How to Preserve Cucumbers

How to Preserve Cucumbers

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Cucumbers are a staple of the summer vegetable garden, but if conditions are right, their harvest can come in fast and heavy...leaving you wondering what you're going to do with all those cukes. If you want to preserve the refreshing taste of cucumbers for the winter months, or if you're growing more cucumbers than you can eat before they spoil, never fear; there are lots of good ways to preserve cucumbers so you can enjoy eating them any time of year. 

A Few Words About Harvesting Cucumbers 

Some people struggle to know the best time to harvest cucumbers, and since the first step toward successfully preserving any vegetable is to harvest it correctly, let's address this topic briefly. 

First, it's important to understand that color matters. Generally, cucumbers turn yellow when they over-ripen. Some people don't mind the flavor of cucumbers when they are just starting to turn yellow, but I wouldn't recommend them for canning projects. Once the cucumber is fully yellow, it's no longer recommended for eating, because of poor flavor and texture. (A good use for fully yellow, open-pollinated cucumbers, however, is to save the seeds for planting next year. See this post for complete how-tos on saving cucumber seeds.) 

Other causes of yellowing cucumbers include over-watering, Cucumber Mosaic Virus, nitrogen deficiency, or deprivation of sunlight. There are also some varieties of cucumbers that are supposed to ripen yellow instead of green. 

For best results when preserving cucumbers, harvest them long before they begin turning yellow, ideally in the morning before it gets hot, and by using scissors or a knife to cut them off the vine. If you want to make pickles, it's best to harvest cucumbers when they are 2 to 3 inches in length. 

One of the most common complaints about homegrown cucumbers is that they taste bitter. This is common when cucumbers are grown under stressful situations - in particular, when they don't get enough water or they are watered inconsistently. The good news is, that bitterness can almost always be removed by peeling the cucumber and then cutting off the stem end. 

Dehydrating Cucumbers 

Cucumber slices dehydrate nicely and can make a yummy, healthy snack. Dehydrated quarter-inch slices are also handy if you want to powder the cukes for later use. (Cucumber powder is a delicious addition to homemade salad dressing, for example). 

Dehydrated cucumber "chips."

Place the slices (peeled or not peeled) in a single layer on the tray of an electric dehydrator; don't let the pieces touch. Dehydrate at 135 degrees F. until you can snap them in half and no moisture comes out of the vegetable. Allow the slices to cool completely, then store in glass jars with metal lids and place them in a cool, dry, dark location for up to a year. 

If you don't have an electric dehydrator, you may use your oven. If your oven has a warming drawer, put a wire cooling rack on top of a rimmed baking sheet, and set the cucumber slices on the rack. Place inside the warming drawer until the slices are crisp. If your oven doesn't have a warming drawer, use the same baking sheet and wire cooling rack method, but turn your oven to its lowest setting, keeping the door ajar. 

Do note that rehydrated cucumber slices will not be crispy like fresh cucumbers. 

If desired, you may season the cucumber slices before dehydrating. Good choices include sea salt and pepper, dry Ranch seasoning, dry French onion mix - or, try one of the recipes here: 

Salt & Vinegar Cucumber Chips 

For every 4 large cucumbers, mix together 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 teaspoons sea salt, and 4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar in a bowl. Fully coat the cucumber slices in the seasoning before dehydrating. 

BBQ Cucumber Chips 

For every 3 large cucumbers, mix together: 1 tablespoon paprika 2 teaspoons garlic powder 1 teaspoon onion powder 1 teaspoon chili powder 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder 1/4 teaspoon cayenne 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar Sprinkle over cucumber slices before dehydrating. 

Dill Cucumber Chips 

For every 2 large cucumbers, use about 1 tablespoon dried dill weed. Season cucumber slices with sea salt and the dill before dehydrating. 

Freeze Drying Cucumbers

Although freeze drying is a different process than dehydrating (see this post for a full explanation) cucumbers can be prepared much the same way as you would for dehydrating, including any fun seasonings that turn them into snackable "chips." Some people also like to make cucumber power from freeze dried, sliced cucumbers, which they use in hot dishes to lightly season and add nutrition.  

To freeze dry cucumbers, just pop slices onto the machine's trays (it's fine to overlap pieces and lay down more than one layer, but too many layers will take forever to fully freeze dry), put them in the machine, and freeze dry. You'll know the cucumbers are done when there are no cold spots anywhere on them. 

Freezing Cucumbers 

Freezing is probably not the first method you imagine when thinking of preserving cucumbers, but it can work quite well. You can't freeze cucumbers and expect them to thaw out to a crispy state, however, so plan on using frozen cukes where you want the flavor of cucumbers, but don't need the crunchy texture of fresh cucumbers. 

One easy way to freeze cucumbers (and end up with a product that's perfect for making flavored water, dips, soups, smoothies, and more) is to slice the vegetable in rounds, place the slices in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, pop them in the freezer, and let them get hard and fully frozen. Then you can put the rounds into freezer bags and store them in the freezer for about a year. You can also freeze shredded or chopped cucumber, put it in ice cube trays, cover with water, and freeze hard. Once the ice cubes are completely frozen, transfer to a freezer bag. Again, these will last about a year. 

Cucumber ice cubes.

My 1963 copy of The Farm Journals' Freezing and Canning Cookbook recommends the following: "Peel, seed and put [cucumbers] through food chopper. Pack in ice cube trays, freeze. Remove from trays, wrap and place in freezer. DO NOT THAW; crush cubes at last minute to toss in salads for summertime flavor." 

Canning Cucumbers 

Cucumbers are a low acid veggie - and low acid vegetables should be pressure canned...right? Well, not cucumbers...because pressure canning turns them to mush. Therefore, canned cucumbers should always be pickled. The added vinegar in pickles raises the pH of the veggie, allowing cucumbers to be safely processed in a water bath canner. In any pickle recipe, you may can the cucumbers whole, in spears, or sliced. 

Pickling cucumbers are different in a few ways from "regular" cucumbers (often called "slicing cucumbers" or "salad cucumbers"). For one thing, they are harvested at a small size (2 to 3 inches long). This not only ensures the cuke's skin is a bit firmer, helping them hold up during the canning process, but it also means the vegetable has smaller, less obtrusive seeds. 

Icing cucumbers before pickling.

The first "trick" to getting crunchy, not mushy, canned pickles, is to can the cucumbers immediately after harvesting. If this is impossible, or if you are buying pickling cucumbers, soak the cukes in salted ice water (1/2 cup canning or kosher salt for every 4 cups of water) for 12 hours before canning. Always cut 1/4 inch off the blossom end of the cucumbers...and it doesn't hurt to add a fresh grape leaf (full of tannins that help keep pickles crisp) to each jar. 

Adding tannin to your jars, in the form of, say, grape leaves, helps keep pickles crunchy.

I don't recommend using grocery store cucumbers for canned pickles, since they are waxed and have been sitting around for quite a while.

DIY Pickling Spice 

1 cinnamon stick (about 4 inches long), broken into pieces 

5 dried bay leaves, crumbled 

2 tablespoons mustard seeds 

1 tablespoon whole allspice 

1 tablespoon coriander seeds 

1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns 

1 tablespoon ground ginger 

1 tablespoon dill seeds 

2 teaspoons cardamom seeds 

1 - 2 teaspoons hot pepper flakes 

1 teaspoon whole cloves 

Stir together and store in a canning jar for up to a year in a cool, dry, dark location. 


For great cucumber pickle recipes for canning, see The National Center for Home Food Preservation website, or see the pickle and relish recipes that Ball offers for free online. In addition, Healthy Canning offers tested safe cucumber pickle recipes.

Fermenting Cucumbers

Fermenting is the old school way of making pickles...and as an added benefit, fermented pickles contain healthy probiotics that canned pickles do not. When fermenting, it's important to carefully follow a trusted recipe; altering it in any way may lead to mold growth or even botulism poisoning.

Always use pickling cucumbers - and for traditional dill pickles, harvest them at 4 inches long. For the crunchiest, best quality pickles, begin fermenting cucumbers right after harvesting. Scrub the cucumbers thoroughly and remove 1/4 inch from the blossom end.

Making fermented pickles.


You will need a 1-gallon glass jar for every 5 lbs. of fresh cucumbers (or a 5-gallon stone crock, 25 lbs. of cucumbers). Both jars and crocks should be freshly washed in hot, soapy water before beginning.

Pack prepared cucumbers into the container until it is about 75 percent full. (Don't under- or over-pack the container or fermentation will be inhibited.) 

Add the brine, then create an anaerobic environment by keeping the cucumbers under the water. For a glass jar, a weight made especially for this purpose is ideal. Cover jars with a double layer of cheesecloth held in place with a rubber band and place jars inside a bowl, in case the liquid overflows during fermentation. Store in a dark location where temps are 70 - 75 degrees F. At this temp, the fermentation process will take about 3 to 4 weeks. (Temps as cool as 55 degrees F. are okay, but the fermentation will take longer.) 

Make sure the brine continues to cover the cucumbers; if it doesn't add more brine. 

For more tips on fermenting pickles, see the Minnesota University Extension Office website

For a classic fermented dill pickle recipe, see The National Center for Home Food Preservation.

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