Canning 101: Lemon-Cucumber Pickles
Familiar with that split second of the year when you find yourself swimming in fresh cucumber harvests that leaves you both joyous and overwhelmed? Cukes are refreshing for the first few bites--you're proud of your green thumb--yet then the harvests pour out of these productive plants to no end! What if you could spread out this wealth and enjoy the crunch mid-winter?
Canning is a timeless solution to significantly extend this bounty. By processing jars of homemade pickles in a hot water bath, they will be shelf-stable for a whole year. Enjoy a homegrown snack in the middle of winter, or give jars away as holiday/housewarming gifts (it's never bad to have a stash of last-minute gifts).
Don't be intimidated by the idea of canning, there's a method to the madness! Canning is simple, inexpensive, and provides big benefits on the other side. We'll walk you through the process, and you'll be ready to step out into the canning world on your own (+ your Seedsheet ;).
Want to try growing your own fresh crop of cukes?
Design Your Custom 4'x8' Backyard OR 12" Container Seedsheet below:
Here are the key steps to canning your lemon-cucumber pickles, start to finish:
- For the week leading up to when you're going to process these, save up your harvests to have a larger quantity to work with.
- To keep the cukes from turning bitter before pickling, harvest in the morning (about every other day) and immediately soak the fruit in a bucket of cold water for about 30 minutes before draining and storing in the fridge.
On the day of canning:
- Start by filling up a large cooler or a few buckets with ice water and all of your cucumbers. Let them soak again here for 2-4 hours to really retain their crunch.
- While the cucumbers are in the cold water bath, prepare your equipment and ingredients.
- Large canning pot + metal rack insert (so the jars don't sit on the bottom of the pot)
- Pint mason jars, wide or regular mouth (the jars don't need to be brand new, but the lids need to be new because the seal can only be used once)
- Jar tongs (specific for picking up mason jars)
- Jar funnel
- Large stock pot (to heat brine)
- Clean towel or paper towels
- Cutting board & chef's knife
- Mandonline/slicer (this is optional but worth it--$10 at a big box store--and consistent texture is key!)
- A few large mixing bowls
INGREDIENTS (for 7 pint-jars of pickles):
INSTRUCTIONS (order is everything!):
- Fill your canning pot with water about 2/3 of the way full, set the metal rack in the bottom of the pot, place the lid on top, and turn the burner on high.**
- Drain cucumbers from the ice water bath and set up your cutting station.
- Trim stem & blossom ends off of each cucumber so they are flat on each end. (Did you know that the blossom-end contains enzymes that when left on during pickling, can lead to soggy pickles?!)
- Set up your mandolin slicer or knife and cutting board to begin your thin slicing. Collect sliced cucumbers in large mixing bowls until you're done (great task for a lucky sous-chef!).
- Peel cloves of garlic and pinch off flowers from dill stems.
- Assemble your brine and heat it up! Combine apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, water & salt into the large stock pot on the stovetop next to your water bath canner. Turn this burner off when the brine reaches a boil.
- Prepare the jars and lids (running through the dishwasher is ideal, or hand wash to thoroughly clean). Lids/jars do NOT need to be sterilized since they are going to be processed for at least 10 minutes. Keep the lids nearby, and set the empty jars next to the pot of brine.
- Drop the spices in each jar with 1-clove of garlic, 1-dill flower, and 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes.
- Stuff the jars with as many cucumber slices as you can fit. Fill up to the neck of the jar, just below the lip (about 1/2") from the top.
- Fill jars with brine. When the vinegar brine has reached a boil and the burner is off, grab your ladle and funnel. Place the funnel on top of the first jar and carefully ladle in the brine. Use caution here--you wont need more than a 1-2 ladles of brine in each jar if they are packed tight. Leave 1/4"-1/2" headspace between the surface of the brine and the top of the jar. If any cucumber slices rise too high on the surface, scoop them out with a clean spoon.
- Examine the jar to make sure there aren't any air bubbles. Use a chopstick or long spoon to get rid of any air trapped in the jars before screwing the lids on.
- Wipe the top rim of each jar, and screw on a clean lid + ring.
- Move jars into the boiling water bath. When all 7 jars are filled and capped, make sure the water is boiling before you start to move the jars into the bath using your tongs. Slightly angle each jar as you place it into the water bath.
- With all 7 jars in, make sure the surface of the boiling water is at least a couple of inches higher than the jars.
- Replace the lid to your canner, and set the timer for 10 minutes.
- Set out a clean dishcloth on the other side of your canner to place the finished jars. During this waiting time, you can either start filling another round of jars (if you have additional ingredients), or sit back and wait.
- Remove each processed jar with tongs after 10 minutes, and place on your prepared dishcloth.
- Leave jars out to cool and finish sealing for 12-24 hours, ne touche pas (don't touch)!
- After cooling, flick the top of each lid with your finger nail to check the seals. If you hear a ding/high-pitched sound, the seal is great! If the sound is muted and dull, the seal may not be adequate. Jars with good seals can go into a cool, dark place (basement or pantry) for up to a year, and poor seals will need to be refrigerated to be consumed within the next couple of weeks.
- Mark the date on each jar with a piece of masking tape (trust us, you'll soon forget when you made them)
- If giving as a gift, remove this tape later and decorate as you wish-- with twine, a card, etc
- Make this same recipe with your bounty of zucchini, snap peas, cauliflower or peppers
- Add in some other spices to change things up such as turmeric, celery seeds, or cumin seeds.
*Use about 8 pounds of cucumbers per 7 pint jars. We work in increments of 7 jars because that is the capacity per batch of your boiling water bath canner. Once you're all set up, it's nice to maximize the amount of jars you process so feel free to scale these ratios.
**You want this water to be boiling by the time you're ready to process the jars, so give it a head start!