Country Living Series

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Canning pickles. Sort of.

About a week ago, an early frost killed my garden. No surprise there. This is north Idaho, after all. (And it's supposed to hit 90F this weekend, go figure.)

Anyway, down went my cucumbers.

Nothing for it except to pick the remaining cukes and do something with them. I also picked the fresh dill that hadn't gone to seed.

Now what should I do with them? I decided to try something I'd never done before: make pickles. Yes, really. Twenty-two years of canning experience, and I've never made pickles. We don't eat a lot of them, so it's just never been something I'd felt pressed to learn.

Since these cukes were too big for nice tidy little dill pickles, I decided to try modified bread-and-butter pickles, combining instructions from both bread-and-butter pickles and dill pickles found in the Ball Blue Book.

Pretty much what this meant is I used the dill pickle recipe, but I also sliced the cucumbers as if they were getting turned into bread-and-butter pickles. Well, why not? I was curious to see what would happen.

First I weighed the cucumbers.

About 13 pounds. This let me calculate the amount of vinegar, spices, etc. I'd need.

I assembled the ingredients I needed. I had to go buy pickling spice, as I didn't have any on hand.

Next I washed the cucumbers...

...then started slicing.

I discarded the tips, of course.

Into a large pot (nested double-boiler style), I put the sugar, canning salt, vinegar, water, and the cucumber slices.

I learned the pickling spices aren't supposed to be added directly, but instead tied into a cloth and boiled with the cucumbers.

I simmered everything for fifteen minutes, then started ladling the cucumbers (which had sort of fallen apart by this stage) into jars.

I ended up with eight quarts, so I divvied up the dill into eight piles...

...then inserted the sprigs in the top of each jar.

Then I filled the rest of the jar with the vinegar-water.

I processed them in a water-bath for fifteen minutes.

Did they turn out? I have no idea -- we haven't tried them yet. Since the cucumber slices were fairly large and loose, the contents look more like a dill chutney. Sort of.

But what the heck, it was an experiment.


  1. I don't care what anyone says - good pickles are an art form. The wife and I, who have plenty of canning experience, have never been able to make a good batch of cucumber pickles. If you get good flavor out of this batch, I'd love to know what your calculations were, so that my wife and I can try to duplicate it.

  2. My mother used to can pickles. The sweet ones were a lot of work curing in a brine in crock jars in the basement for a long time before canning. The dill pickles were much easier. We sliced them and, I'm sure, we packed the raw slices in the jars, topped with dill and poured in the brine, then processed them. Its probably been 60 years ago but I remember they were great on hamburgers.

  3. Your right about the art form. My aunt made the most delicious dill pickles. Firm and crisp. We tried for years using the same recipe and got only limp, mushy pickles. They tasted good, but not the same. No amount of coaching worked. Must have been the water. We love your experiments and can't wait for taste test.

  4. Oh my. I don't know how these will work out for you, and you have to wait 8 weeks to find out, but...

    You don't cook the cukes. You cold pack them. Preferably after letting them sit in ice water for a couple of hours. This is what makes them crispy.

    This is the recipe I use, if you're interested,

  5. I'm the only pickle eating in our family so I have never canned pickles. It doesn't seem worth it just for me. I hope the experiment works. I never thought about a small batch or slicing larger cucumbers. Interested in the outcome.

  6. I feel like I've done nothing all summer except make pickles. I've made them sweet, dill, and chopped as relish, without calcium chloride (they are soft that way), with calcium chloride (I don't like the taste near as much, but they do stay crunchy), and I've made at least 6 batches of refrigerator pickles, which are both delicious and crunchy. You just have to have space in the fridge for a gallon size glass jar... I am Pickle Queen... lol
    Xa Lynn

  7. Congrats to you for giving this a try and WASTING NOTHING!

    I have a PERFECT recipe for pickles using the large cucumbers that most people throw away. Unfortunately, it's at home and I am not. Please check back in a couple of days.

    The pickles are called "Cinnamon Stick Pickles" and they're fantastic! My bro can eat a jar in one sitting - he LOVES them. I love the ease of choosing his Christmas gift! :)


  8. Hope yours are delicious! I love dill pickle relish, anyway - it's awesome on hot dogs as an alternative to sweet relish (with spicy brown mustard, yum yum). It also adds a great zip to tuna salad or chicken salad.

  9. Pickles are the only thing I can regularly - I take the easy way out and use Mrs Wages pickle mix (when I can find it - its getting rare and expensive!).
    I tend to use zucchini instead of cucumbers because people keep giving it to me; I find its a simple substitution with no recipe changes.

  10. I am with Wendy and Jonathan on this. We don't cook the cukes and use Mrs. Wages. It is getting more expensive. We find it at both our large grocery chains and Tractor Supply.


  11. Cucumbers are way too finicky to grow. I tried it twice when still in cali and the cukes were tough and bitter even though I kept them well watered. However, like Jonathan, this year I pickled and canned zucchini after my neighbor did it the last two years and gave us some. We have not eaten any yet but I am interested to see how they came out. I did both dill and sweet, but I did not use any "pickling spices" because I cannot stand the flavor of any of them. The other kind of pickles I like to make are ones pickled on my countertop with nothing but Celtic Sea Salt, water and maybe some caraway seed and garlic cloves. These go into the fridge to be eaten as soon as they are done fermenting in 3-4 days. These are yummy.

  12. about twenty or so years ago i tried canning pickles and whooee those things were nasty...more like aunt bea of mayberry rfd kerosene pickles. thank goodness no one around here but me likes pickles so i get out of that canning job. i received a new cookbook today that tells all there is to know about it is a recipe for fried cucumbers..i figure if i take to trying this recipe i sure enough could not fail at it like i do with pickle making.

  13. when we get a bunch of chucumbers, we make relish. It is a sweet relish with some green and red peppers, spices, etc. My recipe came out of a Kerr book. Once you have it, you will never eat store bought relish again. We also put it in potato salad, tuna salad, etc. Just a thought!

  14. There have been occasions when I had more mature cucumbers that needed processing, and I made "Dill Pickle-O's" with them by a similar process as you did in your experiment. However, I cut them about 1/2" thick and cored out the seeds using an apple corer, as the seeds just aren't very nice pickled. Otherwise, the recipe is the same.

    The ones you have pictured above look like they would go nice on sandwiches. I bet they would go good as a topping on stir-fry as well. Yum!

  15. Perfect timing, Patrice. I'm interested in pickling recipes just now.

    I had about 70 lbs. of onions,squash and beets turn up on my porch yesterday, courtesy of my hard core gardener neighbor downriver. He says there's more coming this weekend. Uh..Gee....that's kind of I'd best be in the kitchen instead of sitting here at the computer, huh? lol

    I put four+ quarts of blanched tops and buds in the deep-freeze and made five quarts of garlic-pickled beets, three with onion, carrots. The two without will go to the parents, per their preferred Christmas gift wish list, the rest will go to back to our neighbor. The remaining beets I'll pickle and keep, probably 3 pints worth.

    There were two or three different kinds of beets, including one that's so gorgeously golden and colorful looking that I actually tasted one once...long ago. Trust me. It's a beet. But the tops are outstanding. The goldens had begun to go to seed and had half-formed flower buds that are delicious, cooked or fresh. Possibly even better than broccoli flowers, my here-to-fore hands-down favorite. lol

    Today I'll be working on some 'skwarsh.' lol I'll make some breads and such to put in the freezer. I try to design the recipes to be the perfect hand-to-mouth food: put it in your hand, hit the road/trail/water and eat it, with each handful providing a meal's worth of protein, carbohydrates, fiber and tastiness. It needs to be suitable for saddle bags, pockets, purses, bicycles, trail packs and guitar cases. lol

    BTW, I think a good source of reasonably priced canning spices and supplies is Azure Farms. I really like them. ( or 541-467-2230)I get my baking supplies and spices (and a lot more) in bulk and usually at better prices than anywhere else. It keeps us out of the supermarket a bunch. Last fall I bought 5 lb of wild rice for 10 bucks from them, only to find it for 14.95 a pound at the supermarket. Imagine that. (And they were sold out! LOL!) Note, I buy the broken pieces, as opposed to the firsts, because for truly traditional use the seeds (and yes it's actually a marsh grass seed) are often gently pounded to break them down a bit to shorten the required cooking time. So it's a win win for me.

    We meet the truck on the first Tuesday afternoon of each month at a local church parking lot and we help each other load and go our ways. It's great.

    OK. This concludes today's very long post. Back to the kitchen. There's messes to make and pickles to build.

    Thanks, as always, Patrice.

    A. McSp

  16. I don't understand why you boiled the cucumbers in the vinegar and water. That's not what the recipe says to do.

  17. The biggest trick to pretty, crispy pickles is soaking in pickling lime. Honestly, I like the mushy ones better.

  18. Alas, I also don't make pickles. Soft, mushy and downright horrible. Therefore, I no longer grow cukes. But, I do make pickled okra. My husband and our nephews love it. Makes Christmas gifts very easy!

  19. Patrice,

    I know you made Dill pickles out of the large cukes, but if you like sweet, here's a fantastic recipe that I GUARANTEE you'll love. I call them Mrs. Gates's Cinnamon Stick Pickles.

    Please let me interject this note:
    We adopted Mrs. Edith Gates and her husband, Leslie, as our "adopted grandparents", as our real g'parents lived 700+ miles away. They owned a home in Hopkinton, Iowa that used to be a stage coach inn and furnished the home with genuine antiques of that era.

    My family would visit about once a month, catch rainbow trout from their spring-fed creek and pick fresh watercress for a salad. Mom fried the fish and a huge pan of potatoes. Mrs. Gates always supplied plenty of cinnamon-stick pickles and her homemade watercress salad dressing.

    She was one of the finest ladies I've ever known, giving of her time to her church and the town's historical society. She carried more food to neighbors and sick folks than most people cook for themselves. She truly lived as a Christian lady.

    Here's Mrs. Gates's pickle recipe:

    Use the cucumbers that most people throw away. (I've even used watermelon rind.) Peel the cukes, cut in half lengthwise, and use a spoon to remove the seeds. Cut the cukes crossways - in half, and then into spears, with the thickest part about a half inch thick.

    Measure about 7 lbs of cuke sticks. Put sticks in non-metalic crock. Mix 2 gallons of water and 2 cups of pickling lime. Pour over cuke sticks and weigh down so all the sticks are under the water.
    Let stand 24 hours.

    After 24 hours, drain the water off carefully, as the sticks will be really crisp. Wash several times in clear water. I fill both sinks with water, place the sticks in one sink, swish the water around, then carefully lift the sticks out of that water and into the other sink-full of clear water. Rinse in at least 3-4 washes.

    Fill one more sink with cold water and add 1 TBSP alum. Add pickles and let soak for 3 hours. Drain and rinse pickles. Place them in a large enamel-coated pot.

    6 cups apple cider vinegar
    9 cups sugar (I often use 8 and do well)
    6 sticks cinnamon
    1 tsp whole cloves
    1 tsp celery seed
    1 tsp allspice

    Make syrup and boil for 5 minutes. Pour over cukes and let sit for 24 hours.

    After 24 hours, simmer all for 40 minute. Using tongs, pack cukes in sterilized jars, standing the sticks upright in the jars. (I lay the jar on its side to make it easy-squeezy.)

    Add a cinnamon stick to each jar. Ladle syrup to 1/4" and seal. Process 10 minutes in water bath.

    I know it sounds like a lot of work, but it's really no big deal. And OH MY GOODNESS, these are good.

    I hope you enjoy them as much as we do.