Mmmm. Ready to make homemade pickles? Just follow our step-by-step pickling guide for beginners. Making pickles is such as easy process and you can pickle nearly any vegetable—not just cucumbers. Add flavor to your plate and preserve the summer bounty!
What Is Pickling?
Pickling is the process of preserving food in a solution of an acidic liquid (such as vinegar or lemon juice), salt, and water. The acidity of the solution alters the flavor and texture of the food, while also preventing harmful bacteria (like the one that causes botulism, Clostridium botulinum) from developing.
You can pickle most vegetables, including cucumbers, green beans, peppers, okra, turnips, carrots, asparagus, and even avocados!
How to Pickle Vegetables: Quick-Pickling vs. Traditional Canning
There are essentially two ways to go about pickling:
- Quick-Pickling: A fast and simple process, quick-pickling is as simple as putting your vegetables in a pickling solution and waiting a bit. Quick pickles (aka “refrigerator pickles”) will last for several weeks in the refrigerator. This process is best to use for pickles that you know you will be eating within a short period of time.
- Water-Bath Canning or Pressure Canning: These processes are more complex than quick-pickling, but will allow you to properly preserve your produce for longer. Canned pickles that are truly preserved using a water-bath canner or pressure canner will last about one year. (They make great gifts, too!) In this article, we’ll talk primarily about water-bath canning.
Simple Pickling Recipe
Ingredients for 2 Pints of Pickles:
- 1-½ pounds cucumbers or other veggies
- 1-cup vinegar. Use white distilled or apple cider vinegar with 5 percent acidity. Use white vinegar when a light color is desirable, as with fruits and cauliflower. Think twice before using red wine vinegar, as it will turn all your vegetables pink!
- 1-½ tablespoons salt. Use noniodized canning or pickling salt (not iodized table salt!). Pickling salt has no additives. Iodized salt makes the brine cloudy and may change the color and texture of the vegetables, as well as possibly leave sediment at the bottom of the jars.
- 1 cup water
- Optional: 2 teaspoons dill seed or spices/herbs of your choice. The classic is dill seeds (not the ferns). Mustard seed or peppercorns could also be used. For herbs, dill, mint, basil, or anything that’s overtaking your garden will be great. Always use fresh spices in canning or pickling, as spices lose their flavor quickly.
- Optional: A few garlic cloves, peeled and smashed, enhances flavor.
- For quick fridge pickles, you can just pour the pickling solution in any plastic or glass container that has a lid; you don’t have to use canning jars or anything special.
- For jarred pickles that you plan to preserve, you’ll need two proper canning jars with screw bands and lids. You can re-use the canning jars and bands as long as they’re not nicked or rusty. However, you must use a pack of new jar lids to ensure a tight seal. Never reuse lids.
The method is similar for each; it just depends on if you’re going to process the jars in a canner or not.
- It’s best to use veggies from farmers’ markets (or your own garden). Avoid using waxed supermarket produce for pickling; the acid or salt will not penetrate them properly. Seed catalogs are a good source of information about suitable varieties. Kirby cucumbers are the classic for pickles (not English). Persian cucumbers are a great size for packing into pint jars.
- Select only the freshest vegetables for pickling that are free of blemishes. Use as soon as possible after picking. Pick cucumbers early in the day to help prevent a bitter flavor.
- Select the most uniform produce. It’s better to have vegetables be equal sizes. Select firm cucumbers of the appropriate size: about 1-½ inches for gherkins and 4 inches for dills. Use odd-shaped and more mature cucumbers for relishes and bread-and-butter style pickles.
- If you are planning to can your pickles for long-term storage, you’ll need to sterilize your jars and lids. To do this, bring a large pot of water to a boil and place the jars and lids in the hot water for at least 10 minutes. If you are planning to make quick pickles, just wash your container or jars in hot soapy water, rinse, and air dry.
- Scrub produce well to remove dirt. Be sure to remove and discard 1/16-inch slice from the blossom end of fresh cucumbers. Remnants of blossoms may contain an enzyme that causes excessive softening of pickles.
- For crisper pickles, put the vegetables (whole or sliced) into a wide bowl and spread a layer of pickling salt on top. Cover and let sit overnight in a cool place. Discard the liquid that will have emerged from the vegetables, then rinse and dry the vegetables before pickling or canning as usual. The salt helps to pull the moisture out of the vegetables and makes them crisper in the end.
- Measure or weigh carefully, because the proportion of fresh food to brine and other ingredients will affect flavor and, many times, safety.
- Add any optional herbs/spices to the jars or other containers, splitting them evenly between the two.
- Cut your vegetables into even sizes, whether you’re doing spears or coins, and put them in the jars. If you’re going to be canning them in a water-bath or pressure canner, pack the veggies into the canning jars tight (without smashing them), leaving at least ½ inch of open space (“headspace”) below the rim of the jar.
- Make your pickling brine! Combine the vinegar, water, and salt in a saucepan over high heat. Bring to a rolling boil, then pour the hot pickling brine over the veggies and cover, nearly filling each jar and again leaving about ½ inch of headspace. You may not use all the brine, but make sure the brine completely covers the vegetables.
- If you’re making quick pickles, you’re almost done! Let the jars rest on the counter for one hour. Then put a lid on the container and place in the fridge. Wait anywhere from three days to a week, and the veggies will taste truly pickled. Bear in mind that the longer it brines, the better it tastes! You can also reuse the brine for your next batch.
The quick-pickling process stops here. To make pickles for longer-term storage, continue with the water-bath canning process below.
- If you’re going to now process and preserve your pickles for longer storage, tap the two jars to remove any air bubbles and top up with brine if the veggies settle. Use a sterilized plastic spoon to push on the veggies and release any additional trapped air. Add the lids and bands. Always wipe the rim of the jar clean for a good seal after filling and just before putting the lid on.
- Place the jars in a boiling pot of water or water-bath canner to seal them. When the water comes back to a boil, set the timer for 10 minutes and remove the jars.
- Remove jars and you should hear the jar lids “ping,” which means the jars are properly sealed. If you do NOT hear that ping, treat them as fridge pickles and use within 2 weeks.
- Leave jars undisturbed for 12 to 24 hours to cool. Do NOT retighten bands, as this may interfere with the sealing process.
- After jars are complete cool, double check the seals. Unscrew bands and press down on center of lid. If you don’t feel any give, lid is properly sealed. If the lid springs back up, it didn’t seal. Put the jar in the fridge and eat within 2 weeks.
- Label and date your jars and store them in a clean, cool, dark, and dry place such as a pantry, cabinet, or basement. Don’t store in a warm spot!
- To allow pickles to mellow, wait at least 3 weeks before consuming. Keep in mind that pickles can be done earlier. It’s all up to you and your tastes! Just don’t let them go too long or the veggies’ texture can deteriorate and turn rubbery.
- Store jars in a cool, dry, dark place for up to 1 year (as recommended by National Center for Home Food Preservation).
More Tips on Pickling Measurements
Here’s how much of each ingredient to use per pound (or tablespoon) of fruit or vegetable:
|Pickling salt||1 pound fruit/veggies = 1 ⅓ cup pickling salt|
|Granulated sugar||1 pound fruit/veggies = 2 cups gran. sugar|
|Brown sugar||1 pound fruit/veggies = 2 ¼ to 2 ¾ cups, firmly packed brown sugar|
|Dried herbs||1 tablespoon fruit/veggies = ½ teaspoon crushed dried herbs|
Our Favorite Pickling Recipes
Note that some vegetables, like crunchy carrots, okra, and beets, should be boiled a little before pickling. Others, like delicate zucchini and cucumber, don’t need to be cooked ahead of time.
Also, unless you are very experienced, we suggest pickling different vegetables separately. They all pickle differently and at different rates. For example, onions and zucchini will pickle much more quickly than heartier vegetables, like radishes or carrots.
Now, some of our favorite pickling recipes to try:
Kosher-Style Dill Pickles
A simple and classic dill pickle recipe yielding tasty results.
Crunchy Dill Pickles
This super-easy dill pickle recipe results in delicious, crisp pickles that go great with anything. Perfect for a summer picnic or cookout!
These pumpkin pickles are a nice change from the usual sweet pumpkin treats. They make a great pairing with a cheese plate and add color to any autumn meal.
Pumpkin Pickles. Photo Credit: HandmadePictures/Shutterstock.
When you only have a few peppers, this pickled peppers recipe will do nicely. Just grab some white vinegar and go!
Technically more of a marination than a pickle, this recipe lets you keep a continuous supply of marinated veggies.
Jane’s Zucchini Bread-and-Butter Pickles
Even pickle devotees will be fooled into thinking you’ve used cucumbers.
Summer Squash Pickles
When your neighbors refuse to take any more summer squash or zucchini off your hands, it’s time to pickle.
Summer Squash Pickles. Photo Credit: Sherry Yates Young/Shutterstock.
Another great way to use up extra zucchini, this relish goes great on hot dogs and sausages.
Dilled Green Beans
Pickled green beans with a spicy kick!
Verna’s Beet Relish
The author of this recipe, Verna, says this is “good with roast beef or almost anything.” She likes it spicy, so hold back on the horseradish and cayenne if you prefer a tamer relish.
Pickled Green Beans
A simple, no-frills pickled green beans recipe.
Pickled Green Beans. Photo Credit: Bjoern Wylezich/Shutterstock.
Curried Apricot and Peppercorn Chutney
Something different for your taste buds—a sweet chutney with a subtle spice.
Kimchi is a tasty fermented food that’s easy to make at home. It’s considered Korean “soul food” and has been served as a side dish there for many generations.
Do you make pickles at home? What do you usually pickle? Let us know in the comments!