How to make pickles - made easy, and illustrated!

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Making Homemade Pickles
Using the "Quick process" method and a store-bought mix

Click here for a PDF print version

Making and canning your own pickles, gherkins, kosher dills, bread and butter, sweet pickles, etc. is one of the easiest things you can do with produce!  Here's how to do it, in easy steps and completely illustrated.   It is much faster than the old method your grandmother used with tons of pickling salt and de-scumming the brine! Ugh!  This method is so easy, ANYONE can do this!  It's a great thing to do with your kids! I'm experimenting with the various techniques, such as soaking the cucumbers overnight in lime solution first, using "pickle crisp" etc.

Note: this is the easiest way to make pickles.  If you want to put a little more effort into it, you can have pickles that are more crisp and crunchy than this method provides.  See this page for crispy low temperature processed pickles!

I've added free labels for your jars here, in a Word format! Just download, edit, and print in label paper.

Types of Pickles

  • Fresh-pack (or quick process) pickles are cured for several hours in a vinegar solution or are immediately combined with hot vinegar, spices, and seasonings. Examples include dills, bread-and-butter pickles and pickled beets. Quick Process is what these instructions (below on this page) show. 

Other types are:

Ingredients

  • Cucumbers - fresh, crisp - not wilted, soft or overripe! Thos ebest for cucumbers are the smaller, underripe ones, also refered to as gherkins, cornichons, Kirby cucumbers (kirbies),and sometimes lemon cucumbers
  • Quick Process Pickling mix -  It usually goes for about $2.00 to $4.00 per packet. A packet will make about a dozen pint jars. See this page for pickling supplies, equipment, books, crocks and additives. If you want to make your own seasoning see this page!
  • Clear vinegar - 4 cups of 5% vinegar, apple cider vinegar works well.  Store brand is about $1.25 for a 64 oz bottle.

Equipment

  • 1 large pot; teflon lined, glass or ceramic. See notes below about metal pots.
  • 1 Canner (a huge pot to sanitize the jars after filling (about $30 to $35 at mall kitchen stores, sometimes at big box stores and grocery stores.).  Note: we sell many sizes and types of canners for all types of stoves and needs - see canning supplies.
  • Pint canning jars (Ball or Kerr jars can be found at grocery stores, like Safeway, Publix, Kroger, grocery stores, even online - about $8 per dozen jars including the lids and rings).  Be sure to get wide mouth jars to fit the pickles in!  Pint size works best! 
  • Large spoons and ladles
  • Jar grabber (to pick up the hot jars) 
  • Lids - thin, flat, round metal lids with a gum binder that seals them against the top of the jar.  They may only be used once.
  • Rings - metal bands that secure the lids to the jars.  They may be reused many times.
  • Pickling Equipment notes:
    The basic equipment used for pickling is similar to other types of canning. However, there are some differences:
    * Utensils made of zinc, iron, brass, copper, or galvanized metal should not be used. The metal may react with acids or salts and cause undesirable color and taste changes in the pickles or make pickles unfit to eat. Likewise, enamelware with cracks or chips should not be used.
    * Almost any large container made of stainless steel, glassware, or unchipped enamelware can be used.
  • Lid lifter (has a magnet to pick the lids out of the boiling water where you sanitize them. ($2 at Target, other big box stores, and often grocery stores; and available online - see this page)
  • Jar funnel ($2 at Target, other big box stores, and often grocery stores; and available online - see this page)

Directions - How to Make Pickles

Step 1 - Selecting the cucumbers

It's fun to go pick your own and you can obviously get better quality cucumbers!  

At right is a of picture cucumbers from my garden - they are SO easy to grow. But be sure to grow the varieties that are labeled "pickling cucumbers" - they will be much more crisp!  

 

The picture at right shows a good cucumber for pickling (bottom) and a bad one (top).  The good one is dark green, firm, and not bloated.  It has lots of warts!

The bad one is overripe, it has yellow or white areas in the skin, and the warts are almost all gone.  If you cut it open, you will see developed seeds.  You don't want seeds!

For cucumber pickles, use cucumbers intended for pickling that are no more then 2 inches in diameter. Start with crisp raw vegetable varieties to get crisp pickled vegetables.

The most important factor in getting crisp pickled vegetables is to start with fresh, just-picked vegetables. Overripe cucumbers make mushy pickles. Vegetables become soft as their pectin structure changes due to microbial activity, excess heat or improper handling. As each day passes, vegetables lose crispness. Once a vegetable is soft it cannot be made firm again.

Step 2 - How many cucumbers?

It takes about 3 or 4 cucumbers to fill a pint jar.  Each cucumber is about 4 - 5 inches long and you will cut off the ends so they will fit with -inch to spare..

Step 3 -Wash and cut the vegetables!

I'm sure you can figure out how to wash the fruit in plain cold water.

You will need to cut the ends off (about -inch, the blossom harbors microbes that can cause softening. ) and then slice them lengthwise if you like spears.  I remove both ends, but, since the enzymes are in the blossom end, the key is removing the blossom end; you can leave the stem end on, if you like.

You can also leave them whole or cut them cross-wise for bread-and-butter pickles.

 

Set them aside for use in step 7.

 

 

 

Step 4 - Get the jars and lids sanitizing

The dishwasher is fine for the jars; especially if it has a "sanitize" cycle.  I get that going while I'm preparing everything else, so it's done by the time I'm ready to fill the jars.  If you don't have a dishwasher, submerge the jars in a large pot (the canner itself) of water and bring it to a boil.

Be sure to let it go through the rinse cycle to get rid of any soap!

Get the canner heating up

Fill the canner about 1/2 full of water and start it heating (with the lid on).

 

Start the water for the lids

Put the lids into the small pot of boiling water for at least several minutes.  Note: everything gets sanitized in the water bath (step 7) anyway, so this just helps to ensure there is no spoilage later!)


Need lids, rings and replacement jars? 

Get them all here, delivered direct to your home,  at the best prices on the internet! 

 

 

Step 5 - Mix the vinegar with the pickling mix and bring to a near boil

OK, you can make your own pickling mix from spices, salt, dill, etc.; but it is MUCH more time-consuming, complicated, and prone to problems.  ( If you want to make your own seasoning see this page! )This method produces pickles which are just as crisp - as long as you pick very firm cucumbers.  It also helps to add 2 grape leaves to every jar (I kid you not, they have something in them that makes the pickles crunchier).

The stores (grocery stores, like Publix, Kroger and Safeway and local "big box" stores, sometimes even local hardware stores) sell several varieties of mixes - Kosher dill, bread-and-=butter and sweet pickles are the most commonly seen.  And be sure to get them by July - they tend not to re-order them when they sell out.  Mrs. Wages "quick process refrigerator pickle mixes" are the easiest, as they do not even require a water bath canner (but must be stored in the fridge!).  The others require canning as shown in these instructions, and may be stored on the shelf.

 

 

Pickle Mixes

To interject a crass commercial here - hey, my wife says I've got to pay for the website somehow :)  I have found the best (crispest, best tasting) pickles from a mix are with the "Mrs. Wages Polish Dill Refrigerator Pickle Mix" They REALLY are good AND you don't need a canner - you store them in your fridge right after making them.  They're ready to eat in 24 hours!  Our affiliate sells the mixes (and at really good prices, too)

Whether you want dills or sweet pickles; canning them or straight into the refrigerator; there is a mix for every taste and need here!Get them all here, delivered direct to your home,  at the best prices on the internet! Get everything you need to make pickles: mixes, salt, brine, etc. here! or here:

Step 6 - Heat the pickle mix

Bring the mix and vinegar to a near-boil - just simmering! The directions on the packet will tell you how much vinegar to add, it's usually about 4 cups

Be sure to use a NON-metal pot - or a coated metal (teflon, silverstone, enamel, etc.) without breaks in the coating. the metal reacts with the vinegar and makes the pickle solution turn cloudy.

 

 

 

Step 7 - Fill the jars with cucumbers and put the lid and rings on

Pack the raw cucumbers from step 3, whole or slices in and pour the simmering pickle mix liquid over them. Fill them to within -inch of the top, seat the lid and hand-tighten the ring around them.  

 

 

 

 

Step 8 - Boil the jars in the canner

Put them in the canner and keep them covered with at least 1 inch of water. Keep the water boiling. Boil them for 10 minutes (or as directed by the instructions in the pickle mix, or with your canner).  Remember to adjust for altitudes and larger jars! Note: some mixes, such as the Ball Kosher Dill mix call for only boiling for 5 minutes - I'll let you know how that works out! generally, the longer you process the jars, the more mushy (less crisp) the pickles will be.

Step 9 - Done

Lift the jars out of the water and let them cool without touching or bumping them in a draft-free place (usually takes overnight)  You can then remove the rings if you like, but if you leave them on, at least loosen them quite a bit, so they don't rust in place due to trapped moisture. Once the jars are cool, you can check that they are sealed verifying that the lid has been sucked down. Just press in the center, gently, with your finger. If it pops up and down (often making a popping sound), it is not sealed. If you put the jar in the refrigerator right away, you can still use it. Some people replace the lid and reprocess the jar, then that's a bit iffy. If you heat the contents back up, re-jar them (with a new lid) and the full time in the canner, it's usually ok.

When can you start eating the pickles?  Well, it takes some time for the seasonings to be absorbed into the pickles.  That's at least 24 hours, but for best flavor wait 2 weeks!  Ah... the wait...

 


Pickle Making Problems?

See this page for a more complete set of frequently asked pickling questions and answers

Other Equipment:

From left to right:

  1. Jar lifting tongs
    to pick up hot jars
  2. Lid lifter
    - to remove lids from the pot
    of boiling water (sterilizing )
  3. Lid
    - disposable - you may only
    use them once
  4. Ring
    - holds the lids on the jar until after
    the jars cool - then you don't need them
  5. Canning jar funnel
    - to fill the jars

You can get all of the tools in a kit here:

Ball home canning kit

Home Canning Kits

This is the same type of standard canner that my grandmother used to make everything from applesauce to jams and jellies to tomato and spaghetti sauce. This complete kit includes everything you need and lasts for years: the canner, jar rack, jar grabber tongs, lid lifting wand, a plastic funnel, labels, bubble freer, and the bible of canning, the Ball Blue Book. It's much cheaper than buying the items separately. You'll never need anything else except jars & lids (and the jars are reusable)! There is also a simple kit with just the canner and rack, and a pressure canner, if you want to do vegetables (other than tomatoes). To see more canners, of different styles, makes and prices, click here!



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Summary - Cost of Making Homemade Pickles - makes 12 pint jars, 16 oz each*

Item Quantity Cost in 2012 Source Subtotal
Cucumbers 30-36 (about 3 per pint jar) free from the garden, or $3.00  at a PYO Pick your own $3.00
Canning jars (pint size, wide mouth), includes lids and rings 12 jars $8.00/dozen Grocery stores (Publix, Kroger, Safeway, etc.) $8.00
Vinegar 4 cups $0.99  Safeway,
Publix, Kroger, grocery stores
$0.99
Pickle mix 1 packet $3.00 per package Grocery stores (Publix, Kroger, Safeway, etc.) $3.00
Total $15.00 total
 or about  $1.25 per jar INCLUDING the jars - which you can reuse!

* - This assumes you already have the pots, pans, ladles, and reusable equipment. Note that you can reuse the jars!  Many products are sold in jars that will take the lids and rings for canning.  For example, Classico Spaghetti sauce is in quart sized jars that work with Ball and Kerr lids and rings. Note that the Classico's manufacturer does not recommend reuse of their jars: see what they have to say on this page:

How to make other pickles -  recipes and instructions:

Canning processing times

Type of pickling method

Jar size 0 to 1,000 ft above sea level 1,001 to 6,000 ft above sea level
Quick process, (raw cucumbers put in the jar, hot liquid poured over them)-  pint 10 min 15 min
Quick process, (raw cucumbers put in the jar, hot liquid poured over them)-  quart 10 min 15 min

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Answers to Common Questions

Click here for the page of frequently asked questions (with answers) about making pickles.


 

Illustrated Canning, Freezing, Jam Instructions and Recipes

All About Home Canning, Freezing and Making Jams, Pickles, Sauces, etc. ] [FAQs - Answers to common questions and problems] [Recommended books about home canning, jam making, drying and preserving!] [Free canning publications to download and print]