Start to Finish: 2 hours
Servings: Approximately 6 pints
Difficulty Level: Beginner
Make crisp sweet pickle slices, cubes or gherkins from fresh pickling cucumbers. Although some traditional recipes call for days-long brining time, you can make quick pickles in an afternoon that have the same old-fashioned taste. There’s no need for a pressure canner -- a water bath canner is all you need to seal jars of sweet pickles. You can also store them in the refrigerator without processing.
Growing conditions may cause hollow places in cucumbers that cause soft pickles. If you’re making gherkins, test them for hollow places by dropping them into a large bowl of water. Those that float have hollow places. You can still pickle them, but use them as slices or chunks for best results.
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Quick Old-Time Sweet Pickles
- 1 gallon cucumbers, about 5 pounds
- 1 quart vinegar, 5 percent acidity
- 3 tablespoons pickling salt
- 1 tablespoon mustard seed
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 3 1/2 cups vinegar, 5 percent acidity
- 4 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons celery seed
- 6 1-inch cinnamon sticks pieces
- 1 tablespoon whole allspice, optional
Homemade vinegar has uncertain acidity. Use standardized 5 percent acidity vinegar to make pickles with optimum food safety, taste and texture. Bacteria can grow in vinegar solutions with lower acidity and cause spoilage.
Prepare the Cucumbers
Trim 1/16 inch from the blossom ends of the cucumbers. Natural enzymes in the blossom end may cause soft pickles.
Wash the cucumbers thoroughly and cut them into 1/4-inch slices or 3/4-inch chunks. Leave small gherkins whole. Gherkins are baby cucumbers about 3-inches long.
In a large stainless steel or enamel pot, mix together 1 quart vinegar, 3 tablespoons salt, 1 tablespoon mustard seed and 1/4 cup sugar. Stir and bring the liquid to a simmer.
Add the sliced cucumbers and simmer in the covered pan for 10 minutes.
Drain the pickles into a large colander, discarding this liquid.
Because of the acidity of the vinegar, use only stainless steel or enamel pans and utensils with pickles. Other metals may corrode and cause darkened pickles. Iodized table salt may also cause darkened pickles.
In the cooking pan mix together 3 1/2 cups vinegar, 4 1/2 cups sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons celery seed, and cinnamon stick pieces. Bring the syrup mixture to a full boil. Substitute whole allspice for the cinnamon, if you prefer.
While you wait for the syrup to boil, place the hot cucumber pieces into hot, glass pint jars that have been sterilized by boiling them in water for 5 minutes. Fill each jar to 1 inch from the top.
Pour the boiling vinegar mixture to fill the jars to 1/2 inch from the top. Insert a flat plastic spatula along the inside of the jars to release air bubbles between the pickles.
Wipe the jar threads and the top edge of the jars with a clean, damp cloth.
Seal the jars with canning lids and bands that have been sterilized by covering them with boiling water in a large bowl.
Processing and Storage
Process the pint jars in a water bath canner with the lid on for 10 minutes. The water level in the canner should be at least 1 inch above the tops of the jars. Begin counting the processing time as soon as the water returns to a boil after the jars are in the canner.
Remove the jars and place them on a wire rack to cool. You’ll hear the lids pop as they seal. Do not move the jars until they are completely cool.
Store processed pickle jars in a cool, dark place.
Unsealed jars allow spoilage to occur, which makes pickles unsafe to eat. Check the seals when the jars have cooled completely. Carefully unscrew the bands and test the seal by gently lifting the lid edges with your fingers. The lids should be firmly stuck to the rims of the jars. If a lid is loose, refrigerate the jar immediately. Refrigerated pickles are safe to eat.
Place the pickles directly into glass jars, cover them with the boiling syrup and put sterilized lids on the jars. Allow the jars to cool slightly, then store them in the refrigerator. Use unprocessed pickles within 3 months.
Small zucchini cut into slices or chunks also make good sweet pickles using the same method as for cucumbers. Use the same process for watermelon rind pickles: Cut the rind into long strips. Trim away all the pink and pare the outer skin so only the white layer remains. Cut it into cubes no larger than 3/4 inch and process the same as cucumbers.