Pickles are an excellent first canning project - or a great thing to can when your time is limited. Even though pickles are made from a vegetable (cucumbers), you can can them in a simple boiling water bath canner. There's almost no prep involved, and the pickles only have to process or "cook" in the canner for 5 or 10 minutes.
My method involves using a ready-made pickling mix with all natural ingredients, but if you scroll to the end of this post, you'll find information on making your own pickling mix, if you prefer.
What You Need:
9 - 11 lbs. pickles
1 (6.5 oz. package) Mrs. Wages Dill Pickle Mix
3 1/3 white vinegar
7 1/3 cups water
Boiling water bath canner
Canning lids and screw bands
Ladle or large spoon
A plastic or wooden utensil with a long handle
Large non-reactive pot
Cooling rack or thick bath towels
Hints: For the crispiest pickles, use the freshest cucumbers you can get your hands on. Ideally, you'd pick and then pickle them within a day, storing them in the refrigerator crisper drawer if necessary. Avoid grocery store cucumbers; they've been sitting around for days and will result in mushy pickles. If you don't grow cucumbers, try buying them at a pick-your-own farm or the local farmer's market.
For the most crispiness, when the pickles are canned and cooled, place jars in the refrigerator several hours before consuming.
In addition, be sure the white vinegar you use has an acid level of 5%. This information is usually found on the front of the vinegar label, just under the product name. Pickles don't get processed for very long, and the acidity of the recipe must be correct in order to produce food that's safe to eat.
How to Do It:
1. Wash the cucumbers and cut off any stems or blossom remains. You may then either leave the cucumbers whole, chop them, or slice them. I prefer to slice them into quarters and trim their length so they fit in pint jars. Then I take the short ends and chop them. This way I get some jars with slices and some with chunks. I don't care for canning pickles whole, since I think they tend to be less flavorful.
2. Combine the pickle mix, vinegar, and water in a large non-reactive pot. (Do not use an aluminum pot, since the acid in the vinegar with react with the aluminum, altering the flavor of the pickles.) Stir and bring to a boil.
3. Remove one jar from the canner, using a jar lifter. (Pour the water that's in the jar back into the canner.) Fill the jar with cucumbers. You can really pack them in there; I like to put the pickles in with the meat-side facing out (for prettiness) and the flat, cut end down. Then I push slices in around these, pointy side down. Be sure to keep a generous 1/2 inch of headspace (the amount of space between the top of the jar and the top of the food).
4. Ladle the liquid pickling mix into the jars. A funnel makes this job less messy and keeps the jar rim cleaner, but isn't absolutely necessary. Be sure to maintain 1/2 inch of headspace.
5. Stick the handle of a wooden or plastic utensil into the jar, if you can, moving it up and down to remove any trapped air.
6. Wipe the rim of the jar with a clean cloth towel or paper towel. Any bits of food or pickling mix left on the rim will prevent the jar from sealing properly.
7. Place a lid on the jar. Remove one screw band with the lid lifter and place it on the jar. Screw the band in place until it's just fingertip tight.
8. Using a jar lifter, place the jar back in the canner.
9. Repeat steps 5 through 10 until all the jars are filled.
10. Place the lid back on the canner and bring the water back to a boil. Once the water is boiling, process the jars for 5 minutes (if using pint jars) or 10 minutes (if using quart jars).*
11. Turn down the heat on the burner and remove the canner lid. Allow jars to sit for 5 minutes in the canner, then remove them and place them on a cooling rack or a thick towel on a countertop. Let the jars sit undisturbed overnight. In the morning, test the seal of each jar by pressing down on the center of each lid with your fingers. Sealed lids will not move when you press on them. On each jar lid, write down the contents and the date of canning.
If you have any pickling mix left over, you can store it in the refrigerator and use it for pickling within a few days.
Some people will want to make their own pickling mix. This adds another step, but is easy to do. Check out the instructions here.
For recipes for making sweet, bread-and-butter, or gherkin pickles, see the National Center for Home Food Preservation's website.
* NOTE: If you live at a high altitude, read this important information about adjusting canning times.