Gardeners' Dirt: Preserve bounty of your garden

By Lupe Cook - Victoria County Master GardenerEdited by Charla Borchers Leon
June 13, 2013 at 1:13 a.m.

Master Gardener Roy Cook examines cucumbers on the vine in his own vegetable garden.  This Straight 8 variety will work well for pickling whole or sliced in spears.

Master Gardener Roy Cook examines cucumbers on the vine in his own vegetable garden. This Straight 8 variety will work well for pickling whole or sliced in spears.

I love fresh, garden-grown vegetables and have canned them for later use like many of you have done. It's a down-home, all-American thing like hot dogs and apple pie on a day like today, Flag Day. In fact, I would be surprised if homemade pickles or relish were not used at some picnic today, this evening or weekend in observance of proudly displaying or flying Old Glory.

All about pickling

To be able to add them to hot dogs or hamburgers, you first have to know what kind of cucumbers you need to grow in your garden or buy at the farmers market to match your homemade pickling recipes.

You can pickle them whole or as chips, chunks or spears. They can be made into kosher dill, sour and sweet pickles, relish and bread-and-butter pickles to serve with table meals, snacks and grilled foods.

If you are a first-timer and would like to learn the process of canning or pickling (preserving), you can purchase a canning guide book that will explain all aspects on food preservation or go to the following websites online: or

Types of pickled products

Fresh pack (or quick process pickles) are made by combining recipe ingredients (with or without heating) and processing right away. Sometimes, the produce may be brined for several hours in a vinegar solution before combining with the pickling liquid and processing. Allow to stand for several weeks after processing for better flavor.

Fermented pickles are produce soaked in a brine solution for four to six weeks. Lactic acid produced during fermentation helps preserve brined pickles.

Refrigerated dills are cucumbers fermented from one week in a salt brine and then stored in the refrigerator for up to two months.

Relishes are made from chopped fruits or vegetables cooked in a spicy vinegar solution. Do not alter the amounts of vinegar (of correct acidity), produce or water in the recipe. By following the prescribed ingredients, you can prevent the growth of clostridium botulinum bacteria that causes a type of food poisoning that can be fatal. To achieve quality pickled products at home, use fresh produce, read the recipe instructions carefully, process properly in a boiling water canner and always use scientifically tested recipes.

Pickling tips

Depending on the variety, in late spring through summer harvest fresh, firm, dark green cucumbers with a thick, warty skin with no sign of decay. If preparation is delayed, keep the cucumbers in the refrigerator until ready to use. Do not use waxed cucumbers (store bought) because brine cannot penetrate the wax.

Selecting the right cucumber

Which cucumber plants or seeds do you buy for your garden to grow, harvest and process for home use? To select the right cucumber for canning, look for "pickling cucumber variety." Here are a few of the varieties that can be grown in our area (Zone 9).

Boston pickler - Sweet or dill pickles

Country fair 86 - Chips, spears and whole pickles

Double feature hybrid - Sour and sweet pickles

Homemade pickle - Dill, spears and sweet pickles

Marketer - Bread-and-butter pickles and dill pickles

Mexican sour gherkins - Tiny sweet pickles

National pickling - Gherkins, dill and sweet pickles

Straight 8 - Whole, sliced and spears

My experience

My husband has always had a vegetable garden, but what we didn't consume, we gave away to family and friends. He suggested canning so I could preserve what he harvested for later use, like his mother used to do when he was growing up.

Needless to say, I did not have a clue about the process of canning. I got brave and bought the canning equipment, canning guide book and had my mother-in-law who lived in Florida as back up.

My first try was stewed tomatoes. My kitchen counter and I were a mess, but I successfully preserved 10 quarts, and it was all worth it.

Throughout the years, my family has enjoyed a jar or two, and I just mailed a goody box to my granddaughter who is in the military in Germany for her enjoyment.

So whether you are a novice or experienced at canning or pickling, preserve the bounty of your garden for your own enjoyment or to share with others, whether it be at home, in observance of our country or in gratitude for those who serve in the name of freedom.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or, or comment on this column at



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