How to Make Pickles

Perfect pickling is within the grasp of every preserver!

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Making pickles isn't complicated, and you can preserve homemade pickles using three basic methods: lactic fermentation, canning and refrigeration.
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Tangy, fermented dill pickles complement many sandwiches and contain healthy probiotics.
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Cucumber slices soaked in pickling lime will keep their crunch when canned.
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For relish trays on demand, store fermented pickles in a cool, dark spot for up to several months.
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Just cover vegetables in sweetened rice vinegar, and you've made refrigerator pickles!
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Almost anything can be pickled, even these Chinese radishes.

Easy-to-prepare pickles pack a powerful punch of flavor and crunch. Even kitchen novices can learn in a flash how to make pickles and quickly concoct their own unique blends of preserved vegetables and fruits to add a tangy zing to everyday meals.

You can preserve vegetables using these three basic methods: lactic fermentation (cured with salt), canning (soaked in pickling lime) and refrigeration (immersed in a vinegar solution). Each type of homemade pickles described here includes a simple recipe for you to try.

Fermented Pickles

Many pickle enthusiasts swear fermentation yields more complex flavors than you get from pickles made with vinegar. Also called “crock pickles” or “brine pickles,” they are acidified by lactobacilli bacteria and yeasts — microbes that thrive without oxygen while submerged in brine and that suppress the growth of other microbes that cause spoilage. The lactobacilli also produce B vitamins and flavor compounds. These probiotics may improve digestive, intestinal and immune function.

The basics: Mix food with flavorings and place inside crock. Make pickle brine and pour into crock. Cover with a weight to keep food submerged, and drape with a towel to keep out dust. Ferment at room temperature for 2 or more weeks. Check container daily, and skim any scum from the top. Fermentation bubbles may be visible. Taste pickles regularly.

When your fermented pickles reach a flavor you like, you have three options for storing them:

  1. Refrigerate to slow lactic fermentation. Pickles should last 4 to 6 months this way. Note that pickled vegetables last longer than pickled fruits, which generally keep well for only 2 to 3 months.
  2. Store in a dark, cool spot, such as the basement, where your homemade pickles will continue to ferment but should stay tasty for several months.
  3. Can fermented pickles for extended storage. The heat of canning compromises their crisp texture and kills the beneficial bacteria, but the flavor will remain. Canned fermented food could last a couple of years.

Fermented Kosher Dill Pickle Recipe

This recipe, adapted from Linda Ziedrich’s The Joy of Pickling, uses grape, oak or sour cherry leaves, which contain tannins believed to help keep fermented homemade pickles crisp. Store-bought, canned grape leaves will also do the trick. Yield: 1 gallon.


  • Clean, gallon-sized glass jar or ceramic crock
  • Gallon-sized plastic bag or fitted crock weights


  • 1 handful clean grape, oak or sour cherry leaves (optional)
  • Approximately 6 pounds of 4- to 5-inch unwaxed pickling cucumbers (preferably freshly picked), scrubbed and rinsed
  • Peeled cloves from 2 to 3 heads of garlic
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 6 tbsp unrefined sea salt or pickling salt
  • 1/4 cup dill seed or 2 handfuls dill fronds


  1. Place leaves in the bottom of a clean crock. Slice blossom ends off the cucumbers and pack cucumbers into the crock, smallest ones first, adding garlic cloves throughout. Do not fill crock more than two-thirds full. In a separate container, stir together water, vinegar, salt and dill until salt dissolves. Pour this brine over cucumbers until liquid is an inch above cucumbers when you’re pressing them down. If your crock has weights, set them on top of the cucumbers to submerge them. If you don’t have special weights, fill a gallon-sized plastic bag with water and set it on top to keep cucumbers submerged. Cover crock with towel to keep out dust.
  2. Ferment pickles for 1 to 4 weeks at room temperature, checking crock daily. Scum may develop on top; this is normal. Carefully lift off weight and rinse it to remove scum. Skim scum from top of container before replacing weight and towel. Don’t worry about getting every last bit, but do this daily.
  3. You may notice bubbles after the first few days, indicating lactic fermentation is underway. After a week, begin tasting the pickles daily. Keep fermenting until you enjoy the flavor. Pickles should be translucent throughout.
  4. To store, place crock in a cool, dry, dark spot (the basement, for example), or remove pickles to smaller, lidded containers in the refrigerator. (If using metal lids, place a piece of plastic wrap between the container and the lid.) You may rinse fermented pickles and cover them with fresh pickle brine and seasonings, or strain and reuse your original brine. Pickles’ flavor will improve after about a month in cooler conditions.

Note: The brine should develop a yeasty aroma that is pleasant, never putrid. If pickles become slimy or moldy during fermentation, discard them and try again.

To can homemade pickles, process quart jars with half-inch headspace in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. (Bone up on canning how-to with our Home Canning Guide. Plus, you can download our free How to Can app. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS)

Canned Vinegar Pickles

Most modern pickling recipes rely on an acetic acid (vinegar) solution and heat treatment to preserve the vegetables. The resulting flavor is simple and sharp.

Vinegar pickles can be sweet, spicy or extremely sour. Popular examples include bread-and-butter pickles, sour gherkins and dilly beans. You must use vinegar with at least 5 percent acidity to produce pickles that are safe for long-term storage. Distilled white vinegar is the popular choice because it’s cheap and won’t darken pickles, and because its flavor is mild in comparison with those of cider, malt and wine vinegars. Avoid using rice vinegar and homemade vinegars, because their acidity usually is too weak. Always use canning recipes that have been tested for safety (see safe pickling recipes by consulting online resources offered by Ball Canning and the National Center for Home Food Preservation).

The basics: Heat vinegar, water and seasonings to make brine. Pack whole or chopped food into sterilized canning jars. Cover with hot brine, leaving appropriate headspace. Apply lids and rings. Process jars in a boiling water bath.

Vinegar-Preserved Old-Fashioned Lime Pickle Recipe

This combination of ingredients and techniques makes the ultimate super-crisp, complexly flavored sweet-and-sour pickle. Pre-soaking cucumbers in pickling lime keeps them very crisp. Yield: 4 quarts.


  • 4 quart-sized canning jars with lids and rings
  • Water bath canner with rack
  • Candy thermometer


  • Approximately 6 pounds of 4- to 5-inch unwaxed pickling cucumbers (preferably freshly picked), scrubbed and rinsed

Soaking Solution

  • 1 cup food-grade pickling lime (calcium hydroxide)
  • 1/2 cup pickling salt
  • 1 gallon cold water

Syrup Mixture

  • 2 quarts cider or white wine vinegar (minimum 5 percent acidity; cider vinegar will darken pickles)
  • 6 cups granulated sugar or 5-1⁄4 cups honey (honey will darken brine)
  • 2-1⁄2 tsp unrefined sea salt or pickling salt
  • 2 tsp mixed pickling spice, store-bought or homemade spice sachet
  • 3 pounds white or yellow onions, diced

Spice Sachet

  • 1-inch cinnamon stick
  • 1-inch piece of turmeric root, peeled, or 1/2 tsp of ground turmeric
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 small, whole, dried chile pepper or 1/2 tsp crushed, dried chile pepper
  • 1 tsp dill seed
  • 1/2 tsp white peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp allspice berries
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/4 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1/4 tsp whole cloves


  1. To prepare cucumbers for soaking, cut them into quarter-inch slices and discard the ends. In a 2-gallon or larger nonreactive (glass, plastic or ceramic) container, mix pickling lime with salt and water. Add cucumbers and soak for 12 to 24 hours, stirring occasionally. Scoop slices from lime solution, rinse in a colander and soak for 1 hour in fresh, cold water. Repeat rinsing and soaking steps at least two more times to completely remove the pickling lime. Drain well.
  2. In a large pot, whisk together vinegar, sugar, salt and pickling spice or your homemade spice sachet. Add onions. Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes to make a syrup.
  3. Sterilize 4 quart-sized canning jars and lids in boiling water. Pack cucumbers and onions into jars and pour hot syrup over them, leaving a half-inch headspace. Use a knife or chopstick to eliminate air bubbles. Wipe jar rims clean. Apply lids and rings.
  4. The pickles can be canned via low-temperature pasteurization to avoid the higher heat that softens them. To pasteurize, fill canner halfway with water and heat to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Set filled jars in canner, and continually monitor water temperature for 30 minutes. Make adjustments to maintain 180 degrees for the duration. The thermometer reading should never exceed 185 degrees. (Learn more about how to make pickles using the low-temperature pasteurization method at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.)
  5. Alternatively, process jars in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. The flavor of vinegar pickles will improve after about a month in storage.

Refrigerator Pickles

Sometimes called “quick pickles,” refrigerator pickles are technically vinegar pickles minus the canning. You can adjust a refrigerator pickle recipe — to use less salt or sugar or none at all — without food-safety fears. Refrigerator pickles stay crisp because the cucumbers are not subjected to heat. Making pickles using this method is as fast as the name implies. Refrigerator pickles are typically ready to eat within a day and should be consumed within a few months.

The basics: Prepare vinegar solution and pour over sliced vegetables. Cover and refrigerate.

Simple Thai Refrigerator Pickle Recipe

My refrigerator is nearly always stocked with vegetable slices covered in rice vinegar. I regularly add new vegetables to the jar along with more vinegar to keep them covered. Sometimes I toss in garlic, turmeric or lemongrass. Because the refrigeration inhibits spoilage, low-acidity rice vinegar is OK to use in these homemade pickles. Yield: 1 quart.


  • Two 4- to 5-inch pickling cucumbers
  • 1 sweet salad turnip
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 2 shallots
  • 1 to 2 hot chile peppers, fresh or dried (optional)
  • 2 to 3 tbsp honey or granulated sugar
  • 1-1⁄2 cups rice vinegar
  • 1 handful cilantro leaves


Peel (if desired) and slice vegetables into quarter-inch rings. Pack in a lidded storage container. Whisk honey into vinegar and pour over vegetables. Stir in cilantro. Refrigerate. Pickles will be ready to eat the next day and will stay good for roughly a month.

Tabitha Alterman is a big fan of fermentation. One of the coolest things she’s ever done was taking fermentation guru Sandor Katz’s course at the National Gourmet Institute in New York City.