How To Make Your Own Pickles

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Pickling is one of the oldest methods for preserving food, and its brine imparts a distinctive, delicious flavor. If you love crisp, salty pickles, you don't need to run out and buy them at your local supermarket or deli. Making pickles at home is easy and fun for the whole family.

Joys of Pickling

Why go through the effort to make pickles when getting them at the store is so easy? Here are just a few reasons:

  • Control over ingredients: Your homemade pickles will be fresher than store bought ones, and you can be sure they'll be free of artificial colors, flavors and preservatives.
  • Great taste: Using better ingredients results in better tasting pickles.
  • Family fun: Your kids will enjoy taking part in the pickling process and learning about how their food is made.
  • Variety: Homemade pickling has lots of room for creativity. You'll have the chance to make varied and interesting pickles you'd never find in a store.

What's in a Jar of Pickles?

When most people think of pickles, they imagine pickled cucumbers. The truth is, pickling isn't limited to just cucumbers. Lots of vegetables and even fruits taste great pickled. You might want to try your hand at making pickles from:

  • Tomatoes
  • Beets
  • Pears
  • Apples
  • Kale
  • Onions
  • Cabbage
  • Mushrooms
  • Cauliflower
  • Radishes
  • Apricots
  • Hot peppers
  • Peaches
  • Asparagus
  • Zucchini
  • Watermelon rind.

how to make your own pickles

Pickling Supplies

Before you get started pickling, you'll need some basic supplies. Depending on your recipe, you'll need some or all of the following:

  • Glass jars, lids and rings: These provide a place for your pickles to ripen.
  • A weight: You'll only need this for certain recipes to keep your pickles submerged under brine. A zipper bag of water or a plate and a jar of water are fine for this purpose.
  • Coarse pickling or kosher salt: Everyday table salt isn't optimal for pickling.
  • Pickling spices: Depending on your recipe you may need classic pickling spice blend, dill, turmeric, celery seed, mustard or garlic.
  • Stone crock: This is only required for certain recipes.
  • Boiling water or bleach solution and tongs: You'll need these for sterilization.

Keeping Things Clean

When you make pickles, all kinds of flavors blend and develop over time in your pickling jars. What you want to keep out of the mix are any germs that could make you sick. To protect your pickles from bacteria, you'll need to sterilize your jars. Sterilization isn't complicated so don't be intimidated. Here are two simple methods:

Method 1: Boiling Water To Make Pickles

  1. Wash your hands.
  2. Wash all jars, lids, rings and a pair of tongs in warm soapy water, even if they're brand new.
  3. Fill a large pot with water and bring water to a rolling boil on your stovetop.
  4. First sterilize your tongs by holding the ends in boiling water for six minutes.
  5. Place all jars, lids and rings in water and boil for six minutes.
  6. Use sterilized tongs to take jars, lids and rings out of the water and let them dry on a clean paper towel.

Method 2: Bleach Solution To Make Pickles

  1. Wash your hands.
  2. Mix two gallons of water with ¼ cup of bleach in a large bin.
  3. Soak jars, lids, rings and tongs for at least 15 minutes.
  4. Use sterilized tongs to remove everything else from the solution, rinse jars, lids and rings thoroughly in hot water and let them air dry.

Making Your Pickles

Now you're ready to make pickles! Each pickling recipe is unique, but most follow these basic steps:

  1. Choose good quality Kirby cucumbers or other produce for pickling.
  2. Add some fragrance elements such as whole peppercorns or garlic.
  3. Pack cucumbers (or other produce) tightly into pickling jar with fragrance elements. Cucumbers should stand vertically, next to one another.
  4. Make your brine. Brine is the salty solution that starts the pickling process. A basic brine recipe might include a quart of vinegar, two cups of water and ¾ cup of pickling salt. The solution is brought to a boil on the stovetop to dissolve the salt.
  5. Pour brine solution over cucumbers in jar. Some recipes will tell you to do this while the brine is hot and others to let it cool to room temperature. Be sure cucumbers or other vegetables/fruits are completely covered.
  6. Cover jars tightly and store them in the refrigerator for at least two weeks or as directed by your specific recipe before eating them.

Easy Garlic Dill Pickle Recipe

Here's an easy recipe to help you get started with pickle making. These pickles have only about 18 calories per serving.

  • 6 cups of fresh, clean water
  • ¼ cup of kosher or pickling salt
  • 2 tablespoons of white vinegar
  • 2 pounds of small, Kirby cucumbers, scrubbed
  • 2/3 cup of chopped fresh dill
  • 7 large fresh garlic cloves, sliced
  • 9 whole black peppercorns
  1. Sterilize jars, lids and rings.
  2. In a saucepan, combine water, salt and vinegar and bring to a boil over medium heat.
  3. Allow brine to cool to room temperature.
  4. Pack cucumbers, garlic, dill and peppercorns in a 2-quart glass jar and pour brine over them to cover completely.
  5. Cover jar securely and refrigerate for a minimum of one week before eating. Pickle flavor will get stronger the longer you wait, and pickles will keep for several months in the refrigerator.

When you have homemade pickles on hand, your whole family will enjoy snacks that are fat-free, low in calories and full of the goodness of fresh produce. You may even find your kids asking for pickles instead of junk foods!

Last Updated: June 24, 2012
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About Roberta Pescow Roberta Pescow holds a bachelor's degree in communications from City University of New York, Queens College and is a freelance writer and editor in the NJ area. The author of "A Life In The Service" and "A Monster's Tears," she enjoys writing informative articles, personal essays, fiction and music.  Roberta is a proud mother of two. Her other interests include fitness, photography, sculpture and meditation. She is a voracious reader and holds a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwan Do. Roberta enjoys decorating her hectic, but happy home and garden in original and affordable ways.  

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