat.
- Horseradish root (1, cleaned and sliced into strips): Imparts a potent, spicy flavor.
How to Make Pickles
Step 1. Start with the jars.
Thoroughly wash your jars with warm, soapy water or run them through the dishwasher. Afterward, sterilize them to ensure safe canning. Wide-mouth quart jars are recommended for easy cucumber placement. Sterilize the lids separately by cleaning them with warm, soapy water, drying them completely, and then immersing them in boiling water for the final two minutes. Replace any lids that are aged or rusted.
Step 2. Prepare the cucumbers.
Choose high-quality cucumbers without any blemishes or spots. Wash them thoroughly under running water, using a brush if needed. If the cucumbers are too curved to fit comfortably in the jar, cut them lengthwise.
Step 3. Pack the jars with cucumbers and other ingredients.
Fill the jars with cucumbers, garlic cloves, black peppercorns, dried dill, and slices of horseradish. Place 1-2 pieces of horseradish on top.
Step 4. Prepare the pickling mixture.
In a large pot, bring the vinegar, salt, and sugar to a boil. Add bay leaves, thyme, and mustard seeds to the mixture. Reduce the heat and let it simmer for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the stove and let the liquid rest for 5-10 minutes.
Step 5. Fill the jars with the pickling mixture.
Place the jars on a metal tray to ensure even heat distribution, preventing thermal shock that may cause the jars to crack. Using a ladle, slowly pour the hot pickling mixture into the jars, fully immersing the cucumbers.
Close the jars tightly and store them in a cool place where the temperature remains above freezing. This will prevent fermentation, ensuring your cucumbers stay crunchy and delicious throughout the winter.
After a month or two, open the first jar of pickles and enjoy them throughout the winter season. They pair perfectly with stews, soups, roasted meats, beans, or potatoes. You can also gift these beautifully colorful jars of pickled cucumbers to family and friends during the holiday season. Once opened, the pickles will last about 2-4 months in the refrigerator.
Note: These pickles are not for immediate consumption or quick pickling. They are specifically designed to be enjoyed during the winter months. Avoid reusing pickle juice for new pickles and always use freshly made brine for canning fresh cucumbers.
More Pickle Recipes to Love
Did you know that you can pickle other vegetables too? Here’s a list of my favorite recipes:
Preserving the bounty of summer and enjoying pickled cucumbers during the cold winter months is a cherished tradition. With this easy and delicious family recipe, you can savor the crisp and tart flavor of homemade pickles. Remember to use quality ingredients, follow the pickling process carefully, and store your pickles properly. Get ready to enhance your winter meals with these delightful pickled cucumbers!