Pickling Cucumber

psittacineMarch 27, 2011

Since I love a good kosher dill, I'm thinking I need to grow pickling cucumbers at least one time in my life,and making my own pickles for the first time this year. I know absolutely nothing about growing them, and next to nothing about eating them - except we only like cucumbers processed as pickles:D - ergo the reason for looking for information on cucumbers only on the harvest forum. Surely those who make pickles know the best to grow for making them.

I would really appreciate recommendations for variety that works well for dills. If o.p. or heirloom, all the better. If pests/disease runs rampant around them, I am more than willing to grow resistant hybrids, at least during the learning process. How difficult is this particular crop for an organic grower?

Thank you for any and all insight you can give me into this subject. Crystal

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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Miss Pickler and Boston Pickling are the 2 varieties I grow. But there is also National Pickling, County Fair, and Saladin.

The variety of pickling cuke you use doesn't make much difference. If is your methods and the brine you use that make it a great pickle vs. an ok pickle.

The crucial point is they must be fresh picked. Pickle within just a few hours of picking. Because of that you need to grow several hills at the same time in order to have enough cukes to make a batch. 1 or 3 plants just on't cut it.


    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 7:23PM
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If you haven't grown cukes before......you want to make sure that you pick an appropriately sized one for the type of pickle you are making. You also want to make sure that you pick them young and tender. An overgrown cuke with large seeds makes a poor pickle. Kosher dills I presume will be with the whole pickle? Also, some of the nastiest Kosher dills I've ever made was with using one of those packets in the market. Find a good receipt and make them from scratch.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 8:23PM
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Dave I appreciate you sharing the names of the varieties you use and know are popular... gives me a place to start.

Another question - how do I figure out how many plants to start? With only 2 of us here most of the time, it isn't a major item to put in the pantry but, I have read it is better run out than to have much left past 1 year in storage.

I remember my step-daughter saying some years ago when I talked to her that she had been "up to o-dark-thirty getting all the cukes packed in brine before they could go limp." I am sure the recipe she used was an approved one. She remembers they were cold packed and contained only dill and garlic along with the cukes, salt, vinegar etc.. no pickling spice.

I've read some recommend soaking in ice water for 4-5 hours before pickling. If fresh picked and processed right away, will the crispness be improved further doing this?

calliope, I only have time for easy, so I plan to do whole pickles. I've got a few months to find an approved recipe. Typing in 'pickle' into the search engine on GW gives me lots to read. Wouldn't surprise me if I found a good recipe here :)


    Bookmark   March 28, 2011 at 1:15AM
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Crystal - make sure you plant a pickling cucumber, not a slicing, English, or burpless variety. I've been growing National Pickling -hybrid- for umpty years but I've also branched out with great success using white-skinned heirloom cucumbers for both fresh and pickling (www.rareseeds.com - Poona Kheera, Ruby Wallace's, White Wonder) and with them changed my mind about eating cucumbers fresh - they are delicious and easily digested as opposed to green-skinned.

For 2 people who don't want years' worth in the pantry (although they keep for 5 years at least! So how many years do you want to grow cucumbers to can them?) I'd suggest making TWO plantings of 4 plants each on 2 hills (sow extra seeds on each and cut/thin out). Sow after last frost, and then another sowing in the middle of the season. The later sowing may have fewer bugs and diseases - at least that is true here in NC and most times I don't even sow the first, just the later so I don't have to deal with many chemicals.

You do have to pick them just when you have time to pickle and not let them sit for more than a couple of hours, put them briefly in cool water to take the sun's heat from them. If they are ready on the vine and you don't have time, pick them (make fresh sweet pickle relish with these!) and more flowers will fruit. If you leave them on they will stop producing flowers and may die. If they get too big and overripe (yellow or golden) you can still make Sunshine Pickles (from Keeping the Harvest 2002 edition) at your leisure. They are not dills but really good. The link below is the Amazon excerpt from the book that happens to show both the quick dills and Sunshine recipes.

As for soaking in ice water - it depends on your recipe. I do use that method for my sliced bread and butter pickles but not for those I pack whole or are "fresh packed". That is the easiest method for pickling where the cucumbers are put raw into hot jars with spices and herbs, boiling vinegar/canning salt brine is poured over them, and immediately BWB canned. I do let them "mature" for several weeks after canning so that the vinegar has penetrated the cells completely and flavors have permeated. You can also ferment cucumbers in a big food-grade bucket, as long as you keep the air temp below 75F, can wait 5 or 6 weeks, and skim every couple days before you actually can them. With our over 90F temps for months here when the cucumbers are ready, I don't have a place in my house that is that cool so I have all but given up on fermenting, but have been eying my unused wine chiller.

Please follow only approved recipes and don't make up your own. A good one is Linda Z's "Joy of Pickling" and, "Pickles to Relish" by Bev Alfeld, both with great info on fermenting, along with hot pack and fresh pack methods and recipes.

A side note - be sure to cut off 1/8th inch of the blossom end - enzymes are there that may contain bacteria, is really bitter which can migrate to the rest of the pickle, and promotes excessive softening of the pickle. You can leave the stem end on but if you cut it off they will ferment quicker, but it makes no difference if they are fresh packed and it is preferable to have a handle on a whole cucumber. LOL


Here is a link that might be useful: Keeping the Harvest Quick Dills & Sunshine Pickles

    Bookmark   March 28, 2011 at 7:17AM
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I have grown Northern Pickling Cukes from Johnny's Selected Seeds with good success. I want to try LittleLeaf, but they didn't work out last year. I grew organically, and the only thing I had to worry about was powdery mildew.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2011 at 10:22AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Another question - how do I figure out how many plants to start? With only 2 of us here most of the time, it isn't a major item to put in the pantry but, I have read it is better run out than to have much left past 1 year in storage.

Honestly never heard of a 1 year limit on pickles. :) We still enjoy jars that are 4 and 5 years old. Beyond that the color of the pickle fades but the flavor is still good.

As to how many to plant, some great info from Nancy posted above, but the key IMO is to have enough cukes ready on the same day to make it worth your time and effort plus the processing energy to make a full batch - to make it worth while doing. That is 8-10 lbs of 3-5" pickling cukes for the average load. For us in our garden that means 5 hills of 3 plants each.

Sure you can make 1 jar at a time if you wish but it isn't very cost effective.


    Bookmark   March 28, 2011 at 2:00PM
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Thanks for the the good info and suggestions as well as the link to pages of Keeping the Harvest. The Sunshine Pickles recipe would no doubt be a good recipe to have on hand as it's not unusual for me to forget and end up picking ripe fruits/veggies later than I should. For 'overripe' cucumbers I would hope to be able find an approved recipe that calls for less sugar, or can use a sub since I am diabetic and need to watch carb intake. However, if the Quick Dill Pickles recipe in that link is an approved one, it sounds like it would be great! I think fermented pickles calls for too advanced a technique for me to deal with this year.

gourmetseeds (the only place I have been able to find that carries both the beet and tomato seeds I still need/want), also carries White Wonder cucumber! Think I have found another starting point - Thanks!

msfuzz, hope I have at least the same luck growing organically. I've not seen powdery mildew.. >yetThink I'll need to do a check on growth habits and culture of cucumbers as I didn't know they were grown in hills :D need to find out what 'kind' of hills! Here we sink things when we can to ensure they get enough moisture, not plant them high. I'm in the high desert mountains in SW Utah where rain is very rare during the growing season, so we run 10-12 hose outlets at that time

    Bookmark   March 28, 2011 at 2:14PM
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laceyvail(6A, WV)

Many gardens have problems with cucumber beetles which spread a bacterial wilt that kills cucumber plants. County Fair is a pickling cuke that is highly resistant to the bacterial wilt. Second in resistance is Little Leaf (also a pickling variety) that is not only quite bacterial wilt resistant, but also resistant to downy mildew. After many, many years of growing County Fair, I had to switch to Little Leaf because of downy mildew. I preferred the former, but....
These are the only two cucumbers that have resistance to bacterial wilt.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2011 at 6:05AM
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I've grown the little leaf, and it was a good one.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2011 at 1:46PM
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I got a packet from Walmart, should I return it and just do a recipe from scratch?

    Bookmark   March 29, 2011 at 2:00PM
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Laceyvail, good to know! Haven't had time to submit my order at gourmetseed yet and I see that they also carry Country Fair. So I'll have to decide whether to grow both CF and White Wonder or to pick just one variety. Country Fair evidentially stays seedless if another variety isn't around to cross pollinate?! Don't know how important that is, but having a disease resistant one may be that important deciding factor. I don't have an easy time making decisions these days ((grin))

Lucille, are you asking about spice mix for making pickles or the seeds for growing cucumber? If it is for making actual pickles like dills, doesn't sound like there is much to it - dill, garlic, salt maybe pickle crisp (and pickling spices if you like them) added to the vinegar/water. Maybe a batch using the packaged mix and one using your own herbs/spices?

Here is a link that might be useful: NCHFP pickles

    Bookmark   March 30, 2011 at 10:46AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Lucille - If it is the Mrs. Wages pickling mix you bought then give it a try. Many like those mixes, some don't but it is a personal preference taste-bud thing. :)

They are convenient but it all depends on the taste you are looking for. From scratch is just as easy to do but it means buying more ingredients up from - namely mixed pickling spices or, if you prefer, the individual containers of spices to mix to your own taste.

Just a personal opinion but while we like the Mrs. Wages B&B mix we don't especially care for either of her dill pickle mixes so we prefer to make our own. The plain dill mix is just ok taste wise but the Kosher one doesn't have enough garlic for our taste.


    Bookmark   March 30, 2011 at 11:53AM
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Is there such a thing as a low salt pickle recipe?


    Bookmark   March 31, 2011 at 5:36PM
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Cindy, NCHFP has a little information on low sodium pickles and I've seen some info on the web during my hunt for info on growing cucumbers... somebody's (?) book on pickling I think, but can't remember - wish I'd noted it. Sorry I'm not much help, but if you do find an acceptable link for information, please let me know. I have a brother on dialysis and he may be able to eat pickles (which he loves) if I had a recipe.

Here is a link that might be useful: Low sodium pickles

    Bookmark   April 1, 2011 at 2:10PM
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the Joy of Pickling has a low sodium pickle recipe.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2011 at 1:00PM
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I've made pickles with all kinds of cucumbers, in fact the best ones I've done are with "Diva", a seedless, burpless variety. Pick them when they're small and they're wonderful.

Here, I try to put in a dozen plants, the idea being that its easier for me to devote a couple of weeks to cucumber pickle canning, and when they all start producing, then I can pick 6 - 10 jars worth of small cucumbers every 3 or 4 days. Then I'm done for the season. Then we let the plants go - enjoy slicers, and the possibility of making bread-and-butter pickles later on. To be honest, we also end up with plenty of foot-ball sized ones that head to the compost heap.

I've found the best way to insure low sodium is to simply add a teaspoon of salt per qt - put directly in the jar.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2011 at 3:33PM
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Last year I made up some Kosher pickles, some were left whole and some were sliced as spears. I used the same brine recipe for both types and left them to sit the recommended amount of time. The whole pickles came out awesome but the spears came out super weak in flavor. Both the whole pickles and the spears are still crisp today. Any idea why this could have happened? Any help would be greatly appreciated.


    Bookmark   May 10, 2011 at 11:29PM
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My guess is that it had to do with differences in salt uptake during the soaking phase. I did garlic dill spears last year, and they were the first to disappear.

Just wanted to cast a vote for the Little Leaf variety, which is open pollinated and resistant to bacterial wilt. I think both Johnny's and Southern Exposure have it.

Here is a link that might be useful: cukes for pickling

    Bookmark   May 13, 2011 at 10:30AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Agree, its the salt exchange. The cut surfaces on spears leach a great deal more of their water content out into the brine than a whole cuke can. Dilutes the brine and thus the flavor.


    Bookmark   May 13, 2011 at 11:13AM
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Thanks for all the great information! That cukes would thin out the brine with leached juices when cut into spears, is something I didn't initially think of. Another reason for me to skip that step and just pickle whole ones.. easier AND tastier - YES!

This year I settled on growing Country Fair, an f1 hybrid that produces no seeds if grown without other Cucumis around. Seems like seedless will help with crispness - and also, I got the remaining seeds I needed from one supplier with that choice. For now we have started plants for 3 hills of 3 plants each and will maybe do a later planting (direct sow) if needed. I'm hoping I'll figure out picking/size/timing/plant-count, and weather or not I can make them taste close to the kosher dills we prefer, this first year. If all goes well, next year I really want to try one of the white skinned open pollinated/heirloom type.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2011 at 1:24PM
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I ordered my Little Leaf seeds from Fedco, I can't wait to try them (but first I have to plant them)! Fedco says they're good for slicing, too?

    Bookmark   May 13, 2011 at 3:59PM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

We have 150 H-19 Little Leaf in one of my tunnels. They are really productive, just make sure to pick everyday or they will get big, FAST! Good for pickling and slicing.


    Bookmark   May 17, 2011 at 10:38AM
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*How* productive? I don't think I want 150, but 10-15? Maybe plant 5 at a time to spread the harvest out? Any idea how many cukes per plant ripening at once? I would like enough to sell as slicers (though I can plant Straight 8's for those) as well as see if pickling cukes sell. I want some to pickle for ourselves, though I don't think I'll be selling pickles this year. Thanks.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2011 at 8:23PM
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Hi - I, too, love kosher dills and want to make some this year, because our gardener put in a cucumber plant for us, and I, too, only really like them pickled.

Now, it's only one plant, but it's a doozy -- it's got a zillion blossoms on it and it's climbing up 5 poles.

The first cucumbers are starting to get pretty big. But I may not even have enough for a whole jar at one time, let alone a big batch of jars.

So here's my stupid question: as the cucumbers ripen, can I add them to the jars?

I know I can't do that if I seal the jars properly. But my mother has been making pickles for years, and she never seals them on the stove, she just sterilizes the jars and then keeps them in the refrigerator. So that was my plan, too.

If I do that, can I add more cucumbers to the jars as they are ready? Even if the results won't be quite as good, will it be worth doing?

If not, then the food bank is going to be getting a LOT of cucumbers .....

Thanks in advance for your help.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2011 at 1:10PM
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Total newbie here but I figured I'd put in my 2 cents. I started container gardening this year and I have 4 picklebush and 2 burpless (which I found out too late are not great for pickling so I've been giving them away). With my 4 picklebush, I get 6-10 ripe cukes a day so I can do a small batch of pickles every day or two. I've been using the Ball Kosher Dill mix in a can just because I can easily do whatever size batch I have ready. I want to try some other mixes and making my own but so far the Ball is all I've done. I'm a working single mom with two little boys so "quick and easy" is a must. I bring in a few cukes and wash them, put the pickle mix and vinegar on the stove while I slice the cukes and put them in jars, pour the boiling liquid into the jars and that's it. I've been keeping them in the fridge because I didn't have a big pot that would work on my glass-top stove for actually canning them but I got one this weekend so we'll see how much trouble that step adds. With ~10 cukes, I can fill 3 small (12 oz?) jars which is perfect for a batch and coincidentally, that's just how many cukes I have ripe every day or so.

My very picky 7-year old tasted a homemade pickle for the first time yesterday. He thought about it for a minute and then exclaimed "It tastes just a like a real one!" which I think he meant as a compliment? If you're on a low-sodium diet, the Ball mix may be way too salty for you. I like salty stuff but they're right on the borderline for me. That didn't stop me from eating a whole jar by myself last night without even realizing it! My friend swears by Mrs. Wage's kosher dill mix but I like the flexibility to do a smaller batch so I haven't tried that yet.

For me, growing picklebush has been very easy and very forgiving. Mine have been through some abuse since I was just learning and started them in small pots, then moved them to bigger ones, didn't trellis them at first and added a trellis after the fact, overwater, underwater, GA heat, etc. They've thrived in spite of it all. I think disease is less of a concern when you're growing in containers because you start with "clean" soil but pests haven't been a problem for me. There are always lots of bugs around those plants but they haven't caused any problems yet. With cukes you can't forget to pick them because they grow so fast. A little baby may be only an inch long this morning and 4 inches tomorrow!

    Bookmark   July 18, 2011 at 2:02PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

as the cucumbers ripen, can I add them to the jars?

A frequent question here and unfortunately the answer is a somewhat qualified no. In other words you might be able to get by with doing it for a day or two but after that the brine in the jar is so diluted by the water that has been drawn out of the cukes in the jar that adding more cukes quickly pushes the pH into a potentially unsafe range that allow listeria, molds and yeasts to grow. How quickly the brine is too diluted depends on the recipe used and the amount of vinegar it contains. 1:1 water to vinegar is the minimum ratio and of course more vinegar is even better. Some use 100% vinegar (5%) with no water added.

So instead just adding cukes you would have to dump that brine, make fresh, heat it up and put all the pickles (old and new) into it.

my mother has been making pickles for years, and she never seals them on the stove, she just sterilizes the jars and then keeps them in the refrigerator. So that was my plan, too.

That method was used in the past but hasn't been recommended for for several years, basically since listeria was discovered. So if you choose to go that route it would be at your own risk.

The ideal situation as discussed in detail above is simply to grow enough cuke plants at one time. Otherwise the best option is to make a couple of small jars at a time as the cukes become available as Barbara suggested.


    Bookmark   July 18, 2011 at 3:16PM
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Okay, then, can I put all different sizes of cucumbers into the jar, or are the little ones not ripe somehow? I read elsewhere that they are fine.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2011 at 3:37PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Yes you can. Assuming you are using a safe pickle recipe then the sizes don't matter safety-wise. The bigger ones will take longer to develop a 'pickle' flavor than the small ones though.

I sometimes leave small ones whole but cut the big ones into halves or quarter spears just to make the piece sizes more uniform.

Be sure to cut your blossom ends off on all.


    Bookmark   July 19, 2011 at 5:58PM
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