Wednesday, September 1, 2010

In a Pickle

We all have those tasks that intimidate us. The one thing that we think is going to be more trouble than it is worth. So, we don't bother. Mine was canning. I thought that I would need fancy equipment, hours of free time and crates of produce to unload. In truth, all you really need is space in your kitchen.

So, last week I ventured into the world of canning via bread and butter pickles. Again, this is my very first time canning. I did not grow up on a farm or with a canning grandmother. My mother was Italian, we did sauce, and lots of it. No canning.

If I was going to do this I needed books. The one I liked the best was You Can Can, a Better Homes and Gardens book. It covered all the basics and relieved my fears. I never knew there was two basic methods of canning. Boiling-water canning and pressure canning. The boiling-water method is for newbies, like me, with little equipment required and the pressure method is for the seasoned canner. I decided on the boiling-water method. I already had a large pot and tongs. All needed now was cucumbers, spices and jars.

My first stop was a produce stand. They had all the spices I needed but no cucumbers. So, onto the next produce stand. Cucumbers and onions were available. Target saved the day and had some canning jars. And, my last stop was a grocery store. I picked up vinegar, sugar and salt. Finally, my pickles would soon become reality.
The first thing to do is prepare four pounds of pickling cucumbers and six medium onions. Pickling cucumbers are small, have a firm flesh and fewer seeds. You need to wash the cucumbers, remove the blossom end and slice. Slice the onions. Next, place the cucumbers and onions in a large kettle. Add three cloves of garlic and 1/3 cup of canning salt. Canning salt has a fine texture and dissolve readily. If you can't it find look for fine textured salt. Do not use regular iodized table salt. The last step in preparing the cucumbers is to add two inches of cracked ice to the produce. Cover with a lid and refrigerate for 3 to 12 hours. This process draws out the moisture.
Fast forward 7 hours. Remove the cucumbers from the fridge. Pick out any remaining ice. Drain and rinse well in a large colander. Remove the garlic. In the same kettle combine 3 cups sugar, 3 cups of cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons mustard seeds, 1 ½ teaspoons turmeric and 1 ½ teaspoons celery seeds. Heat to boiling. Add cucumber mixture and return to boiling.
Next, fill hot cucumber mixture and liquid into hot, sterilized pint canning jars. Leave ½ inch head space. Wipe the jar rims clean and secure lids. Place the filled jars into a boiling-water canner (large pot with boiling water) for 10 minutes. If you do not have a jar rack place a kitchen towel in the bottom of the pot. Make sure an inch or two of water is above the jars and that the jars do not touch. Let the jars boil for 10 minutes. You are looking for a low boil here. Remove the jars with tongs and cool on racks. In a few hours check for a seal. They should not pop when you touch the center of the lid. If they do, refrigerate and use within a week.
All of my jars sealed and, once they cooled, tasted wonderful. They had a nice crunch with the right amount of sweet and sour. I will surely do this again. If I can, you can can too.

September 13 is Snack A Pickle Time Day

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