How to make pickles

Pickling is an art, and as with any art, one has to take liberties, especially when they can’t find-or don’t feel like running out to the store and buying-all of the items listed in the canning process and pickling recipe. I imagine that’s my foreshadowing excuse if anything goes wrong with the process we used, but honestly, I tried some of the pickles after they marinated for a couple days and they were delicious! A little salty, but I blame that on Kevin’s strong Virginia roots and predelection for salt-cured country ham.

To start, we picked about four pounds worth of cucumbers from the garden, as well as about a pound of carrots and a pound of green beans. We also included many of the little onions and a few of the large ones, which were chopped and included in the pickling process.

Carrots, green beans and little red onions from the garden on their way to being pickled.

Carrots, green beans and little red onions from the garden on their way to being pickled.

All of the cucumbers and the three larger onions went through the mandolin – not too thick, but not paper-thin, either – and the carrots were simply chopped into sticks so they fit with the green beans. The smaller onions were cleaned and thrown in whole.

Here’s an option: in order to preserve the crispiness of the final pickle, toss the cucumber slices with crushed ice and a liberal handful of pickling salt (pickling salt is important because it’s salt and nothing else – regular salt tends to leave a residue in the jars). Keeping the pickles in a bowl, place a plate over them and weight it down; the purpose being to force the cucumber slices into the salt and ice, thereby drawing as much water from the cucumbers as possible. Let these sit for up to four hours and drain the cucumbers thoroughly before canning.

Four pounds of sliced cucumbers.

Four pounds of sliced cucumbers.

While all this is going on, go ahead and boil your mason jars in order to sterilize them. This is where we got “creative”. The canning recipes call for a boiling-water canner, which we not only didn’t have and didn’t feel like buying, we also didn’t really have room for such a specific peice of culinary equipment in our little kitchen. So, since the whole purpose is to keep the glass jars from direct contact with the bottom of the pot, we just tossed a clean aluminum pie pan into the bottom of the pot and put the jars on top of that. It worked like a charm. The mason jars should be placed in the pot upright and filled to about two inches above the top of the jars. Set on high and let the jars boil for about ten minutes. When done, set the whole pot to the side, but keep the jars submerged until you want to use them. Don’t toss out the water, as you’ll need to run the jars through again when they’re full in order to seal them. The lids and screw bands should be washed in soapy water and rinsed, then placed in a waterfilled saucepan and heated to 180 degrees F, making sure not to let it boil.

Next, prepare the pickling liquid. This is a simple vinegar recipe and you can honestly use whatever vinegar you like, as long as the acidity is between 5 and 6 percent. We used a half and half mixture of regular distilled vinegar (which we keep around the house in large quantities since we use it for cleaning) and organic unfiltered apple cider vinegar. For four pounds of cucumbers, the ingredients and amounts are basically:

A few of the essential pickling ingredients: canning salt, vinegar and pickling spices.

A few of the essential pickling ingredients: canning salt, vinegar and pickling spices.

2 1/2 cups vinegar

1 cup sugar or maple syrup (grade A dark amber, if you use the maple syrup)

3/4 cup water

1 tablespoon pickling spices

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon tumeric

Combine all of these, as well as 1 1/2 teaspoons of canning salt in a 3-quart saucepan and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and allow to simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes.

While the pickling juice is simmering, go ahead and get your jars ready. Drain them for a minute or so, then pack the jars with cucumbers and sliced onions.

Kevin packs cucumber slices into sterilized jars.

Kevin packs cucumber slices into sterilized jars.

We also packed four jars with the carrot, green bean and little onion mixture. Fill the jars with the pickling juice to about 1/4 an inch below the lip, then seal with the lids and screw bands.

Finally, put the sealed jars back in the pot you used to sterilize the jars, making sure the pie tin is still in place so the jars don’t come in contact with the bottom of the pot, and boil for around 20 minutes for the pickles and 10 minutes for the veggie mix. When done, remove the jars from the boiling water and allow them to sit out until the lid seals permanently with a “pop”. You might/might not hear it, and the pop could take as little as a few minutes after they’ve been removed from the heat, or a few hours. After they’ve sat out for 12 – 24 hours, take off the screw band and pry at the lid a little with your fingers. If it doesn’t budge, then you’re pickling process did what it was supposed to do: made pickles. These jars can keep indefinitely – some, in fact, have been known to last centuries – but if you label it with a date, then a year is usually the best time to enjoy your pickles at their peak.

No matter what, before eating your pickles, check that the lid is still concave, ensuring that nothing malignant has snuck past your pickle borders. When in doubt, throw it out, but hopefully all went well and you have something to brag about the next time you have company.

Finished jars of pickles.

Finished jars of pickles.

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2 Comments »

  1. will lightman said

    Hey Kristin,

    You might want to go see the film “Food, Inc” if you haven’t yet done so. You’ll love it!

    WL

    • kevinhackler said

      I am all over it!

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