From ancient China to Rome, vegetable growers preserved food by pickling, which is a form of fermentation. In the United States, the Department of Agriculture first published pickling instructions in the 1920s. These methods have been handed down for generations and are still used today. One of the most popular foods used in pickling is the cucumber, and whether you grow them in home gardens or find them in your local supermarkets, you can make pickles from these crispy veggies.
Cucumbers in General
Cucumbers are green vegetables that are typically grown on vines in hot summer gardens. They come in a number of varieties, including long types for slicing in salads and shorter, bush types for pickling. The plants require regular tending and care, and vines can require training along support systems such as poles, fences, trellises and stakes. They can yield abundant harvests from summer into early fall.
Cucumbers for Pickling
Though many types of cucumbers will work fine for pickling, there are a number of varieties preferred by people who do their own canning. These often include the bush pickle and the "Carolina." If you grow your own, you can harvest the cucumbers when they're at least 2 inches long, and up to 4 or 6 inches, depending on the type of pickle you'll be making. During peak canning season, you can also find cucumbers strictly grown for pickling at farmer's markets and grocery stores . Only select those that are vibrant green and never yellow.
The key ingredient to pickling is vinegar. This is combined with salt, sugar and seasonings that include pepper, garlic, dill and others to yield tart, sour, semi-sweet, sweet and dill pickles. The cucumbers are cleaned and cut, sliced or left whole, then placed into sterilized jars. The jars are then filled with the pickling mix and held in a large pot of boiling water for five or 10 minutes or more.
Types of Pickles
The types of pickles that you can make or purchase include dill pickles, bread and butter pickles, sweet pickles and a variety of different pickled relishes--which are basically just chopped cucumbers that have been pickled with seasonings. Kosher pickles--famous in the northeastern states--are made with a very coarse white salt, among other things. Whatever type of pickle you like, you can try your hand at preserving and canning your own cucumbers for future feasting.