Pickling 101

portlandia-pickles-300x167Not to sound like the hipsters on “Portlandia” (“We can pickle that!“), you really can pickle just about any kind of vegetable (or fruit!) that you can find at the farmers’ market in the summertime.

To make a pickle, you need brine. Brine is the magic ingredient that turns plain cucumbers into a delicious pickle.

A very basic brine is just a solution made of equal parts vinegar and water, mixed with kosher salt. This brine gets poured over the vegetables and, in what seems like magic, but is actually science, transforms the vegetables into pickles. While you can certainly eat your homemade pickles right away, they get even better after they’ve had some time to soak in the brine.

Keep the ratios the same, and you can make more or less brine to suit the amount of pickles you want to make. You can also swap out the cider vinegar for rice vinegar, white wine vinegar, or another vinegar to suit your taste.

INGREDIENTS – feel free to customize the ingredient list with your favorite vegetables and spices!

Pickled_okra_in_jar_21-1/2 lb small, fresh cucumbers (Kirby or Persian are two good varieties for pickling)

OR AllSpice’s own Pickling Spice Blend


1.   First, a question: Are you going to store the pickles in the fridge (to eat sometime soon) or in the pantry (for longer-term storage)?

  • If you want to keep them in the pantry, you’ll need to sterilize the jars and their lids. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and sterilize the jars and their lids.
  • If you are planning keep them in the fridge (and eat them soon), simply washing the jars and lids in hot soapy water, rinsing thoroughly, is fine.

2.    Wash and dry the cucumbers* . Trim away the ends of the cucumber (especially the blossom end, which contains enzymes that can lead to cloudy brine and limp pickles). Leave the pickles whole, cut them into spears, or slice them into coins, as preferred.

3.     Spice, spice baby. Add the spices to the jars: Divide the garlic, dill seed, and red pepper flakes (if using) between the pint jars: 2 smashed cloves, 1 teaspoon dill seed, and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes per jar. (Or just evenly divide the Pickling Spice. It’s all good, baby. It’s all good.)

AllSpice_Pickling_Spice4.   Pack the jars. Pack the vegetables into the jars, as tightly as you can without squishing them, leaving 1/2′ of empty space at the top. If the veg is so tall that it extends to within 1/2 of the top of the jar, trim it down. You’ll need that empty 1/2″ of “headspace” when you add the brine.

5.   Boil the briny brew.  In a heavy, non-reactive saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, and salt over high heat. Bring solution to a rolling boil and carefully pour the brine into the filled jars. Leave that important 1/2-inch of headspace at the top of each jar. You may not use all the brine, and that’s just fine.

6. Air is the enemy. Remove any air bubbles in between the spices and veggies by gently taping the jars against the counter. Top off with a little more brine if needed.

7.  Tighten up. Put the clean lids and bands on the filled jars and tighten them securely.

8.   Optional — Process the pickles for longer storage. See more on this choice below. For longer storage, place the jars in a boiling pot of water. When the water comes back to a boil, set the timer for 5 minutes and remove the jars immediately. Make sure the lids pop down; if they do not, refrigerate those pickles and eat them first.

9.  Keep it coolin’ baby. I gotta whole lotta pickles.  Let the jars cool down on wire cooling racks until they are back to room temperature. If you processed the jars, they can be stored on the shelf. If the pickles are unprocessed, pop them in the fridge.

Sit and wait. Just sit and wait – if you can. The flavor of the pickles gets better and better as they age — if you can, wait at least a day or two before serving.

Processed pickles will keep for at least a year on the shelf – and for several weeks in the refrigerator once the jar is opened. Refrigerator (not processed) pickles will keep for several weeks.

*(or your favorite vegetable)

To Process or Not to Process?

Basic pickles can be processed in a hot water bath for 5 minutes, which makes them shelf stable for around a year. The drawback to hot water processing is that the cucumbers (or other veg) will get a little cooked by the hot water bath, and that can give the pickles a slightly softer texture. If crunchy pickles are your jam, and you were going to eat them soon anyway, skip the processing step and just keep the jars refrigerated.

greenbeanPickle Permutations

Speaking of *other vegetables, you can pickle all kinds of summer vegetables using this method — green beans (a.k.a. dilly beans), fresh sweet corn, okra (pictured above), pickled beets, peppers, etc.

Flavor Rave: Pickles come in so many varieties, not just Kosher Dill. Try other flavors in your pickle like turmeric, mustard seeds, whole black peppercorns, cloves, whole dried chilies, or any other spices that sound good to you.

Bigger batches.  Just can’t get enough pickles? Use that eighth-grade math to keep the same ratio of vinegar, water, and salt (1 Cup: 1 Cup: 1-1/2 Tbsp) and make enough brine to top off all your jars of pickles.