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GH1457, Quality for Keeps: Pickling Basics — In a Pickle

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Quality for Keeps: Pickling Basics — In a Pickle

quality for keepsSusan Mills-Gray
State Nutrition Specialist

Start with the best ingredients. Select cucumbers of the appropriate size, about 11⁄2 inches for gherkins and 5 inches for dills. Use odd-shaped and more mature cucumbers for relishes and bread-and-butter style pickles. All vegetables should be fresh, firm and free of spoilage.

Use canning or pickling salt. The noncaking material added to other salts could make the brine cloudy. Flake salt varies in density, so don't use it to make pickled and fermented foods.

The salt used in making fermented sauerkraut and brined pickles not only provides characteristic flavor but also is vital to safety and texture. In fermented foods, salt favors the growth of desirable bacteria while inhibiting the growth of others. Do not cut back on the salt when making sauerkraut or fermented pickles.

White granulated and brown sugars are the sweeteners most often used in pickling. Corn syrup and honey, unless called for in reliable recipes, may produce undesirable flavors. Use white distilled and cider vinegars of 5 percent acidity (50 grain). White vinegar is usually preferred when light color is desirable. Never use homemade vinegar when making pickles.

Tip
Pickles are best if eaten within one year of processing.

Containers, weights and covers for fermenting

PickleA 1-gallon container holds 5 pounds of fresh cucumbers; a 5-gallon container holds 25 pounds. Glass, unchipped enamel-lined pans and food-grade plastic containers are excellent substitutes for the traditional stone crock.

You may use other 1- to 3-gallon non-food-grade containers as long as you line each with a clean food-grade plastic bag. Do not use garbage bags or trash liners. Use a large, sealed food-grade plastic bag containing 4-1⁄2 tablespoons of salt and 3 quarts of water as a weight to hold cucumbers under the surface of brine.

Or use a plate and jar of water as a weight. Select a pie or dinner plate small enough to just fit inside the container. Cover the weight and container top with a heavy clean bath towel to reduce mold growth on the brine surface.

Before use, wash all containers, plates and jars in hot, sudsy water and rinse well with very hot water.

Preparation

Wash cucumbers, and cut 1⁄16 inch off the blossom end and discard. If you prefer pickles that are especially firm, soak cucumbers in a mixture of 1 cup pickling lime and 1⁄2 cup salt to 1 gallon of water.

Use a 2- to 3-gallon crock or enamelware container. Avoid inhaling limewater solution while mixing. Soak cucumbers in lime water for 12 to 24 hours.

You must remove the excess lime absorbed by the cucumbers to make safe pickles. Remove cucumbers from lime solution, rinse, and soak again for 1 hour in fresh cold water.

Repeat the rinsing and soaking steps in fresh water two more times. Handle carefully, as slices will be brittle. Drain well.

Caution
Use liming procedure only when recipe indicates.

Canning procedure

Pickle products spoil easily. Microorganisms — particularly yeasts, molds and enzymes — may affect flavor, color and texture. Process pickles in a boiling-water canner to prevent these problems and to ensure that your products are safe.

Processing times and procedures will vary according to food acidity and the size of food pieces.

Please refer to MU Extension publications GH1451, Before You Start to Can, Learn the Basics, and GH1452, Steps to Success in Home Canning, for information on correct canning procedures and for the steps to follow in boiling-water canning.

For firmer pickles, use this low-temperature pasteurization treatment.

This treatment produces a firmer product, but you must carefully follow these steps to avoid spoilage.

Caution
Use this procedure only when recipe indicates.

  • Place jars in a canner filled halfway with warm (120 to 140 degrees F) water.
  • Add hot water until it is 1 inch above jars.
  • Heat the water and maintain a 180 degrees F water temperature for 30 minutes. Use a candy or jelly thermometer to be certain that the water temperature does not fall below 180 degrees F during the entire 30 minutes.
  • Temperatures higher than 185 degrees F may cause unnecessary softening of pickles.

For safety's sake

The level of acid in a pickled product is as important to its safety as it is to its taste and texture.

  • Do not change the amounts of vinegar, food or water in a recipe. Don't use a vinegar with unknown acidity. Don't use homemade vinegar.
  • Only use recipes with tested amounts of ingredients.
  • There must be enough acid in the mixed product to prevent the growth of botulinum bacteria. If botulinum bacteria grow inside jars, they can produce the toxin that causes botulism, an often fatal form of food poisoning.

Table 1
Recommended processing times in a boiling-water canner.

Product Pack style Jar size Process time at 0 to 1,000 feet in altitude Process time at 1,001 to 6,000 feet in altitude
Quick, fresh-pack dills Raw Pints
Quarts
10 minutes
15 minutes
15 minutes
20 minutes
Quick, sweet Raw
Hot
Pints
Quarts
Pints or quarts
10 minutes
15 minutes
5 minutes
15 minutes
20 minutes
10 minutes
Sweet gherkin Raw Pints 5 minutes 10 minutes
Bread-and-butter Hot Pints
Quarts
10 minutes 15 minutes
Pickle relish Hot Half-pints or quarts 10 minutes 15 minutes
Dill, fermented Raw Pints
Quarts
10 minutes
15 minutes
15 minutes
20 minutes

 

Quick, fresh-pack dill pickles

8 pounds of 3- to 5-inch pickling cucumbers
2 gallons water
1-1⁄4 cups canning or pickling salt
1-1⁄2 quarts vinegar (5 percent)
1⁄4 cup sugar
2 quarts water
2 tablespoons whole mixed pickling spice
3 tablespoons whole mustard seed (1 teaspoon per
pint jar)
14 heads fresh dill (2 heads per pint jar) or 4-1⁄2
tablespoons dill seed (11⁄2 teaspoons per pint jar)

Yield
9 pints or 4 quarts

Procedure
Cut a 1⁄16-inch slice off blossom ends and discard, but leave 1⁄4 inch of cucumber stem ends attached. Dissolve 3⁄4 cup salt in 2 gallons of water. Pour brine water over cucumbers and let stand 12 hours. Drain.

Combine vinegar, 1⁄2 cup salt, sugarm and 2 quarts water. Add mixed pickling spices tied in a spice bag or cheesecloth bag. Heat to boiling.

Fill jars with pickles. Add 1 teaspoon mustard seed and 11⁄2 heads fresh dill (or 11⁄2 teaspoons of dill seed) per pint. Cover with boiling liquid; leave 1⁄2 inch of headspace. Adjust lids, and process jars as described in Table 1. Or use the low-temperature pasteurization treatment described under Canning procedure.

Sweet gherkins

7 pounds cucumbers (1-1⁄2 inches or less)
1⁄2 cup canning salt or pickling salt
8 cups sugar
1-1⁄2 quarts vinegar (5 percent)
3⁄4 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons celery seed
2 teaspoons whole, mixed pickling spice
2 cinnamon sticks
1⁄2 teaspoon fennel (optional)
2 teaspoons vanilla (optional)-

Yield
6 to 7 pints

Procedure
Leave 1⁄4 inch of cucumber stem ends attached. Place cucumbers in large container and cover with fresh boiling water.

Six hours to eight hours later, and again on the second day, drain and cover with a mixture of 6 quarts of boiling water and 1⁄4 cup salt.

On the third day, drain and prick cucumbers with table fork.

Combine 3 cups sugar, turmeric and spices with 3 cups vinegar. Boil and pour over cucumbers.

Six to eight hours later, drain and save syrup. Add another 2 cups each of sugar and vinegar, and reheat syrup to boil. Pour over pickles.

On the fourth day, drain and save syrup. Add another 2 cups sugar and 1 cup vinegar, and reheat syrup to boil. Pour over pickles.

Six to eight hours later, drain and save syrup. Add 1 cup sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla, and heat to boiling.

Fill sterilized pint jars with pickles and cover with hot syrup; leave 1⁄2 inch of headspace. Adjust lids, and process jars as described in Table 1. Or use the low-temperature pasteurization treatment described under Canning procedure.

Quick sweet pickles

8 pounds of 3- to 4-inch pickling cucumbers
1⁄3 cup canning or pickling salt
1 cup pickling lime (for optional liming procedure,
see Preparation section)
4-1⁄2 cups sugar
3-1⁄2 cups vinegar (5 percent)
2 teaspoons celery seed
1 tablespoon whole allspice
2 tablespoons mustard seed

Yield
7 to 9 pints

Procedure
Cut a 1⁄16-inch slice off blossom ends and discard, but leave 1⁄4 inch of cucumber stem ends attached. Slice or cut in strips, if desired. Place in bowl and sprinkle with 1⁄3 cup salt. Cover with 2 inches of crushed or cubed ice. Refrigerate 3 to 4 hours. Add more ice as needed. Drain well.

Optional step
For firmer pickles, use the pickling lime treatment described in the Preparation section.

Combine sugar, vinegar, celery seed, allspice and mustard seed in a 6-quart pot. Heat to boil.

For a hot pack, add cucumbers and heat slowly until vinegar mixture returns to boil. Stir occasionally to make sure vinegar mixture heats evenly. Fill sterilized jars with cucumbers and add hot pickling syrup; leave 1⁄2 inch of headspace.

For a raw pack, fill jars with cucumbers and add hot pickling syrup; leave 1⁄2 inch of headspace.

Adjust lids, and process jars as described in Table 1. Or use the low-temperature pasteurization treatment described under Canning procedure.

Variation
Add two slices of raw onion to each jar before filling with cucumbers.
Bread-and-butter pickles
6 pounds of 4- to 5-inch pickling cucumbers
2 quarts thinly sliced onions (about 3 pounds)
1⁄2 cup canning or pickling salt
1 cup pickling lime (for optional liming treatment
described in the Preparation section)
1 quart vinegar (5 percent)
4-1⁄2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons mustard seed
1-1⁄2 tablespoons celery seed
1 tablespoon ground turmeric

Yield
About 8 pints

Procedure
Wash cucumbers. Cut a 1⁄16-inch slice off blossom ends and discard. Cut cucumbers into 3⁄16-inch slices. Combine cucumbers and onion slices in a large bowl. Add salt. Cover with 2 inches crushed or cubed ice. Refrigerate 3 to 4 hours; add more ice as needed.

For firmer pickles, use the pickling lime treatment described in the Preparation section.

Combine sugar, spices and vinegar in a large pot. Boil 10 minutes. Drain cucumbers and onions, and then add to spice mixture. Slowly reheat to boiling.

Fill pint or quart jars with slices and cooking syrup; leave 1⁄2 inch of headspace. Adjust lids, and process jars as described in Table 1. Or use the low-pasteurization treatment described.

Variation
Squash bread-and-butter pickles. Substitute slender (11⁄2 inches to 2 inches in diameter) zucchini or yellow summer squash for cucumbers.

Note
If you're using the lime treated variation, add the onions in with other ingredients after this step.

Pickle relish

3 quarts fresh, chopped cucumbers
3 cups chopped, sweet green peppers
3 cups chopped, sweet red peppers
1 cup chopped onion
3⁄4 cup canning or pickling salt
2 quarts water
1 quart ice
2 cups sugar
4 teaspoons each of mustard seed, turmeric, whole
allspice and whole cloves
1-1⁄2 quarts white vinegar (5 percent)

Yield
9 pints

Procedure
Add salt, ice, cucumbers, peppers and onions to water and let stand 4 hours.

Drain and cover vegetables with fresh ice water for another hour. Drain again. Combine spices in a spice bag or cheesecloth bag.

Add spices to sugar and vinegar. Heat to boiling and pour mixture over vegetables. Cover and refrigerate 24 hours. Heat mixture to boil, and fill clean jars while hot; leave 1⁄2 inch of headspace. Adjusts lids, and process jars as described in Table 1.

Dill pickles

Use the following quantities for each gallon capacity of your container:

4 pounds of 4-inch pickling cucumbers
2 tablespoons dill seed or 4 to 5 heads fresh or dry
dill weed
1⁄2 cup salt
1⁄4 cup vinegar (5 percent)
8 cups water and one or more of the following
ingredients:
2 cloves garlic (optional)
2 dried red peppers (optional)
2 teaspoons whole mixed pickling spices (optional)

Procedure
Wash cucumbers. Cut a 1⁄16-inch slice off blossom end and discard, but leave 1⁄4 inch of cucumber stem ends attached. Place half of dill and spices on bottom of a clean, suitable container. Add cucumbers, remaining dill and spices. Dissolve salt in vinegar and water, and pour over cucumbers. Add suitable cover and weight.

Store where temperature is between 70 and 75 degrees F for about 3 to 4 weeks while fermenting. Temperatures of 55 to 65 degrees F are acceptable, but the fermentation will take 5 to 6 weeks. Avoid temperatures above 80 degrees F or pickles will become too soft during fermentation.

Fermenting pickles cure slowly. Check the container several times a week, and promptly remove surface scum or mold.

Caution
If pickles become soft and slimy, or develop a disagreeable odor, discard them. Fully fermented pickles may be stored in the original container for about four to six months provided they are refrigerated and surface scum and molds are removed regularly.

Canning fully fermented pickles is a better way to store them. To can them, pour the brine into a pan, heat slowly to a boil, and simmer 5 minutes. Filter brine through paper coffee filters to reduce cloudiness, if desired. Fill jar with pickles and hot brine; leave 1⁄2 inch of headspace. Adjust lids, and process as described in Table 1. Or use the low-temperature pasteurization treatment.

Adapted from Complete Guide to Home Canning, USDA, Agriculture Information Bulletin No. 539.


GH1457 Quality for Keeps: Pickling Basics — In a Pickle | University of Missouri Extension