How to Pickle Vegetables

There came a point where I was sick and tired of purchasing pickles. My family liked to eat pickles both from the cooler-stored and shelf-stored sections of the grocery store. I will admit that most of the pickles I purchased were from the shelf, because they were easier to store for longer periods in my pantry. When we would have people over for back yard barbeques, I would splurge and get the cold pickles from the cooler section of the store.

If you have ever browsed the cooler section, you have probably noticed a pretty big selection of refrigerated pickles. Some are in jars and others are in plastic tubs. The kind in the plastic tubs have a quicker expiration date and should be consumed within a few weeks of the purchase date.

I come from a pickle-loving family. No matter what’s for dinner, I promise pickles are probably a part of it. Our love for pickles and a friendly vender at the local farmer’s market sparked my interest in pickling. Had I known years ago what I know now, I would have ditched those store-bought pickles and opted for making my own.”Kids

Getting Started
Before you get started making pickles, you need to have all of the necessary supplies. As I mentioned before, there are two types of pickles which we’ll discuss later. Most of the supplies are the same but there are some variations. Both methods require a large stock pot. If you do not have a large pot, you should acquire one not only for pickle-making but also for soups, stews and other large batches of foods you may make. These are very handy pots to have on hand.

Items you will need:
Quality jars with lids and bands
Canning set
Extra dish towels on hand
Seasonings and pickles
Timer
Tongs
Sharpie
Large stock pot

Why a Canning Set is Important for the Water Bath Process that Creates Shelf-Stable Pickles?

If you plan on making shelf-stable pickles, you will need to give them a quick water bath to ensure they seal properly. I have found it is more cost-effective to purchase the canning set than to purchase the canning pieces separately. In some cases, the canning set even comes with a large stock pot—a bonus if you do not already have one. Don’t let the phrase “water bath” scare you away from making pickles. This process is very easy and only takes about ten minutes.

Shelf-stable pickles have to be heated to a certain temperature before they are preserved properly. This ensures they will last in the pantry for a few years. A canning kit will take a lot of guess work out of this task, and it usually comes with some recipes to help you create new flavors. If you are more interested in making refrigerated pickles, you can completely skip this step. There is no need to purchase a canning set.

Know Where Your Pickle Cucumbers Are From

This might seem a bit silly, but it really does matter. The fresher a pickle cucumber is, the crispier it will be when it is pickled. The same is true when you want to make pickled carrots, pickled onions, pickled asparagus or any other pickled vegetable. If you have a home garden, then plan on preserving these veggies the day you pick them. This will create the best-tasting pickled products. I lay my supplies out and get my kitchen ready the day I plan to harvest from my garden. As soon as everything is picked and cleaned from the garden, I begin cutting and prepping. If you do not have a garden, go to your favorite produce store or grocery store known for having the freshest produce. Older vegetables will become limp and seem a bit chewy when you bite into them after they are pickled.

What Type Of Salt Is Best? Pickling Salt? Iodized? Kosher? Sea Salt?

Different pickle recipes will call for different types of salt. The best type of salt to use for pickling is pickling salt. This salt can be found near Ball or Mason jars in the store or sometimes in the salt aisle. The reason pickling salt is the best is because of the granule size. The smaller granule size dissolves much easier in the brine and makes an even solution for making pickles. Picking salt does not contain anti-caking ingredients or iodine. Iodine can darken the color of your pickles, and anti-caking ingredients can make your brine look cloudy.

Kosher salt is a great second choice when it comes to making pickles because it also doesn’t contain additives. Some brands such as Morton table salt do contain these additives, so make sure you read the packaging before you use your table salt. If you are in a complete pinch, you can use any table salt but the quality of the pickles may be diminished. If you must use table salt, make sure you are using the freshest vegetables possible.

Sea salt is the third option when making pickled vegetables. It is produced from evaporating sea water and when boiled in brine, dissolves evenly. The process of creating the brine can take a bit longer because the granule size is larger, but the quality flavor of the brine will not be compromised by using this salt.

Since the granule size varies with salt type, recipes will need to be altered when using other salts. For example, if your recipe calls for one cup of pickling salt, you will use about ¾ cup of kosher salt and about ½ a cup of sea salt. The best advice here is to make the recipe exactly as it is written. Taste the brine, so you know what it is supposed to taste like. This is advantageous if you must substitute your salts for future recipes. This will help you determine if you need to add more salt when you are not using pickling salt.

Sterilize Your Supplies for Ten Minutes

Before you do anything, you need to make sure your supplies are sterilized. I always boil all of my jars, lids and rings before each canning session. One thing to note is that you can reuse your jars. The lids and rings are only meant to be used once. Even if purchasing them brand new, it is essential to boil them.

When I sterilize, I place two large stock pots on my stove. I put the jars standing open-end up in one pot and the lids and rings in the other pot. Then, I fill the pots with water and turn up the flame. I start boiling the jars first, because the lids and rings take about half the time to come to a boil. It is also best to apply a hot ring and lid to a jar, because the wax on the lid will soften and adhere best to the jar. A tight seal is what keeps the food in the jar safe from contaminants.

After bringing the jars to a boil, I use my metal tongs to carefully remove them from the stock pot and set them on a clean, dry dish towel. You can remove them promptly or allow them to sit in the hot water for a few minutes while you prepare your recipe. If you are removing them right away, make sure you take caution to avoid burning yourself. When I begin filling the jars with the pickling ingredients, I turn on the other pot so that the rings and lids can sterilize. When sterilizing jars and lids, plan on letting them boil for at least ten minutes.

Prep, Prep and Prep Some More

I cannot stress prepping enough. This will make the entire process run smoothly. When I first started canning pickles and vegetables, I was worried I would be overwhelmed. By having everything sterilized and accessible, I saved myself a lot of stress. Gather all of your supplies and have all ingredients out on the counter, so you aren’t digging around your pantry during the process. Have extra towels on hand and pre-cut the vegetables you plan to pickle, so you can easily place them into the canning jars.

Make Room for Your Pickles

I deem the days I am going to pickle “cleaning days.” I always clean out my fridge and pantry before I start canning. This gives me space to store things and makes me feel a bit more organized. I highly recommend doing a quick clean-out of the refrigerator or cupboard the night before any preserving takes place.

Two Types of Pickling methods

  • Refrigerated pickles
  • Shelf-stable pickles

When Refrigerator Pickling is the Best Method

Refrigerator pickles are best when they are going to be consumed promptly. I make my pickles with their purpose in mind. These are soft-preserved and only last about eight weeks in the refrigerator. They are quicker to make but must also be eaten quickly. They are usually ready for consumption within 72 hours of being pickled.

When Shelf-Stable Pickling is the Best Method

Shelf-stable pickles are ideal when you have a large amount of cucumber pickles you want to preserve for months to come. These will last up to two years in your pantry and can be enjoyed at room temperature. Shelf pickles require a 10-minute water bath in a stock pot after they are put in their jars. Simply, place the filled jars back in the stock pot and cover them with water. Bring to a slow boil for 10 minutes and remove them with tongs when the water cools. The pickles are now shelf-stable.

How to Make Pickles

When you begin your pickling adventure, find one good recipe and stick with it to start. Once you have mastered that one recipe, you can begin altering it or searching new recipes. The easiest pickle recipe that produces a semi-sweet pickle fantastic for sandwiches and burgers is the sweet dill pickle recipe.

When making this recipe, the water, sugar and vinegar are all equal parts. Adjust the ratios of ingredients according to the amount of pickles you’re planning to make.

For four cans of pickles you will need:

1 cup of granulated sugar
1 cup of distilled white vinegar
1 cup of distilled water
¼ cup of pickling salt
1 tsp dehydrated dill or 2 sprigs of fresh dill
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp peppercorns
8-10 pickle cucumbers sliced into chips or spears (depending upon size)
1 Vidalia onion sliced (optional)

  1. Bring the water, vinegar, sugar and salt to a boil in a pot. Stir until everything is dissolved. Allow this brine mixture to cool on the stove top.
  2. Place 1 tsp dehydrated dill or 2 sprigs of fresh dill, 1 tsp mustard seeds and 1 tsp peppercorns in the bottom of each jar. If you like pickled onion you can also slice a Vidalia onion and fill each jar ¼ of the way with onion slices.
  3. Add your sliced pickle cucumber to the jars. You can slice them as chips or spears. If the cucumbers are small you can put them in the jar whole.
  4. Taste your brine before you add it to your jars. If it is not salty enough for your liking, then another ¼ cup pickling salt and put the heat on low until it is dissolved. Once your brine meets your liking, carefully pour it in each ingredient filled jar. Fill to the base of the mouth of the jar and make sure all cucumbers are completely covered. You do not want to over fill your jars.
  5. Use your tongs to remove the sterilized lids from their pot and place a lid on each jar. Remove the bands and secure around each jar to firmly keep the lid in place.
  6. For shelf-stable pickles, move the jars to the waiting pot for a water bath. If these are refrigerator pickles, shake each jar to evenly distribute ingredients and place upside down on a dish towel on the kitchen counter. This will create a vacuum, and the jars will soft seal.
  7. Leave the jars upside down on the counter for one to two hours before turning right side up and placing in the refrigerator. Refrigerated pickles last about two months in the fridge. Mark the lid with a sharpie with the date you canned the pickles.

Did You Know You Can Pickle More Than Just Pickle Cucumbers?

You can pickle vegetables other than cucumber pickles. The list below is of a few commonly pickled vegetables that make great additions to relish trays.

  • Carrots
  • Onions
  • Beets
  • Swiss Chard
  • Asparagus

Simply, use the exact recipe above and switch out the vegetables. Like pickles, these vegetables can also be made to be shelf-stable or refrigerated.
Have fun when you are making pickled vegetables. Get your family involved in the process, so they can learn as you do. This is a wonderful skill to have and pass down. If you find yourself with an abundance, you can even share the extras with friends and neighbors.