Cucumbers can be enjoyed as they are, or they may undergo a pickling process that preserves, sours, and sometimes softens them. Additive ingredients, cucumber types, preparation, cooking methods, and storage are all important aspects of pickling cucumbers. More specifically, pickling cucumbers, white vinegar, and white sugar may all enhance the taste and preparation of the pickles. Others enhancements include using hot water baths and certain storage containers.
The cucumber itself should be of a variety known as a pickling cucumber. Cucumbers are plant gourds that come from a vine and a number of different varieties exist, such as salad cucumbers. Pickling varieties, however, have a length and shape more suited for jars or placement on sandwiches, and they are also usually crunchier. These cucumbers should not be waxed, because the waxy exterior will diminish the pickling liquid’s impact. In addition, they should be thoroughly washed in cold water.
Spoilage can be avoided by undertaking a few important steps. For one, all cooking utensils should be cleaned and scrubbed in hot water with soap. Refrigerated fresh produce will serve as the best base. Further, ingredients should be carefully measured and not overdone, as components such as vinegar in excess can easily spoil the cucumber. Pickling salt can also counteract the appearance of dark spots on the cucumber.
Certain substances are crucial to the cucumber pickling process. A pickling liquid generally contains many or all of the following substances: vinegar, salt, pepper, mustard, sugar, and spices. You will also need a chopping knife, as the ends of the cucumber must be removed, and it must be sliced. For varieties like dill pickles, the cucumber is generally halved and then quartered. Butter pickles, on the other hand, tend to cook better when cut into equal slices.
Taste is another important component for pickling cucumbers. More intense flavor and acidity can be achieved with the inclusion of white vinegar or pickling vinegar, otherwise cider vinegar is a popular choice. Using water with less minerals or chlorine can also maintain acidity, while using white sugar can help keep pickles firm. Spicy mixes can also give the cucumber more flavor when they contain fresh ingredients such as chili peppers, garlic, and cinnamon sticks.
Hot water baths are perhaps the most convenient form of pickling cucumbers. This process involves immersing the pickles in the prepared pickling liquid and placing them in a jar. The jars are then placed in a container of boiling water for a specified length of time.
Once the cucumbers have been properly pickled, they must be put in storage to retain taste and freshness. Certain materials should be avoided because they may adversely interact with the ingredients. These include brass, iron, and copper. In contrast, glass or stainless steel containers are solid options.