Although modern refrigeration has eliminated the necessity of “putting up” canned goods, it can’t replace the many rewards of home preserving. Not only is it gratifying, but it can be healthful as well. Homemade pickles are free from the chemicals and preservatives found in many of their commercial equivalents. You can choose the freshest organic ingredients and use only sugar and salt for flavor. With herbs and spices you can create unusual flavor combinations not easily found in stores. And best of all, you can give away your creations as inexpensive but heartfelt gifts.
Technically, any fruit or vegetable preserved in vinegar is considered a pickle. You can “pickle” anything, from apples and peaches to okra and beans. There are several different kinds of pickles, but the most common are either brined or quick processed.
Traditional dilled pickles are brined, which means they are cured or aged in a salty solution that causes fermentation. Although brined pickles are fun to make, they take several weeks and must be monitored closely. For those who lack the time or patience for long recipes, there are fast, easy-to-make “quick pickles,” such as cucumber relish or bread-and-butter pickles. For quick pickles, the fruit or vegetables are usually soaked in a saltwater solution for a few hours, drained, and packed into canning jars. A hot, spicy vinegar solution is poured over them, and the jars are sealed. The longer the pickles sit in the vinegar mixture, the more their flavor increases.
Quick pickles are a very safe method of food preservation. They rely on the highly acidic vinegar to preserve the produce. In fact, they are so safe that some recipes (such as those listed here) can be made as “refrigerator pickles,” in which the finished product is stored in the refrigerator rather than processed in a water bath canner (see “Water Bath Processing,” page 68). The advantage to refrigerator pickles is that you save yourself time. The disadvantage is that the pickles can be stored for only a few weeks under refrigeration, whereas jars processed in a water bath can be stored six months in the pantry. Because the flavor needs one to two weeks to develop, refrigerator storage does not allow much time for you to enjoy the pickle’s full potential.
BREAD AND BUTTER PICKLES
Makes approximately 6 pint jars
5 pounds 4–5 inch pickling cucumbers
6 cups thinly sliced yellow onions
1/2 cup salt
Ice (crushed or cubed)
4 cups white distilled vinegar
4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons mustard seed
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
Wash cucumbers well. Remove 1/4 inch off the blossom end and discard. Slice the cucumbers into 1/4 inch slices. In a large bowl, combine sliced cucumber, onions, and salt. Toss gently and cover with a 2-inch layer of ice. Place in the refrigerator for 4 hours, adding ice as needed.
In a large stock pot, combine vinegar, sugar, mustard seed, celery seed, and turmeric. Heat until boiling and boil for 5 minutes. Drain cucumbers and onions and add them to the boiling vinegar. Bring mixture back up to a boil and turn off heat.
Fill clean pint jars with the cucumbers and onions, leaving a 1/2 inch space at the top of the jar. Carefully pour in the hot vinegar mixture to within 1/2 inch of the top of the jar. Run a knife along the sides to remove any air bubbles and wipe down the rims of the jars with a damp cloth. Top each jar with a canning lid and ring. For long-term storage, process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes (see page 69). Any unprocessed or unsealed jars must be stored in the refrigerator (after they cool) and used within 6 weeks.
SWEET PICKLE SLICES
Makes 5 pint jars
3 pounds cucumbers
11/2 cups salt
5 cups white distilled vinegar
2 tablespoons pickling spice tied in cheesecloth*
2 cups sugar
Wash cucumbers and remove 1/4 inch off the blossom end. Slice into 1/2 inch slices. In a large enamel, glass, or stainless steel container, combine the salt with 1 gallon of water. Stir well, add cucumber slices. Use a plate to weigh down any floating cucumbers. Refrigerate 4 hours to overnight.
Drain and rinse the cucumber slices. In a large stainless steel or enamel pot, bring 3 cups water and remaining ingredients to a boil. Add cucumber and return to a boil. If you are going to process your jars in a water bath, turn off heat and continue to next paragraph. If you are not going to process in a water bath, cover the pot and simmer the cucumbers in the vinegar mixture for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and continue.
Remove spice bag from the hot vinegar mixture. Fill clean, wide-mouthed pint jars with the cucumber slices. Pour hot vinegar mixture over the cucumber, leaving a 1/2-inch space at the top of the jar. Wipe down jar rim with a wet cloth and add lids. For long term-storage, process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Unprocessed jars must be refrigerated and used within 6 weeks. Let the pickles set for at least 7 days before eating to allow flavors to develop.
*Note: Pickling spice is found in the dried spice section of the grocery store.
DILLED GREEN BEANS
Makes 4 pint jars
2 pounds green beans
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
8 sprigs fresh dill
4 teaspoons dill seed
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon mustard seed
21/2 cups water
21/2 cups white distilled vinegar
1/4 cup salt
Wash green beans and trim the ends. Cut any long beans so they fit (standing upright) in the pint jars. Into each of 4 clean pint jars add 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper, 2 sprigs dill, 1 teaspoon dill seed, 1 clove garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon mustard seed. Pack the jars with the beans in an upright position. In a large stainless steel or enamel pot, combine water, vinegar, and salt. Bring to a boil. Pour boiling liquid over the beans, leaving 1/2 inch space at the top. Wipe jar rims with a damp cloth and add canning lids. Process 5 minutes in a boiling water bath for long-term storage. Any unprocessed jars must be stored in the refrigerator and used within 3 weeks. Allow flavors to develop at least 5 days before eating.
Water Bath Processing
A hot water bath for processing acid foods such as quick pickles is simply a large stockpot or kettle with a lid. Jars of food are set on top of a wire rack or trivet inside the kettle and covered with enough hot water to completely submerge the jars, plus two inches. They are then boiled for the time specified in the recipe and removed to cool. During the heating process, the contents of the jar expand to force out some air. As the jars cool, the remaining air contracts to form a vacuum that preserves the contents. The heating process also helps kill any microorganisms that may be present inside the jar. The finished jars can be stored on the pantry shelf for up to six months.
To process quick pickles in this way, you need a stockpot or kettle that is at least four inches taller than the jars you are using. This allows one to two inches of water above the tops of the jars with a two-inch space for boiling. You can purchase specialized canning pots with fitted racks at gourmet or cooking supply stores, but a tall stockpot and a round, wire cookie rack or trivet work just as well. Gourmet stores also carry handy jar lifters with rubber grips to prevent slippage when lifting out jars. Long tongs are an acceptable alternative.
To process finished pickles, fill your canner three-quarters full with hot water. Place jars on a wire rack or trivet in the canner so they are not touching each other. Cover the jars with more hot water until they are submerged one or two inches. Bring the water to an easy boil and cover the kettle. Start counting your processing time after the water comes to a boil. As soon as the processing time is over, remove the jars from the canner and place them on a wooden board or towel to cool. After cooling, a jar is sealed if you can press the center of the lid and it does not spring back. Any unsealed jars must be stored in the refrigerator and used within the time specified in the recipe.