Preserving cucumbers is a challenge since cucumbers consist of cellulose and water. Therefore, they neither freeze and thaw well nor dry and rehydrate well. The typical method for preserving cucumbers is to pickle and can pickling cucumbers. Pickling recipes should always be followed carefully, using the proper kind of salt and heating the jars to an adequate temperature. Instead of canning, the option of making refrigerator pickles is available.
There are many pickling recipes with flavors from sweet to savory to sour. Following the pickling recipe exactly is important. Reducing or increasing the amount of certain ingredients, like salt, vinegar, or the cucumbers themselves, can result in the growth of dangerous bacteria or affect the preservation. Similarly, all canning equipment should be cleansed before use.
The best preserving cucumbers are called pickling cucumbers. These are small, typically not more than 6 inches (15 cm) long, and have bumpy skin that can be prickly. They can be pickled whole or sliced. Other types of cucumbers have a thick skin which does not absorb the pickling liquid. Preserving cucumbers that are not more than one day old gives the best results.
Pickling recipes typically call for salt, but ordinary table salt will not work. It can darken the color of the liquid and the cucumbers. Pickling or canning salt is the best choice. It is also better to use whole spices instead of powdered as powdered spices can make the liquid cloudy.
Canning jars are the best storage containers for preserving pickles. The size should be chosen carefully because very small jars will result in the addition of washing, filling, and canning. Large jars can also pose problems, especially if only one or two individuals will be eating the jar of pickles. After opening, pickles must be stored in the refrigerator, so it is also helpful to consider the available space in the refrigerator before canning.
Jars and the pickling contents must be heated to a certain temperature to obtain a seal on the lid and create an effectively airtight lock. Canning can take minutes or hours depending on the method and equipment. Some individuals do not enjoy the amount of preparation and the number of tools required for canning and prefer to make another form of preserved cucumbers known as "refrigerator pickles".
To make refrigerator pickles, heated pickling liquid is poured over cucumbers, which are packed into typical canning jars. The canning lids are screwed on tight and typically seal in the next couple of hours, while the mixture reaches room temperature. The jars are placed in the refrigerator. Refrigerator pickles must be kept in a chilled environment to maintain freshness but can last up to two months. Depending on the recipe, the pickles may have reached optimum flavor within a day or two, but more typically, at least a week is required for the vegetables to absorb the seasonings.