Ever wondered how to start pickling cucumbers? The thought might cross your mind during the growing season, a time when gardens and farmer's markets will be bursting with fresh cucumbers. That's a stark contrast to what you'll get if you buy this veggie at the store, where it's likely coated in a wax that should be peeled off, robbing you of healthy fiber and vitamin C housed in the skin.
It's best to grow your own, or stock up at farmer's markets, to try your hand at pickling cucumbers. And remember pickle recipe rule number 1: "Make pickles your family likes," suggests Jean Nick, author of Rodale.com's Nickel Pincher column. "If no one ever eats dill pickles, don't make them."
• Match the cucumber to the pickling recipe. Whether you're interested in making whole dill pickles to crunch or pickle slices for sandwiches, choosing the right cuke is key. "Cucumbers make great pickles. Bread-and-butter pickles are very easy, and can be made with regular slicing cukes," explains Aimee Good, organic farmer and co-owner of Quiet Creek Farm in Kutztown, PA. "Dill cukes are delicious, but to stay crisp, it's best to use small cukes, and cut off ends [before pickling]" she adds. Also, only use fresh, firm cucumbers for pickling, not ones that are starting to soften up.
• Slice 'em how you like 'em. If the pickles are going to be used on sandwiches, cut large, thin slices on an angle to make long ovals, instead of small rounds, suggests Nick.
• Select the proper salt. When pickling cucumbers, you must use pickling or canning salt, not iodized or table salt, Good adds. Sea salt is OK.
• Make refrigerator pickles for free. Here's the easiest way to make homemade pickles: "After you eat all the pickles out of a jar, reuse the juice by slicing leftover cucumbers, onion, beans, cauliflower, or just about any fresh or cooked veggie into it, and putting the jar in the fridge overnight—or even better, for a week or more," suggests Nick. "They just get better with time!"
• Think beyond cukes! Pickles and cucumbers are not synonymous. "Think outside the box—pickled peach halves and spiced pickled crabapples are great," says Nick. Good suggests pickling hot peppers, beets, and even dilly beans for more fun pickling variations.