Preserve your harvest with delicious, fresh-pack pickles. With these simple steps and recipes, it’s a cinch to get started.
From apples to zucchini, The Pickled Pantry (Storey Publishing, 2012) by Andrea Chesman provides 150 recipes for pickles, relishes, chutneys and more. This fresh, contemporary guide to pickling the harvest introduces readers to the foundation techniques of pickling before delving into recipes, ingredients, equipment preparation and safe pickling procedures. The following excerpt is taken from Chapter 1, “All About Pickling.”
Fresh-pack pickles are ones that are preserved with vinegar. After being combined with the vinegar and seasonings, they may be refrigerated or they may be canned in a boiling-water bath. Here are the steps to follow if you are making fresh-pack pickles. The general canning procedure is the same for all pickles.
• Read the recipe first. This is the step many people forget. With pickles, it is critical. Why go to all the bother of preparing the vegetables and pulling the canner from the pantry only to read that the vegetables have to stand in a salt brine overnight, and you won’t have time to finish the recipe in the morning?
• Lay out all the equipment and ingredients you need.
• Wash the vegetables and fruits well. Scrub gently with a vegetable brush and wash under running water or in several changes of water. Lift the fruits and vegetables out of the water; don’t let the dirty water run out of the sink and redeposit dirt on the produce. Be sure to slice off the blossom end of the cucumbers, which contain enzymes that can soften the pickles.
• Drain the produce in a colander.
• Slice, dice, grate, or chop the produce according to the recipe.
• If the recipe calls for salting the vegetables and chilling in ice water, do so. Don’t even consider skipping this step. The salt draws water from the vegetable, and the result is a much, much crisper pickle. The amount of time this step takes isn’t an exact science. I generally recommend 2 to 6 hours, but if you are pressed for time and the vegetables are very thinly sliced, 1 hour may be sufficient. Taste one of the salted slices. If it is too salty, give it a rinse. But the pickles should be a little salty; an undersalted fresh-pack pickle will taste flat and sour.
• While the vegetables are sitting in their salt bath, wash the canning jars, lids, and screw bands in hot, soapy water, and rinse well in scalding water. Unrinsed detergents may leave undesirable flavors or color on the food. Scale or hard-water films can be removed by soaking the jars for several hours in a solution of 1 cup vinegar (5 percent acidity) per gallon of water. Filling the jars with hot water and covering them with more hot water in a large pot will protect them from airborne molds and yeast while they wait to be filled. Alternatively, set them upside-down on a clean kitchen towel, if you have the counter space. Prepare the lids according to the manufacturer’s directions; the instructions vary by brand.
• If your recipe calls for sterilized jars, put them right side up on the rack in the boiling-water-bath canner and fill the canner and jars with hot (not boiling) water to 1 inch above the tops of the jars. Bring the water to a boil and boil for 10 minutes. (Above 1,000 feet, add an additional 1 minute for every 1,000 feet of altitude.) Leave the jars in the water until you are ready to pack them. The USDA recommends that you sterilize jars if you are heat-processing pickles for less than 10 minutes.
• If you are not sterilizing jars, fill the canner half full with water and bring the water to a boil.
• Heat additional water in a tea kettle.
• Combine the ingredients to make the pickling solution, according to the recipe directions. You can vary the amount of spices, but do not alter the quantities of vegetables, fruits, or vinegar. If the brine tastes too sour, add some additional sweetener.
• Cook the pickling solution as the recipe directs.
• If you are packing thinly sliced cucumbers or zucchini, or a chutney, relish, or salsa, set the canning funnel in an empty hot prepared jar and pack the chutney or vegetables into the jar. If you are packing whole cucumbers, green beans, or other large pieces of fruit or vegetables, you may find it easier to hold the jar so it is tipped at a 45-degree angle and pack the jar by hand, using a wooden spoon or chopstick to help arrange as needed, and shaking the jar occasionally to settle the contents. Do not pack so tightly that the produce is squished; the pickling solution should be able to circulate freely for even pickling. On the other hand, packing too loosely will result in the fruits or vegetables floating in the jar, which doesn’t look attractive.
• As you pack, leave the amount of headspace indicated in the recipe. Headspace is the gap left between the food (or pickling solution) and the rim of the jar. With pickles (as opposed to sauces or relishes), the solids are packed first. Then slowly pour in the pickling solution through the canning funnel.
• Remove trapped air bubbles by running a chopstick or other utensil between the food and the side of the jar. This step is critical; omitting it could result in the jars not sealing, if you are processing.
• Add more pickling solution if necessary to achieve the proper amount of headspace.
• Wipe the rim of the jars with a clean, damp cloth to remove any brine or food particles. Again, this is a critical step; omitting it could result in the jars not sealing.
• Cover the jars with the lids and tighten according to the manufacturer’s directions. If no directions are given, tighten screw bands on traditional flat metal lids until fingertip tight. Tighten Tattler lids fingertip tight and then turn back about 1/4 inch to allow the jars to vent while processing (very important!).
• Set the jars in the preheated canner. The water in the boiling-water-bath canner should be hot, but not boiling, to prevent the jars from breaking. Add boiling water to the canner from the kettle to bring the water level to 1 to 2 inches above the tops of the jars.
• Over high heat, bring the water to the processing temperature. Generally this means bring the water to boiling. The exception to this is low-temperature pasteurization (keep reading for more information on low-temperature pasteurization).
• Process for the length of time indicated in the recipe, adjusting for altitude if necessary, and starting the timing when the water comes to a boil.
• When the processing time is up, remove the jars and set them on a towel or wooden rack away from drafts. Leave space between the jars so air can circulate. If you are using Tattler lids, immediately tighten the metal band.
• Allow the jars to cool undisturbed for 12 to 24 hours.
• Test the seals. The center of the lid on the traditional two-piece metal lid and screw band should be depressed. Remove the screw band. If you push on the center of the lid it should not pop back. If you remove the screw band and lift a sealed jar by the lid, it should hold.
• To test Tattler lids, remove the screw bands and lift the jars by the lids. The lids should hold.
• Wipe the jars clean. Label with a date and recipe name. Store the sealed jars in a cool, dark place. Store unsealed jars in the refrigerator and use within a couple of months.
• Most pickles should be stored unopened for at least 6 weeks to allow them to develop their full flavor.
• Because USDA guidelines for safe canning practices have gotten more and more stringent, food scientists have developed low-temperature pasteurization as a way to safely can pickled cucumbers. It does result in a slightly crisper pickle, but it is a method that requires careful attention and is more time consuming. You will need a candy thermometer to monitor the water temperature. This technique is not recommended for other vegetable pickles.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Place the filled jars in a canner filled halfway with warm (120° to 140°F) water.
2. Add hot water to a level 1 inch above the jars.
3. Heat and regulate the water temperature to maintain a 180° to 185°F water temperature for 30 minutes. Begin timing when the water reaches 180°F. Check frequently with a candy or jelly thermometer to be certain that the water temperature is at least 180°F during the entire 30 minutes.
4. Remove the jars from the water and cool and store as with regular boiling water bath canning.
The drawbacks to this method are: (1) if the temperature goes below 180°F, you have to bring the water temperature back up and start timing all over again; (2) if the temperature goes above 185°F, the pickles are likely to soften and you’ve lost the advantage of the low-temperature method; (3) it takes more time and more attention. The temperature must be monitored frequently, and the flame under the pot carefully adjusted. I don’t think most electric burners are capable of making timely adjustments of the heat for this method.
Read more: It's smart and simple to pickle one jar at a time. Discover the advantages of canning in small quantities in Making Pickles: Dill Spears, Bread and Butters and Dilly Beans Recipes.
Excerpted from The Pickled Pantry © by Andrea Chesman, used with permission from Storey Publishing.
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