I've never canned or pickled anything; however, I'm keen to give it a shot. However, I'm the only one in my family who likes cucumber pickles, so it might take me a while to go through a batch. There are a lot of recipes out there for "refrigerator pickles" which only keep for a few weeks; what steps are taken in a real pickle recipe that mark it as one for long-term storage? Can a refrigerator pickle recipe be converted to long-term storage?
Pickle recipes meant for longer-term storage will include instructions for sealing the jars. While some recipes may have you use hot jars and hot brine that will result in a fairly reliable seal ratio (meaning most of the jars will properly seal), other recipes will have you put the filled and closed jars in a boiling water bath to be processed for a specific amount of time. I've found this method to yield an even higher ratio of properly sealed jars.
In either scenario, the sign of a sealed jar (assuming you are using canning jars with a lid and ring system) is an indented dome on the lid. Jars that do not seal properly will still have a protruding dome.
Most recipes will have all the specific information you need to make pickles including the shelf life of sealed jars. The Ball canning jar company has a good website: http://www.freshpreserving.com/recipes.aspx
Best of luck - I hope your pickles are a tasty success!
Canning is relatively simple, but there are still some safety tips that you have to be aware of.
Always use a recipe from a trusted source. This can be from the Ball website or one of their many wonderful (recently published) cookbooks, or another reputable website like pickyourown, Food In Jars, etc. Don't use recipes that are very old as they may not have a high enough level of acid, may not process for a long enough time, or may rely on antiquated jar sealing technology. This USDA publication has some great recipes for free. Otherwise I highly recommend the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and The Joy Of Pickling.
If you are using a hot water bath method, do not use a recipe that calls for a pressure canner! Pressure canners can obtain higher temperatures than you can at standard atmospheric pressure and are used to process items with less acid, which would be unsafe to can in a water bath canner.
DO NOT invert your lids to form a seal, regardless of what other commenters on this post suggest. This doesn't sterilize the contents of the jar, and could potentially lead to Botulism. (See: pickyourown.org, http://sharonastyk.com/, foodinjars.com)
If you use a larger jar size than the recipe calls for, you may have to increase the processing time. You may also have to increase processing time when canning at altitude. These guidelines should be included in the above recommended cookbooks.
The PDF and books I recommended above also have instructions on how to use a hot water bath canner -- as well as how to make fridge pickles and lactofermented pickles.
Whatever you do, don't forget the food safety problems here. The reason most recipes don't claim they are good for canning is that nobody tested them if they are safe for canning.
When you can food, you have to seal it (so no bacteria can enter the jar) and sterilize it, so all bacteria in the jar will die. This gets rid of almost all nasties present in food. The only thing which survives sterilization: botulism spores. They are much hardier than the living bacteria and don't die at 100°C (the highest temperature you can achieve with boiling). Also, they are anaerobic, so they will love to multiply in your sealed jar. And botulism toxin is very strong. If you eat a jar with a botulin-producing colony inside (which you can't recognize on opening), you won't just get a day of upset stomach; botulism is a serious condition and often fatal if left untreated.
There are two ways to eliminate botulism risk. First, you can use a pressure canner. It increases the temperature in your jars enough that the spores are killed along with the bacteria. If you want to invest in a pressure canner, please refer to trustworthy literature for the exact process. But if you don't can much, it is easier to choose a recipe suitable for simple hot-water canning. For that, you don't need an actual "officially approved" recipe; all you have to do is to ensure that your current batch has a pH of below 4.6. At this acidity, botulism spores cannot grow and you are safe. As pickles contain lots of acid, it is very probable that some of the "refrigerator pickle" recipe will turn out to produce batches suitable for canning. Alternatively, you can still search for an "approved" recipe; these have been tested and found to consistently produce food of sufficient acidity.
As I have never made pickles myself, I can't tell you for sure that there won't be taste deterioration if you can a recipe originally meant for the refrigerator. But while the tase will probably change during the boiling, it won't necessarily get worse, so it may be worth a try.
As the time passes, vinegar-based pickles will absorb more acid, so reducing the amount of vinegar will help keep them tasty.
Other thing is that refrigerator receipes usually tell you to just cover or cover loosely the jar. For long-term storage you could can them. The simplest way, that I use mostly for jams (I don't like vinegar pickles, just sour pickles) is to pour the boiling marinade into the jar with veggies, immediately close it tightly and turn upside down (the jar and the cover get hot VERY quickly!). The boiling liquid will sterilise veggies and when it cools, the little amount of air inside the jar will seal the jar. Sometimes the middle of the cover will not pop down - those are not properly closed and should be stored like refrigerator pickles.
Returning to the vinegar. My grandma uses usually 1 portion of vinegar per 4 portions of water. This way the canned pickles will last even 2 years (well, maybe even longer, but I don't remember ever eating any older pickles) and have a beautifully mild taste. My picky 3-year old loves her pickled pears!
If you are afraid that you will be the only one to eat your pickles, maybe just make them in small batches? Just a half-liter jar or two per receipe. I know it's more work this way, but you wouldn't have to worry about the storage time.