In recent years I’ve learned the art of pickling (and it truly is an art), and discovered some of the best pickling cucumber varieties that make the process a whole lot simpler; from the beautiful, to the downright delicious. We’re all guilty of forgetting about our gardens in winter to some extent, but learning to preserve what we grow lets us appreciate our produce even in the coldest winter months.
Writing this with a sweet pickle in unusually early snowfall, I’m grateful for the larder brimming with pickled lemon cucumbers and green tomato chutney, but it’s the warming vinegar that truly elevates the humble cucumber above its usual role as a salad crop.
I’ve been known to pickle some unusual and ill-advised varieties, but through trial and error, these are my best cucumbers for pickling:
What are Pickling Cucumbers?
Pickling cucumbers, or gherkins, are typically smaller varieties and come in climbing and crawling forms. Their size makes them convenient for jarring, and their bite means they hold their shape and texture when pickled. Personally, I prefer self-climbing varieties because they give a higher yield from a smaller space, with very little maintenance.
While pickling cucumbers are a distinct group of cucumbers, that doesn’t mean you can’t pickle slicing cucumbers, which usually come in three main forms: English, burpless, or bitter-free. There are some great slicing cucumbers that make perfect pickles when picked small, and a few have snuck into the list below.
A quick note on burpless cucumbers: Cucurbitacin is a chemical compound in most heirloom cucumbers that causes gastro intestinal reactions in some people. It also gives a bitter flavour experienced in most pickling cucumbers when eaten raw, but do not fret, the pickling process removes the bitterness, and most traces of cucurbitacin.
11 best pickling cucumber varieties:
Sassy Pickling Cucumber (F1 Hybrid)
Not only is Sassy Pickling Cucumber one of the easiest cucumbers to grow, they produce reliable yields, and look great after jarring. Their crisp, sweet flesh is surrounded by a dark green skin, making them ideal for that classic look in a pickle jar.
If you decide to add Sassy to your plan for next year’s vegetable garden, just make sure to plant another variety with it. Sassy Pickling Cucumber is a gynoecious F1 variety, bred to have all female flowers. There are pros and cons to gynoecious cucumbers. Con – they won’t produce anything unless pollinated by another plant; Pro – when pollinated they produce much higher yields, much faster.
Venlo Pickling Cucumber
For gardeners preferring perennial crops, Venlo Pickling Cucumber is a great choice. Planted direct into soil in the greenhouse, or in a generous pot, you can expect yields of well over 40 fruits per plant if you continue harvesting when the fruits are small. They are hardy in H3, which means they won’t withstand frost, but in the greenhouse will come back for at least a second year.
We grow Venlo every year, and tried it last year as a perennial in the greenhouse – sure enough, we’ve been harvesting from that plant all summer. They won’t climb by themselves but will happily tie-in to a trellis, or a tepee reaching around 6ft per year.
Double Yield Cucumber
Double Yield Cucumber, can be tied-in to a trellis for longer growth and faster ripening, similarly to Venlo Pickling Cucumber, but we prefer to let it trail. They make wonderful hanging basket plants as a result. Double Yield will happily grow outdoors if your summer is above 18C/64F, but you need a little patience. High yields are almost guaranteed, but they take longer to fruit than most varieties (2 months from transplanting).
The biggest benefit of Double Yield Cucumber for the budget gardener is that saved seeds are incredibly reliable. Simply leave one fruit on the plant until it is fully ripe, then scrape the seeds out with a spoon, and leave to dry on tissue paper before sealing in a brown envelope until next spring.
Rhinish Pickle Cucumber
I’ve grown Rhinish Pickle Cucumber a few times now, and they’re an absolute classic, and look almost as Bavarian as their name. They are massive compared to most gherkins, but need to be picked when young.
Because of their size, it’s important to let them mature, and resist picking them early. At 4 inches, they will be bitter and too tough, but at 6 inches they are perfect, sweet zesty pickles. If you suffer from the effects of cucumber induced burps though… steer clear.
I adore Lemon Cucumbers. They are completely impractical pickles, as they just won’t fit in a jar, but if you pick them young, before the watery centres appear, they have wonderfully crisp flesh, somewhere between the flavour of lemons and melons. Sliced and salted they are a really vibrant pickle to have on your shelf.
They grow happily outdoors, and are self-climbing, which makes them incredibly easy to care for. Their skins turn bright yellow when ripened properly, and while unripe fruits are still a zingy treat in salads, ripe lemon cucumbers simply can’t be beaten on flavour.
Cucamelon are mostly sold as a novelty veg, but their common name before they were rebranded was Mexican Sour Gherkin. If you embrace the sourness they are a really wonderful pickling cucumber. They are more related to slicing cucumbers than pickling cucumbers, with incredibly juicy centres, which if not for their tough skins would make them a terrible choice for pickles.
As long as you make a sweet enough pickle mix to balance out the citrussy sourness they are a real treat.
We have grown Cucamelon up twine in the greenhouse for the last five years. Grown on the south facing wall of the glasshouse, they provide a very useful dappled shade to protect other plants from sun scorching.
Salt and Pepper Cucumber (Salad and Pickling)
Salt and Pepper Cucumbers are the best of both worlds, and perfect for a small garden. Most websites sell them as a pickling cucumber, but they are in fact a salad cucumber. Picked small they are one of the crispest, cleanest looking pickles, with their pale-yellow skin, turning brighter as they mature. They have black speckled spikes over their outer skin, which is best scraped off before pickling.
In a container, one plant can produce 25-30 fruits in good compost, which would make easily enough for a pickle jar, with enough left over for salads a few weeks later.
There are a few different reasons for Spacemaster’s name. The obvious one is that they grow in compact form, with maximum yields, so are great for small spaces. The other is that it grows indoors, outdoors, under glass, in full sun, or part shade. Spacemaster is a great variety for hanging baskets, as long as there is a reservoir or a decent water-retentive compost added to the mix.
They are not a pickling cucumber, but their watery centres are relatively small, so even harvested late at 7-8 inches long can be used in pickles.
Calypso Cucumber (F1 Hybrid)
Calypso Cucumber is a really tough variety, with high mildew resistance and strong resistance to cucumber mosaic virus. The small cucumbers are an F1 hybrid between a slicing cucumber and a pickling cucumber so can be harvested at any point.
They were developed specifically for commercial pickling because of their high yields which, like Sassy Pickling Cucumber, is down to their mostly female flowers. As long at they are pollinated, they will produce masses of small cucumbers ready for pickling or slicing. It’s advised to pick when less than 3-inches long, and can be harvested daily throughout the season.
Unlike a lot of their fellow cucumbers, they do not like being moved. So, it is strongly advised to sow them directly where you intend to grow them, when the ground temperature is 70F/18C.
Jackson Classic Cucumber (F1 Hybrid)
It’s been a few years since we grew Jackson, because we grew it as a cucumber rather than a gherkin, and it was a little disappointing for salads with a tougher flesh than most slicing cucumbers. But it would, even at full size be a great option for pickling. It’s minimal seed centres mean it is a really crisp fruit even when fully ripe.
It doesn’t crop continuously in a reliable way though, so if you plan on growing this for pickles, think of it as a later season pickle, collecting full sized fruits to slice, salt and preserve, rather than using the smaller fruits whole.
Sugar Crunch Cucumber (Hybrid)
I wanted to end on a high here, and Sugar Crunch Cucumber really is. As much as I’m willing to rub spines from the skins of cucumbers and gherkins, the convenience of sugar crunch’s smooth skin makes them beautiful as well as practical.
They look like miniature English Hothouse Cucumbers, with smooth, dark green skins, but have firm crisp flesh inside, with an especially sweet flavour throughout.
They are compact growers, with exceptionally high yields of up to 70 fruits per plant, and proven resistance to powdery and downy mildew, as well as mosaic virus.
It’s a fairly expensive cucumber as seeds go, but although it’s a hybrid, it’s not an F1, and it’s not gynoecious so will happily self-pollinate, and produce viable seeds for the following year, so one packet can last a life time.
Whether you plan on using you pickling cucumbers to make regular small batches, or one big batch at the end of summer, there are varieties to suit everyone. Pickle recipes are easy enough to find, but the best start by salting, then heat the pickling cucumbers. Salt draws moisture out and opens up the structure of the fruit, so the sugary vinegar can have a real impact on their flavour.
Every variety above has slightly different growing requirements, but all pickling cucumbers grow well when kept above 18C, in full sun, and planted (or transplanted) into a good mix of compost, manure and top soil, with regular watering.
I’ve got limited space for growing these wonderful fruits next year, so I’m going to try a mix of Sassy Pickling Cucumber and Sugar Crunch Cucumber grown alongside an heirloom salad cucumber like Telegraph to pollinate them. They’ve always been my best pickling cucumbers, so here’s hoping for a busy harvest next summer.