Fresh cucumbers and cucumber pickles
Enjoy cucumbers fresh as snacks, in salads or take an additional step and pickle them.
Michigan Fresh cucumbers will be available at farm stands and gardens in mid-July. Fresh cucumbers can be eaten plain as a snack, an appetizer or sliced up to add in salads. One, half-cup counts as a serving and is only 10 calories to add in your diet. Fresh cucumbers are best eaten raw.
Storage for fresh cucumbers:
- Cucumbers can be stored in the refrigerator. Do not wash before storing.
- Cucumbers can be stored in a plastic bag.
- Keep cucumbers away from raw meat, poultry or seafood and from kitchen tools used with the meat, poultry or seafood.
Another popular use for cucumbers is to pickle them. For best quality, always use a pickling variety of cucumber to make pickles, such as “Bush Pickle” or “Carolina.” A table or slicing variety of cucumber is better used fresh. Be sure to select fresh, firm, unwaxed cucumbers (most often purchased in grocery stores), this will prevent the brine from penetrating and not properly curing to make a good pickle.
Recommended storage and use tips for cucumbers to be pickled:
- For highest quality pickle, plan to pickle within 24 hours of picking.
- Use only fresh, blemish-free cucumbers.
- Wash cucumbers thoroughly under running water, do not use soap.
- Pick before seeds become hard. Less than two inches long for gherkin pickles, four to six inches for dills and six to eight inches for slicing varieties.
- Avoid yellow and large cucumbers.
- Pick daily if growing your own.
- Use current, tested, research-based recipes. Using untested recipes, poor quality ingredients or poor canning methods and equipment may result in spoiled pickles.
- Use pure, granulate, non-iodized canning or pickling salt, five percent acidity vinegar and fresh spices.
- Keep cucumbers away from raw meats and meat juices to prevent cross-contamination.
- Store processed pickles in a dark, cool, dry place.
- For best quality and nutritive value, preserve no more than your family can consume in 12 months.
Ingredients are very important in the pickling process according to Michigan State University Extension. Hard water can interfere with the brining process and prevent them from curing properly. Salt is important for the fermentation process of pickles and sauerkraut, proper fermentation depends on accurate proportions of salt and other ingredients. Pickling or canning salt should be used for pickling; other types contain anticaking materials that can impact the brine. Vinegar should be either cider or white vinegar with five percent acidity. Do not decrease, omit or dilute vinegar unless indicated in the recipe. Do not use homemade vinegars or vinegars of unknown acidity. Use fresh whole spices for the best quality and flavor when pickling. Keep in mind, if good quality ingredients are used in pickling and up-to-date methods are followed, firming agents (lime and alum) are not needed for crisp pickles. Soaking cucumbers in ice water for four to five hours before pickling is a safer method for making crisp pickles.
Equipment is also important, when heating pickling liquids, use unchipped enamelware, stainless steel, aluminum or glass kettles. Avoid iron, copper or galvanized kettles and utensils.
Pickles can be fermented or brined for several days to a few weeks, during which time bacteria produces the characteristic lactic acid flavor. After fermenting, pickles and sauerkraut need to be processed in a boiling water canner. When making a fermented pickled product, a one gallon container is needed for each five pounds of fresh cucumbers. If using a stone crock, make sure it has no chips or cracks. Food-grade plastic and glass containers are great substitutes for stoneware crocks. Be certain that foods come in contact only with food-grade materials. Do not use garbage bags or galvanized or plastic garbage bags.
Cucumbers can also be fresh-packed or quick-processed, soaking in a salt solution for several hours or overnight, drained and combined with a boiling solution of vinegar and spices, then processed in a boiling water canner.
To learn more about preparing different types of pickles, fermented or fresh, MSU Extension encourages you to rely on tested recipes from reliable sources such as the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Be sure to check out all of the Michigan Fresh fact sheets with recipes, gardening tips and preservation techniques for more than 80 Michigan grown foods available. Fact sheets can be downloaded for free at msue.anr.msu.edu/program/info/mi_fresh. It’s Michigan Fresh - for you!