Some days I just want a pickle, and nothing compares to a perfectly crisp home canned pickle. They top my burgers and hot dogs all summer long, but more importantly, in the winter time, they remind me that summer will come again.
The very best pickles cant be bought in a grocery store. If you want a good pickle, you’ll have to ask grandma for a jar or learn how to make them yourself. I kick myself every time I don’t can quite enough for a full year. In those years, I find myself scanning the supermarket shelves, hoping for anything that might qualify as a real pickle.
I’m always disappointed. How can they get away with charging $8 for a jar of wilted, slimy excuses for pickles? On top of that, they’re loaded with preservatives that have no business in pickles. Every time I reach this point I vow that next summer there will be more pickles.
My secret to the perfect pickle is to select small cucumbers, about the size of your pinky finger. Whether you’re making slices of whole dills, the size of the cucumber is key. Anything bigger is best suited to pickle relish or hog feed.
When you select cucumbers for canning pickles, the seeds should be barely visible. The picture below has a cross-section of 3 different cucumbers. The top one has fully formed seeds, and they’re already beginning to fall out a bit. If you can this cucumber, the center would fall out and the outside would never be crisp. If all you have is giant cucumbers, try making refrigerator dill pickles.
The bottom two cucumbers are both acceptable for canning but choose the smaller slices on the left for best results.
If you have very large cucumbers and your heart is set on canning, you can also try making either dill pickle relish or bread and butter pickles. Both of those recipes are designed to accommodate large overripe cucumbers. The cucumbers are layered with salt for about 2 hours before canning, which draws out extra moisture and removes bitterness from the overripe cucumbers. Added sugar in both recipes also helps mask any residual bitterness, and a bit of turmeric makes up for the fading color as the cucumbers are past prime.
Jar size also makes a big difference for home canned pickles. You can have the best pickle recipe in the world and the freshest tiny cucumbers, but if you can in quart jars they’ll be overcooked. Always can in pints rather than quarts. Quarts require longer processing times and are liable to produce mushy pickles.
There’s an old-school practice of soaking pickles in pickling lime before canning, and this helps keep them crisp during the canning process. It’s a complicated process, and involves a lot of time and mess, soaking and rinsing. Not to mention a lot of lime.
These days, most canners substitute something called pickle crisp. It doesn’t have anything funny in it, just calcium chloride. The calcium helps to reinforce the cell walls in the cucumbers, and that keeps them from popping during the canning process. The end result is firmer pickles without a lot of extra work.
It doesn’t take a lot of calcium chloride to get the job done. Roughly 1/8th tsp per pint or 1/4 teaspoon per quart. Just spoon it into the bottom of the jars along with the spices. Pickle crisp is optional, but it will help ensure crisp home-canned pickles.
Making pickles at home is simple, assuming you have the right ingredients. I include fresh dill, mustard seeds, dill seeds, coriander seeds and black peppercorns. If for some reason I can’t find fresh dill, extra dill seed will work. Fresh dill tends to come in large bundles from the grocery store or farmers market, and if you have extra, try making dill pickled green beans, known as dilly beans here in Vermont.
Start by packing spices, cucumbers, onions and garlic tightly into jars, leaving 1 inch of headspace. Cover with hot brine, and water bath can. Wait at least 2 weeks for flavors to infuse, and ENJOY!
If you’re giving them out as gifts, consider some cute labels. Chalkboard labels are all the rage these days, but I stick to ball canning’s dissolvable labels because they’re easy to remove so that you can reuse the jar once it’s empty.
If you really want to save money on pickling, buy your canning supplies in bulk. While rings and jars can be reused, lids should be new each time to ensure a good seal. We buy our canning lids in bulk online and bring our canning unit costs down considerably. If you’re looking for a quick fix, you can also try a pre-made dill pickle spice mix, just make sure your cucumbers are fresh and tiny.
Just getting Started Canning?
If you’re just getting started canning, but plan on making canning and preserving food part of your lifestyle long term, try investing in an online canning course. Pioneering today has a canning with confidence course that takes you through the ins and outs of canning from basic canning safety all the way through to pressure canning meat at home. The course covers:
- Canning Safety – Safe techniques to for home canning
- Water Bath Canning – Jams, jellies, pickles, tomatoes, and other high acid fruits and vegetables including low sugar, no pectin variations.
- Pressure Canning – How to safely operate a pressure canner at home to can almost any type of food for long-term preservation
- Troubleshooting and Storage – Figuring out why a recipe just didn’t work, and maximizing storage of your home canned goods.
Take a look at Canning with Confidence if you’re planning on investing heavily in long-term home food preservation.
Dill Pickle Recipe for Canning
This dill pickle recipe yields crisp pickles and is easy for beginning canners. Yields 5 pints.
- 4-5 Pounds Cucumbers Small ones only
- 4 Cups Water
- 4 Cups Cider Vinegar or white vinegar, 5% acidity
- 1/2 Cup Pickling & Canning Salt
- 1 Onion Thinly Sliced
- 10-15 Garlic Cloves
- 5 Dill Heads or fresh dill sprigs
- 5 tsp Mustard Seeds
- 5 tsp Dill Seeds
- 5 tsp Coriander Seeds
- 5 tsp Black Peppercorns
- 5/8 tsp pickle crisp optional - 1/8 tsp per pint
Start your water bath canner in a pot big enough to hold 5 one pint mason jars. The water (and the pot!) should be deep enough once the jars are added there is at least 1 inch of water above the top of the jars. Bring the pot to a boil.
Prepare a brine by bringing 4 cups water, 4 cups vinegar and 1/2c salt to a boil.
While the brine and canner are coming up to a boil, gently wash cucumbers to remove any dirt and nip off both ends. Either leave the cucumbers whole or slice into 1/2inch slices.
At the bottom of each wide mouth pint mason jar, add 1 teaspoon of mustard seeds, dill seeds, coriander seeds and the dill heads or fresh herb sprigs.
Pack tightly with pickles and a few slices of onion. Top 2 with 2-3 garlic cloves. Be sure to leave 1 inch of headspace above the pickles.
Cover with brine to just submerge the vegetables, being sure to leave 1/2 inch of headspace above the top level of the brine.
Cap and band mason jars to just finger tight and place into boiling water in your water bath canner. Process for 10 minutes for pints (or 15 min for quarts) below 1000 feet of elevation. (15 minutes for pints at 1,000-6,000 feet)
For more information on the specifics and safety of canning pickles and pickled vegetables,
check out the USDA Guide to Home Canning.