Classic Pickles

I’ve learned many tricks for keeping classic cucumber pickles crisp—and to set aside extra cukes for relish. Get pickling recipes at
Dill pickles fit the “classic” category on so many levels. They have a long history among home canners, and in my home in particular. While my mom boiled vinegar brine and tended the canning kettle, my sister and I were given the job of packing whole cucumbers into quart jars because we had small hands. Weeks later, I’d start pulling jars from the packed shelves to munch on the crisp, sour vegetables.

Since I first learned to can pickles, I’ve found many tricks for keeping cucumbers crisp throughout the heated processing that lets you store them on shelves at room temperature. My mom always added grape leaves from our homegrown vines, harnessing their tannins to help keep the cukes crisp; I found horseradish leaves have the same effect. I’ve also started pasteurizing the jars instead of dropping them into a boiling water bath. Pasteurizing takes a little more time at my altitude, but the lower temperature still gives a crunchier pickle. Set aside any cucumbers that are blemished or won’t squeeze into the jars for relish.

Ready to give it a try? Full details are in the recipe below, but here are the basics:
You need just 3 main ingredients plus the herbs and spices you want for flavoring.
1. Make your vinegar brine.
2. Pack the jars.
3. Pasteurize the jars in a water-bath canner.

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Processed Cucumber Dill Pickles

  • Servings: 7 quart jars
  • Difficulty: 2
  • Print
9 pounds 4-inch or smaller pickling cucumbers
1/2 cup pickling or kosher salt
6 cups apple cider vinegar (5% acidity)
8 cups water
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
handful of freshly picked horseradish or grape leaves (optional)
7 fresh dill heads
14 slices horseradish
14 cloves garlic, peeled
7 red chilies, split in half
7 bay leaves
7 teaspoons mustard seeds

Gently wash the cucumbers in cold water, removing any surface dirt. Cut a thin slice from the blossom end of each cucumber; cut large cucumbers into spears or set them aside for relish (see below).

In a large pot, combine the vinegar water, sugar, and salt. Heat the brine until the temperature is 180°F on a thermometer, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

Quickly line the bottom of a hot quart jar with a piece of grape or horseradish leaf. Add a dill head, two horseradish slices, two garlic cloves, a chili, a bay leaf, and 1 teaspoon of mustard seeds to the jar. Fill the jar with cucumbers, packing them firmly but not so tightly that you bruise the produce. Ladle the hot vinegar mixture into the jar, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Remove any air bubbles with a chopstick, wipe the jar’s rim, and attach the lid and ring. Add the jar to your water bath; repeat the process with each jar. When the canning kettle is full, pasteurize for 30 minutes. Makes about 7 quart jars.

Tips & Tricks
  • Be sure you’ve chosen pickling cucumbers for this recipe. There are many varieties, but the season is short—just a few weeks starting in late July in my region. Large, dark green, thick-skinned slicing cukes are too watery to process. Save slicers for fresh recipes and quick pickles.
  • My mom emphasized in her recipe the need for “FRESH—picked that day—cucumbers.” If you aren’t growing your own in enough quantities to fill a canner batch, check with your farmer: you can likely find out when the next harvest will be ready and plan to pick them up that day.
  • I let watery sliced vegetables like cucumbers and zucchini sit in a saltwater brine before canning them. Even whole cucumbers will stay crisper with this extra treatment: dissolve 3/4 cup of salt in 2 gallons of water. Let them sit in the brine overnight, and then rinse and drain well.
  • My mom doubled down on the dill in her pickles. My dill heads are so large by the time the pickling cukes are ready that one per jar does the trick. If the flavor isn’t strong enough for you, use two small dill heads or add an extra 1/2 teaspoon of dill seed.

I’ve learned many tricks for keeping classic cucumber pickles crisp—and to set aside extra cukes for relish. Get pickling recipes at

Twice as Tasty

I’ve learned many tricks for keeping classic cucumber pickles crisp—and to set aside extra cukes for relish. Get pickling recipes at though I was pickling cucumbers every summer, I stopped making cucumber relish for many years. If you aren’t eating hot dogs and hamburgers, relish becomes less of a staple condiment. But I took it up again when I had a year of poorly shaped cukes that refused to fit well in their jars or make large enough slices for Better Bread-and-Butter Pickles. I was quickly reminded of childhood dinners on the back deck and how the sweet relish nicely offset the tang of spicy mustard.

Since then, I’ve discovered relish recipes can be almost as versatile as salsas. Last year I used homegrown golden beets and horseradish in a relish recipe from the The All New Ball Book of Canning and Preserving. I’ve also made delicious relishes with grilled red onions. But the classic cucumber relish still has its place—particularly if you’re already making pickles.

Ready to give it a try? Full details are in the recipe below, but here are the basics:
You need just 4 main ingredients plus some spices and kitchen staples.
1. Cut up and sweat the vegetables in a salt-and-ice bath.
2. Make your vinegar brine and pour it over the vegetables to marinate.
3. Fill and water bath the jars.

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Cucumber Relish

  • Servings: 7 half-pint jars
  • Difficulty: 3
  • Print
2 pounds cucumbers (about 4 cups when diced)
8 ounces sweet green peppers (about 1 cup when diced)
8 ounces sweet red peppers or golden Gypsy peppers (about 1 cup when diced)
4 ounces onion (about 1/2 cup when diced)
1-1/2 teaspoons turmeric
2-1/2 tablespoons pickling or kosher salt
1 stick cinnamon
1-1/2 teaspoons mustard seed
1 teaspoon whole allspice
1 teaspoon whole cloves
2/3 cup brown sugar
2-1/4 cups apple cider vinegar (5% acidity)

Dice the cucumbers, peppers, and onion; add them to a large bowl, sprinkle with turmeric and salt, and stir to combine. Cover the vegetables with ice cubes and a tea towel, and let sit at room temperature for 3–4 hours. Drain; cover the vegetables with cold water and let sit 1 hour. Drain thoroughly.

Tie the spices into a cheesecloth bag; add the bag, sugar, and vinegar to a wide 6- to 8-quart pot. Bring the brine to a boil, and then pour it over the vegetables. Cover and refrigerate 12–18 hours.

Bring the relish to a boil. Ladle the relish into hot half-pint jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, plus your altitude adjustment. Makes about 7 half-pint jars.

Tips & Tricks
  • Pickles and relish pair well in the one prep, two products formula. As you make Processed Cucumber Dill Pickles, throw any misshapen, blemished, or oversized pieces into your food processor. While you’re waiting for the jars to seal, chop the relish vegetables and put them in the salt-and-ice bath to pull out some of their liquid. After cleaning up from pickling, drain the relish veg and toss with brine. Then all you have to do is fire up the canning kettle the next day to seal the jars.
  • Relish texture is a personal preference. My food processor quickly turns relish veg into tiny pieces. For chunkier relish, dice by hand. A shredding disk in a food processor gives yet another texture; a softer shredded equivalent can be achieved with a large-hole cheese grater.
  • I’ve evolved this classic relish recipe from the one my mom made out of Ball’s Blue Book when I was growing up. The biggest change is dialing back the sugar to suit today’s taste buds. I also tweaked the produce-to-vinegar ratio to match current pH guidelines from the National Center for Home Food Preservation and U.S. FDA.
  • Half-pint (aka jam) jars hold just the right amount of relish for my household. If you eat lots of relish, simply double this recipe and ladle it into pint jars. The NCHFP says pickle relish can be processed for the same amount of time in half-pints or pints; just be sure to add on your altitude adjustment.

Want to play with more variations? Twice as Tasty is teaching these techniques in a workshop held in your own kitchen, among friends—and with my personal help. Click here to learn more.


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