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Perfect Your Pickles

Pickling is a form of preservation that takes patience but also an opportunity for creativity! Cucumbers, apples, watermelon rind, pears, carrots, cabbage, beets…the list for what can be pickled includes more fruits and vegetables. There are a few essential guidelines to stick to in order to make sure the pickles do not make anyone sick.

Whether using cucumbers or watermelon rind to make pickles, it’s important to follow a scientifically tested recipe. Reliable recipes are available through the National Center for Home Food Preservation, the USDA, or the local Extension office. It’s best to use pickling cucumbers rather than slicing as slicing may end up too soft when processed. A variety of vegetables have additional steps to make sure they produce the best product, such as pre-cooking, blanching, or raw packing.

Each ingredient for pickling matters. Vinegar is needed as both a preservative to prevent botulism and unwanted favors. Can you use apple cider vinegar? White or Red wine vinegar?  Or another flavored vinegar? As long as the vinegar is clearly labeled with at least 5% acetic acid, it is safe to use. Salad vinegar are typically too weak to be used for pickling, and homemade vinegar is not recommended since the acetic acid is unknown. If the vinegar is too weak, the pickles may end up soft or slippery.

Pickling or canning salt rather than table salt is suggested for preservation. Pickling salt does not contain anti-caking agents or iodine that can cause cloudiness or darkening in the final product. Use whole spices, white sugar, and fresh dill unless recipe otherwise indicates. Using alum does not improve the firmness of quick processing pickles. Employing food-grade lime can improve the firmness of pickles due to high calcium, but always follow a specific recipe from the USDA.

Hard water that is high in iron can play a role in the darkening of pickled products. You can soften water by boiling for 15 minutes, skimming scum off the top, and allowing water to rest for 24 hours. Once the sediments have settled on the bottom of pan, use water for pickling. Have more questions about making pickles? Join University of Illinois Extension Nutrition and Wellness Educators on July 8, as they focus on pickling foods. Call the extension office to sign up or register yourself at

Watermelon Rind Pickles-Makes 4 to 5 pints

3 quarts (about 6 pounds) watermelon rind, unpaired

¾ cup salt

3 quarts water

2 quarts (2 trays) ice cubes

9 cups sugar

3 cups 5% vinegar, white

3 cups water

1 tablespoon (about 48) whole cloves

6 cinnamon sticks, 1-inch pieces

1 lemon, thinly sliced, with seeds removed

1. Wash hands with soap and water.

2. Trim the pink flesh and outer green skin from thick watermelon rind. Cut into 1-inch squares or fancy shapes as desired. Cover with brine made by mixing the salt with 3 quarts cold water. Add ice cubes. Let stand 3 to 4 hours.

3. Drain; rinse in cold water. Cover with cold water and cook until fork tender, about 10 minutes (do not overcook). Drain.

4. Combine sugar, vinegar, water, and spices (tied in a clean, thin, white cloth). Boil 5 minutes and pour over the watermelon; add lemon slices. Let stand overnight in the refrigerator.

5. Heat watermelon in syrup to boiling and cook slowly 1 hour. Pack hot pickles loosely into clean, hot pint jars. To each jar add 1 piece of stick cinnamon from spice bag; cover with boiling syrup, leaving ½ inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened clean paper towel; adjust two-piece metal canning lids. Process pints for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. Let cool, undisturbed, 12-24 hours and check for seals. Source: National Center for Home Food Preservation.


Questions about food safety, nutrition, food preservation, or looking for recipes? Contact the local University of Illinois Extension office.

Source: Lisa Peterson, Extension Educator, Nutrition and Wellness