Quick-process pickles differ from fermented pickles because the pickling process uses acetic acid from vinegar rather than lactic acid from fermentation. Quick-process pickles are ideal for those who want to make pickles, start to finish, in a few days. However, the flavor of fresh-pack or quick-process pickles is better if they are left to stand for several weeks after proper processing.
The correct acid concentration, in the form of vinegar, is important because acid prevents the growth of Clostridium botulinum, a deadly microorganism, in quick-process pickles. If acid concentration is not sufficient, there is a danger of botulism poisoning. Therefore, use only tested recipes, and do not change the proportion of cucumbers, water and vinegar.
Select firm cucumbers. Always use a variety recommended for pickling. Refer to seed catalogs for information. Catalogs often distinguish varieties best for pickling by labeling them as such. Cucumbers labeled as “table use” or for "slicing" will not result in the best quality product. If you buy cucumbers, select only unwaxed ones, as the brine used in the pickling process cannot penetrate through the wax.
For highest quality, plan to pickle the cucumbers within 24 hours after they are picked. If the produce cannot be used immediately, refrigerate it, or temporarily store it in a cool, well-ventilated place. Cucumbers deteriorate rapidly, especially at room temperature.
Do not use cucumbers showing evidence of mold. Proper processing kills microorganisms that cause spoilage, but it does not destroy the off-flavor from the mold. Wash cucumbers well, especially around the stems. Soil trapped around the stem breeds bacteria that softens pickles. Because the blossom end of the cucumbers contains enzymes that can cause softening, it should also be removed with a 1/16-inch slice.
When making quick-process pickles, use canning salt or pickling salt (found in the salt section of the grocery store). Although iodized and non-iodized table salt may be used safely, the non-caking materials added to table salts may make the brine cloudy and the iodine may darken the pickles. Do not use flake salt, as it varies in density. Reduced-sodium salt may be used in quick-pickle recipes, but not in fermented-pickle recipes. It is best to use a recipe designed for low-sodium content. Follow the recipe exactly. Try small batches to see if the taste is acceptable. Do not use reduced sodium ingredients for fermented pickles, as the higher sodium is present to prevent bacterial growth.
Use white distilled or cider vinegar of 5 percent to 6 percent acidity (50 to 60 grain). This will provide the acid concentration needed for safety. Do not use homemade vinegars. Use white vinegar for a lighter color. If the product is too sour for personal taste, increase the amount of sugar rather than diluting the vinegar, as diluting the vinegar will decrease the acid concentration and thus the preservative effect.
|Home-canner adding pickling syrup to quick-process pickles.
White granulated and brown sugars are the sweeteners most often used in pickling. White sugar will not add any color to the product; however, brown sugar may add a distinctive flavor and color. Do not use a sugar substitute unless the recipe has been developed for that product. Sweeteners may produce a bitter taste, and they do not provide the “plumping” action of sugar.
Lime and alum are not needed to produce crisp pickles. Alum does not improve the firmness of quick-process pickles. An excess of alum can cause digestive upsets. Removal of a 1/16-inch slice from the blossom end of fresh cucumbers eliminates a softening enzyme located in the blossom. Soaking cucumbers in ice water for 4 to 5 hours will maintain crispness.
If you feel you must use lime, use the following instructions.
Lime may lower the pH of a pickled product, thus allowing harmful microorganisms to grow.
CAUTION: Do not use aluminum containers with lime, as the lime can pit the surface and cause an increased level of aluminum in the pickles.
For safe limed pickles, soak cucumbers in a mixture of 1 cup pickling lime (food grade), ½ cup salt and 1 gallon of water. Do not inhale the lime/water solution while mixing. Soak cucumbers in lime water for 12 to 24 hours, then follow these steps to remove the excess lime:
- Remove the cucumbers from the lime solution, then rinse and soak for 1 hour in fresh water.
- Repeat the rinsing and soaking process twice more, for a total of three times.
- Handle carefully, as slices of the cucumber will be brittle. Drain well.
Another item available to help keep pickles crisp is a commercial calcium chloride product. This can be added to pickles once in the jars. Use according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Using fresh whole spices will result in the best quality and flavor in pickles. Powdered spices may darken and cloud the product. To reduce darkening, tie whole spices loosely in a clean white cloth or cheesecloth bag, then remove the bag from the pickling solution before packing the jars.
Choice of pans is important in the pickling process. The liquids used in pickling can react with the metal in copper, brass, galvanized or iron utensils; therefore, these materials should not be used. Choose stainless steel, aluminum, glass or unchipped enamelware saucepans.
Short-term brining or soaking can be done in crocks, saucepans or bowls made from stoneware, glass, stainless steel or unchipped enamelware. Do not use crocks and stoneware that have cracks and/or glazing damage.
When the processing time is less than 10 minutes, jars must be sterilized before use. Sterilize the jars by boiling them for 10 minutes. Keep the jars in the hot water until they are used to prevent the jars from breaking when filled with the hot product. If you are at an altitude of 1,000 feet or more, add 1 minute to the sterilizing time.
Use only recipes with tested proportions of ingredients. Sources of tested recipes include the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), land-grant universities and companies that manufacture pickling ingredients and canning equipment. Precise measurements and tested recipes guarantee the quality and the safety of the product. Do not alter vinegar, salt or water proportions in a recipe, and do not use vinegar with an unknown acidity.
For additional pickle, pickled vegetable and pickled fruit recipes, please visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation at nchfp.uga.edu.
Quick Sweet Pickles
(May be canned as either strips or slices.)
8 pounds of 3- to 4-inch pickling cucumbers
⅓ cup canning or pickling salt
4½ cups sugar
3½ cups vinegar (5 percent)
2 teaspoons celery seed
1 tablespoon whole allspice
2 tablespoons mustard seed
1 cup pickling lime (OPTIONAL: For use in variation below for making firmer pickles)
Yield: About 7 to 9 pints
- Wash cucumbers. Cut 1/16 inch off blossom end and discard, but leave ¼ inch of stem attached. Slice or cut in strips, if desired.
- Place in bowl and sprinkle with ⅓ cup salt. Cover with 2 inches of crushed or cubed ice. Refrigerate 3 to 4 hours. Add more ice as needed. Drain well.
- Combine sugar, vinegar, celery seed, allspice and mustard seed in 6-quart kettle. Heat to boiling.
- Raw pack: Fill jars with cucumber slices, leaving ½-inch headspace. Add hot pickling syrup, leaving ½-inch headspace.
Hot pack: Add cucumbers and heat slowly until vinegar solution returns to boil. Stir occasionally to make sure mixture heats evenly. Fill sterile jars, leaving ½-inch headspace.
- Adjust lids and process according to the recommendations below or use the low-temperature pasteurization treatment. For more information see “Low-Temperature Pasteurization Treatment.”
|Table 1. Recommended Process Time for Quick Sweet Pickles
in a Boiling-Water Canner.
|Process Time (in minutes)
at Altitudes of
|Style of Pack
|Above 6,000 ft
|Pints or Quarts
Storage: After processing and cooling, jars should be stored 4 to 5 weeks to develop ideal flavor.
Variation: Add 2 slices of raw whole onion to each jar before filling with cucumbers.
Quick Fresh-Pack Dill Pickles
8 pounds of 3- to 5-inch pickling cucumbers
2 gallons water
1¼ cups canning or pickling salt (divided)
1½ quarts vinegar (5 percent)
¼ cup sugar
2 quarts water
2 tablespoons whole mixed pickling spice
3 tablespoons whole mustard seed (1 teaspoon to 2 teaspoons per pint jar)
14 heads of fresh dill (1½ heads to 3 heads per pint jar)
4½ tablespoons dill seed (1 tablespoon to 1½ teaspoons per pint jar)
Yield: 7 to 9 pints
- Wash cucumbers. Cut 1/16 slice off blossom end and discard, but leave ¼ inch of stem attached.
- Dissolve ¾ cup salt in 2 gallons water. Pour over cucumbers and let stand 12 hours. Drain.
- Combine vinegar, ½ cup salt, sugar and 2 quarts water. Add mixed pickling spices tied in a clean white cloth. Heat to boiling.
- Fill jars with cucumbers. Add 1 teaspoon mustard seed and 1½ heads fresh dill per pint.
- Cover with boiling pickling solution, leaving ½-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rims.
- Adjust lids and process as indicated below, or use the Alternate Processing Method (180 degrees F) described above.
|Table 2. Recommended Process Time for Quick Fresh-Pack Dill Pickles
in a Boiling-Water Canner.
|Process Time (in minutes) at Altitudes of
|Style of Pack
- Andress, E., and J. Harrison. So Easy to Preserve. 6th ed. Athens: The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service, 2014.
- National Center for Home Food Preservation. University of Georgia. nchfp.uga.edu/search.html.
- United States Department of Agriculture. Complete Guide to Home Canning, Agriculture Information Bulletin No. 539. 2009.
Updated in 2008 by Lois Clark, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, and Jean DeBrosse, Program Assistant, Family and Consumer Sciences.
Reviewed by Julie Shertzer, Ph.D., R.D., Program Specialist.
Information originally compiled by Lydia Medeiros, Professor, Department of Human Nutrition.