Preserve the bounties of summer and enjoy crisp, tart pickled cucumbers during the cold season with this traditional family recipe. These pickled cucumbers are not your quick refrigerator pickles but a winter delight, ideal for consumption alongside your favorite winter meals.
The Ideal Time For Pickling
If you live in a temperate climate with four seasons, late August to late October, as nature graces us with a plentiful harvest of cucumbers and other vegetables, is the perfect time to prepare for the long winter months.
This old-school pickling method allows us to preserve and enjoy the delightful freshness of these vegetables long after their season has ended.
Note: If you want a recipe to use in the summer, I recommend my awesome summer lacto-fermented cucumbers.
Choosing The Right Cucumbers
Different cucumber varieties offer different pickling results.
- Kirby cucumbers- are small cucumbers and are very popular in Farmer's Markets. They have bumpy skins and firm flesh.
- Gherkins or cornichons- also small and perfect for pickling. In my opinion, these are the best cucumbers to pickle.
- Garden cucumbers are the most popular ones found in North America. They have thick skin and lots of seeds. Suitable for quick pickling if you peel and seed them. I am personally not a fan of them, but I know many people who love them. These cucumbers are sold waxed in the store and need to be peeled.
- Lemon cucumbers- look exactly like lemons. They are sweeter and delicious in salads and pickled.
English cucumbers are not a good option for winter pickles as they become softer the longer they stay in the jar.
You can use English cucumbers for pickles in the summer if you are looking for a quick method of pickling them, especially refrigerator-pickled cucumbers.
Also, buy organic when possible. Cucumbers are part of the "Dirty dozens" vegetables containing over ten different types of pesticides. If you plan to pickle cucumbers, go to the Farmers Market first.
Method Of Pickling: Vinegar Vs. Brine
Pickling cucumbers is done in two main ways: with vinegar or with brine. People in the United States usually use vinegar, but in Eastern Europe, for example, people like to ferment their cucumbers in brine.
The reason for this is that people have known for a long time that fermented foods are good for you.
There are pickling recipes for summer and winter. The summer ones are made to eat right away, and they're often made in the sun.
In the old days, pickling was done to store food for the winter. Without canned food, people wouldn't have anything to eat. Even today, when bad weather hits and people rush to the grocery store, they usually buy canned foods.
Today, I'm going to share my family's pickle recipe with you. This dill pickle recipe is easy to make, and you don't need any fancy equipment or science knowledge.
This recipe is great for keeping pickles for a long time. It's not a quick pickle recipe or one for fridge pickles.
- Cucumbers (4-6 inches, 4 pounds): The key component of this recipe. Aim for firm and fresh cucumbers, preferably pickling cucumbers. Kirby cucumbers, Gherkins, or Cornichons are perfect for pickling.
- Garlic (1 head): Adds depth of flavor. If garlic isn't your thing or you're allergic, you can leave it out.
- Plain vinegar (5% acidity, 1 gallon): Preserves the cucumbers and provides the characteristic tang. I would vote for distilled white vinegar as my first choice. My second choice would be white wine vinegar. Both kinds of vinegar are widely available, inexpensive, and do not darken the vegetables like red vinegar or apple cider vinegar.
- Canning/pickling salt (4 tablespoons): Flavors and preserves the cucumbers. Pickling or canning salt is best as it dissolves easily and doesn't contain iodine or anti-caking agents. Kosher salt can be used as an alternative, but avoid table salt due to its iodine and anti-caking agents.
- Granulated sugar (2 tablespoons): Balances the vinegar's acidity. You can try alternatives like honey or stevia, but it may alter the final taste. Remember that sugar is also a preservative, so there is a need for some form of it in canning.
- Bay leaves (5-6): Provides subtle herbal notes. If unavailable, you can omit them, though they do contribute to the depth of flavor.
- Dried thyme (1 teaspoon): Adds an earthy, slightly minty flavor. If you don't have dried thyme, you could use a pinch of fresh thyme as a substitute.
- Dried dill or whole dill stems with umbels and green seeds (6 teaspoons): Gives a distinct flavor. Dried dill can be replaced by fresh dill, but the flavor might be less potent.
- Mustard seeds (1 tablespoon): Contributes a spicy kick. If you can't find mustard seeds, dry mustard could be used, but it might alter the flavor slightly.
- Black peppercorns (1-2 tablespoons): They add a small amount of heat. If peppercorns aren't available, some ground black pepper can work as a replacement.
- Horseradish root (1, cleaned and sliced into strips): Imparts a potent, spicy flavor. If you can't find horseradish root, a small amount of prepared horseradish could be used as a substitute.
Note about horseradish:
Horseradish root is a hidden gem often used in Eastern European pickling recipes.
Don't shy away from incorporating it into your pickles! After cleaning and peeling, slice it into thin strips to layer amongst your cucumbers and atop the jar.
Interestingly, I've found references to horseradish in old American cookbooks, such as The Settlement Cook Book, suggesting its use was once more widespread.
It's unclear why horseradish has fallen out of favor in pickle recipes, but it offers dual benefits: not only does it preserve your pickles, it also helps maintain their crunch over extended periods. Rest assured, the presence of horseradish won't result in spicy pickles.
The best formula for pickling with vinegar, salt, and sugar
As a basic rule, for each gallon of vinegar with 5% acidity, add four tablespoons of salt (make sure the salt is for pickles with no iodine added to it) and two tablespoons of granulated sugar. OR, for each liter of vinegar, add one tablespoon of salt and half a tablespoon of granulated sugar in case you plan to can a smaller amount of cucumbers.
How To Make Pickles
Step 1. Start with the jars.
Start by thoroughly washing your jars with warm, soapy water or running them through the dishwasher. After that, sterilize them for safe canning.
I recommend using wide-mouth quart jars to accommodate the cucumbers easily.
Take care when sterilizing the lids - they should not be treated the same way as the jars.
Clean them with warm soapy water, let them dry completely, and then allow them to sit in boiling water for the final two minutes.
If you spot any lids that are aged or rusted, it's best to replace them.
Although recent guidelines suggest that it's not necessary to boil the lids, I believe that immersing them in hot water for a few minutes prior to use provides an added assurance of safety.
Step 2. Prepare the cucumbers.
Select good quality cucumbers without any blemishes or spots. Use a brush to thoroughly wash them under running water. If the cucumbers are too curved to fit comfortably in the jar, cut them lengthwise, as shown in the picture above.
Slice the horseradish into slim, lengthy pieces that can be nestled between the cucumbers.
Step 3. Pack the jars with cucumbers and other ingredients.
Start filling the jars with cucumbers, cloves of garlic, black peppercorns, dried dill, and slices of horseradish. Ensure to place 1-2 pieces of horseradish on the top.
Step 4. Prepare the pickling mixture.
Combine vinegar, salt, and sugar in a large pot and bring it to a boil. Incorporate bay leaves, thyme, and mustard seeds into the mix.
Lower the heat and let the mixture simmer for about 2-3 minutes. Remove from the stove and allow the liquid to rest for about 5-10 minutes.
Step 5. Fill the jars with the pickling mixture.
Place the jars on a metal tray before adding the liquid. The metal aids in distributing the heat evenly, helping to prevent the thermal shock that might cause the jars to crack.
Using a ladle, slowly pour the hot pickling mixture into the jars, fully immersing the cucumbers.
Close the jars tight and keep them in a cool location where the temperature remains above freezing.
This will prevent fermentation, ensuring your cucumbers are crisp and delicious through the winter.
The pickle jars don't require sterilization through boiling(water bath) to seal, as the vinegar isn't diluted with water as in traditional recipes. (please see the recipe faqs)
The vinegar maintains a 5% acidity level, which is sufficient to kill any bacteria, preventing any risk of fermentation once the jar is closed tight.
You can also gift these beautifully colorful jars of pickled cucumbers to family or friends during the holiday season. Once a jar is opened, the pickles will last about 2-4 months in the refrigerator.
Note: Again, this is not a quick pickled cucumber recipe or refrigerator pickles. These cucumbers will not ferment and will be perfect for the wintertime. Never reuse pickle juice to make new pickles. Always use freshly made brine for the fresh cucumbers you want to can.
For optimal flavor, allow the pickles to sit for 3-6 weeks before consumption.
Typically, I start pickling in the cooler months of September and October and enjoy the pickles starting in late November or December.
This recipe's pickled cucumbers should last throughout the entire winter season until May.
The process generally takes 3-6 weeks. If you are using whole cucumbers, it might take the full six weeks, while sliced cucumbers will pickle more rapidly.
Absolutely, slicing the cucumbers is completely fine. In fact, sliced cucumbers not only pickle faster, but they're also more convenient to pick from the jar.
When stored in a cool location, canned pickles can last between 1-2 years.
Vinegar, containing mild acetic acid, increases the acidity in the cucumbers and eliminates any potentially harmful microorganisms in the jars. This helps in preserving the cucumbers and preventing spoilage.
No, it's not. While I do incorporate some sugar in the brine, it's primarily to balance out the vinegar's acidity and enhance the overall flavor. My preference leans towards a more salty brine than a syrupy one.
I strongly advise against reusing pickle juice for new pickles. This can lead to health risks.
Always use fresh brine for each new batch of cucumbers you want to pickle, particularly if you're following my recipe.
However, you can use leftover pickle juice in other ways, such as flavoring dips, salad dressings, or marinades.
Correct, there's no need for a water bath. Just ensure the jar lids are tightly sealed before storing them in a cool place.
Thanks to vinegar's botulism-destroying property and this recipe's use of pure vinegar, there's no need for a water bath. It's crucial that the vinegar used has at least 5% acetic acid.
Additional ingredients like horseradish root, mustard seeds, dill, sugar, and salt also contribute to flavor and preservation.
Many American recipes involve diluting vinegar with water and then processing the jars.
Dilution reduces vinegar's acidity, necessitating the jars to be processed to prevent bacterial growth.
However, in this recipe, we use undiluted 5% vinegar, boiled with spices, and poured over cucumbers - no water involved. This makes the pickles more sour (which pairs well with winter roasts) and keeps bacteria at bay.
The pickles need 3-6 weeks to be ready, and since the vinegar is not diluted, there's no need for processing.
In short, if the acidity of pickle juice drops below 3%, a water bath is needed. If the acidity stays around 5%, it isn't necessary.
If you have multiple jars, store them in a cool spot like a garage, basement, or pantry, as long as it's above-freezing temperatures. These colorful jars of cucumbers make a great gift, too!
Once opened, these pickles will remain fresh for approximately 2-4 months.
More pickle recipes to love
You know that you can pickle other vegetables, right? Here is a list of my favorite recipes:
Pickled cucumbers in vinegar- Easy recipe
- 4 pounds 4-6 inch cucumbers
- 1 head of garlic
- 1 gallon plain vinegar 5% acidity
- 4 tablespoons canning/pickling salt no iodine
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 5-6 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 6 teaspoons dried dill or the whole dill stems with umbels and green seeds
- 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
- 1-2 tablespoons black peppercorns
- 1 horseradish root cleaned and sliced in strips
Step 1: Preparing the Jars.
- Wash and sterilize your jars. Wide-mouth quart jars are recommended.
- Clean the lids with soapy water, dry them, and boil them for two minutes before use.
- Replace any aged or rusted lids.
Step 2: Preparing the Cucumbers.
- Choose high-quality cucumbers with no blemishes; wash them under running water.
- If necessary, cut cucumbers lengthwise to fit into jars.
- Slice the horseradish into slim pieces.
Step 3: Packing the Jars.
- Fill the jars with cucumbers, garlic cloves, black peppercorns, ¼ teaspoon of dried dill, and slices of horseradish in between.
Step 4: Preparing the Pickling Mixture.
- In a large pot, bring vinegar to a boil together with salt, and sugar. Boil for only 2-3 minutes, then add bay leaves, thyme, and mustard seeds.
- Set aside to cool for about 10 minutes.
Step 5: Filling the Jars with Pickling Mixture.
- Set jars on a metal tray to prevent cracking from thermal shock.
- Using a ladle, slowly pour the hot pickling mixture into the jars, fully immersing the cucumbers.
- Place 1-2 horseradish pieces on top of the jar to hold the cucumbers inside.
- Close the lids tight and store the jars in a cool place above freezing temperature.
- They need about a month to pickle before being consumed. These cucumbers will not ferment and will be perfect for the wintertime.
- Sterilizing through boiling isn't necessary due to the 5% acidity level maintained by undiluted vinegar.
- Once opened, jars last for 2-4 months in the fridge.
- Avoid reusing pickle juice; always use a fresh brine.
- Enjoy the pickles throughout the winter season with stews, soups, roasted meats, beans, or potatoes. They also make a nice gift around the holidays.