Can I can? Learning How to Pickle

by Grace Evans

I love pickles. They are a hot commodity in the refrigerator at home; my entire family devours them as snacks, appetizers, condiments and sides until entire jars are emptied within the span of a couple of days. Chris Forbes of Sour Puss Pickles taught me how to make simple and delicious pickles that I know my family will love and I hope you will too.

Kirby pickles are best for pickling, generally. They are smaller than slicing cucumbers with thick, warty skins. Make sure the cukes you select are firm, unblemished and heavy for their size. For this recipe we used white cucumbers, which are harder to find, but the recipe works for kirby cucumbers too. So pick your cucumbers with care; Chris says that by controlling what variables you can, like selecting fresh ingredients, you can ensure the best final product possible.

Chris’s Home Cucumbers

10-15 lbs cucumbers, quartered or cut in half

10 cups water

5 cups white wine vinegar

1 cup white vinegar

1/3 cup salt

1/8 cup sugar

pinch of bay leaf



Mustard seed

Sliced shallots

Fresh fennel

Before you even begin your pickling, soak the cucumbers in cold water for an hour before you cut them up. This is to make them crunchy.

“Plant cells tighten up when they get cold, and expand when they’re hot,” Chris told me. “You want to soak them to constrict those cells, and thus produce a crunch, or snap in the jar. Any kind of way that we can go about preserving the texture of the cucumber itself is the way we want to have it taste after it’s been boiling for 15 minutes in the canning process.” I am pretty pleased with this tip; my number one complaint about certain pickles is when I bite into a pickle that is soft, with no crunch.

Get your jars ready by sterilizing them – boil them in hot water for 10 minutes. You’ll need 10-15 26 oz Mason jars for this recipe, much larger jars then when you’re making jam since you need space for differently sized cucumber slices. Boil the lids too! Everything must be sterilized. For information about picking out appropriate jars, check out this post from Food In Jars

Once the jars are sterilized, add to each jar:

1 tsp. cumin seed

1 tsp. coriander

1 tsp. mustard seed

1 slice shallot

1 small (1 inch portion) fennel bulb

1 sprig of fennel

Now you can fill your jars with slices of cucumber.

This part is like a jigsaw puzzle; try to find the best way to get as many slices in the jar. It looks nice if you face the seeds of the cucumber outwards.

Now in a large pot make the brine. Add water, vinegars, salt and bay leaf and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and when it is still hot but not scalding, you can use a measuring cup with a spout to pour the brine over the packed jars. You should probably use gloves at this point too, to save your hands from splashes of hot water.

Fill the jars with brine almost to the top. Tap the jars to release any air bubbles before screwing the lids on tightly. Submerge into a large pot of water and boil for 10 minutes.

Make sure that you boil the jars while the brine is still hot, so that the jars are full of hot liquid when they are submerged into hot liquid and brought to a boil. This way they won’t shatter.

Lift those jars out and presto! You have some pickles.

For this part you’ll want to invest in a jar lifter. For smaller jars of jam using tongs will work, but pickle jars are bigger and heavier. Since you’ll be lifting a heavy hot jar out of boiling water it is safest to use a jar lifter and gloves to protect your hands from splashes of scalding water. 

Sadly, now you must wait for 2-3 weeks for maximum flavor to develop. But then you’ll have some delicious pickles to share with all of your friends!

Chris Forbes and his business partner Evelyn Evers have been making pickles under the Sour Puss name for two years. Chris learned how to pickle by learning from his family and out of cookbooks, and perfected his craft through experimentation with different spices Chris met Evelyn when they both worked in the restaurant industry, and soon after they went into business together.

I must have lived a fairly sheltered life of pickle consumption because I never realized how many different vegetables can be pickled, and in such creative ways. Besides pickled cucumbers, Sour Puss also makes curried cauliflower, pickled garlic scapes packed in beautiful swirls, ginger carrots, squat lemon cucumbers, mustard tarragon asparagus and peppered okra, which won a Good Food Award. They source their produce and vinegars from local farms in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. I can’t wait to try pickled asparagus!

Happy pickling! 

Published July 27, 2011

See the rest of the Can I can? Blogs:

Join me on my quest to learn to can this summer

Makin’ Blueberry Lavender Jam 

Making Rhubarb and Rosé Jam

Learning How to Make Chutney, and Figuring Out Exactly What it is  


Photo of kirby cucumbers: Foodista

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