Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Canning, and Cucumbers, and Pickles! Oh, my!

Pickles…  yummy. 

This week, we are making pickles.  I planned for this and so last week when I went to the Farmers’ Market I ordered a bushel of cucumbers, but I was only able to get half a bushel.  So, it looks like we will be doing this twice this season!  Yay!  That, by the way…  is a LOT of future pickles.  Last year, we only used less than half a bushel of cucumbers and still made over two dozen jars.  However, my family (there are seven of us so far, plus a baby on the way) can go through two jars of pickles during one meal of hamburgers and hotdogs…  plus, I am pregnant right now with all those crazy cravings and I tend to enjoy pickles a little more than I normally do.  Also, it is a great gift for visitors to the house or welcome gift for new people in the neighborhood.  Simply put…  You can never go wrong with pickles. 

Half a Bushel of Cucumbers
Big or Small, all work just fine.

But what kind of pickles?  I am going to attach step by step instructions for making pickles plus the recipes that go along with each type.  Don’t let canning intimidate you, because once you start you will realize how easy it is and wonder why you never did it before!  Then you will be hooked.  There is NOTHING in this world like homemade pickles.  And it is so simple! 

The hardest part for people is probably just collecting the supplies you need to get started.  I was blessed to have been left all of my grandma’s canning supplies when she died.  And we still use it.  The stuff is OLD, OLD, OLD, but it still works just fine.  So, if you can find a good pot at a garage sale or flea market or something, I say jump on it.  Buying a new one at the store will cost at least $60.  After writing this, I made a trip to Target and they actually have entire sets for about $30 right now.  Not a bad deal, not a bad deal.  Or what you can do is put a bug in someone’s ear that it would make a good Christmas present.  I am the type of person that asks for that type of thing for gifts.  (I got a long bow for Mother’s Day, and a staple gun another year for my birthday, and a shot gun for Valentine’s Day once…  it was what I wanted.)  We also bought a couple of pots from Sam’s Club that aren’t advertised to can in, but they get the job done and we got them for about $35.  Keep in mind, bigger jars need bigger pots.

Another thing to always be on the lookout for is Mason Jars.  You can find them at most grocery stores, farm supply stores, and hardware stores, BUT trying to find the quantity and exact jars that you need can be tricky.  Especially since a lot of those stores only carry them while they are in season.  This is what we learned (the hard way) after finding ourselves to be way short of Mason Jars just when we needed them.  I started calling around and I found a little Ace Hardware store that was willing to order them for me in the exact quantity and kind that I needed.  We buy pint, quart, and half gallon sized jars all with the wide mouth lids.  The ones we use the most are the wide mouth quart jars.  They are a good size for my family. 

Equipment that you will need- 

  • Jars- they come in half pint, pint, quart, and half gallon sizes.  There is wide mouth or regular mouth jars.  The wide mouthed jars has a green tag, and the regular mouthed jars has a red tag.  There are a few other kinds of jars, but they are rarely needed, especially if you are doing something in bulk.
  • Lids and Bands- if you are buying jars brand new, these will come with them.  But if you are reusing jars, then you will need to purchase new ones.
  • Boiling-Water Canner- this is essential for high acid fruits and vegetables  Not everything can be canned with this, but most fruits and veggies can be.  The temperature of 212 degrees must be able to be maintained for the canning to be successful.
  • Canning Utensils- Jar Lifter, Jar Funnel, Bubble Remover and Headspace Tool, Lid Wand.  These things can come in a kit that you can purchase at the store wherever canning supplies are sold.  

  • Various Other Special Equipment- Food Scale, Food Mill or Electic Pureer, Food Processor or Grinder, Electric Juice Extractor or Juice Strainer, Crock Pot, Candy/ Jelly Thermometer, Spice Bag or Cheese Cloth, and Cooking Timer.  
  •  All the spices and ingredients that the recipe calls for.  In this case, to make dill pickles, I will need black peppercorn, mustard seed, dill, pickling salt, and vinegar (not pictured).

This can take a lot of space, so I learned to make sure the kitchen was cleaned up BEFORE starting on this although it is tempting to just plunge in.  Planning ahead with canning is quite essential. 

Decide EXACTLY what you want and need.  Make sure you have enough jars, lids, ingredients, and time to get this all done before you start.  Another word of advice- if you home is anything like mine, it is always hotter inside in the afternoon than it is in the morning.  We get that wonderful sun coming from the west in the evenings hitting everything in our kitchen, so it can get really hot.  This will take a lot of time for which the stove will be for the entirety.  If it is hot outside, it will only make it worse inside.  When I can, I try to do this in the mornings so that the temperature in the kitchen is more bearable.

All jars need to be cleaned and inspected before canning starts.  No knicks or cracks.  If there is mineral buildup on the jar, then it needs to be washed.  Just soak it in some hot water and handwash it to get all that off.  Because we lack the space needed in our kitchen to be able to spread out, we put the jars into the dishwasher and let them go through a whole cycle before pulling them out one by one to pack with food.  It is VERY important that the jars are already hot when they are packed before they go into the big cook pot.  If they are cold, they run the risk of becoming damaged.  So make sure they are hot! 

We also take the lids and bands and put them into the slow cooker on high, so that their temperature is maintained, too.  Again, it is important that they are clean as well and are only pulled out of the heat for the time that they are being used before they go into the bigger pot to get sealed.

Headspace- quick lesson.  The headspace is the space between the lid and what you have canned.  There is 1/4 inch, 1/2 inch and 1 inch headspace.  Make sure the liquid covers everything completely and measure headspace to be sure.  You can also use the outside grooves of the jar where the lid fits onto to use as a guide.  Eventually, you will be able to eyeball it and you won’t need to measure anymore.  This is needed due to cover for the pressure accommodation during the actual canning process.

In South Carolina, we don’t really have to worry about this, but if you live someplace else like in Colorado…  elevation is always an issue.  Increase processing time: 5 minutes for 1,001 to 3, 000 feet; 10 minutes for 3,001 to 6,000 feet; 15 minutes for 6,001 to 8,000 feet; 20 minutes for 8,001 to 10,000 feet.  Hope that helps!

No matter what your setup is like, if you don’t have a good recipe, then you won’t be successful.  You can change these to fit your taste.  My family’s favorites are the dill pickles.  And if these aren’t what you are looking for, then google it.

Bread and Butter Pickles
Yield- about 7 pints
4 pounds of 4 to 6 inch cucumbers cut into 1/4 inch slices
2 pounds of onions, thinly sliced (about 8 small ones)
1/3 cup pickling salt (any natural salt without the preservatives will work just fine)
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons mustard seed
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons celery seed
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon peppercorns
3 cups of vinegar
Ball Pickle Crisp (optional)

Combine cucumbers and onion slices in a large bowl, layering with salt; cover with ice cubes.  Let stand for 1 and 1/2 hours.  Drain; rinse; drain again.  Combine remaining ingredients, except pickle crisp in large saucepot; bring to a boil.  Add drained cucumbers and onions and return to a boil.  Pack hot pickles and liquid into hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Add Pickle Crisp to each jar if desired.  Remove air bubbles.  Adjust two piece caps.  Process for 10 minutes in a boiling-water canner.  Allow at least 7 days for pickles to cure.  Four to six weeks is actually ideal in a cool dark place.

Hamburger Dill Pickles (This one is our favorite!)
Yield- about 7 pints
4 pounds of 4 inch cucumbers
6 tablespoons pickling salt (any natural salt without preservatives will work just fine)
4 1/2 cups water
4 cups vinegar
14 heads of fresh dill
3 1/2 teaspoons mustard seed
14 peppercorns
Ball Pickle Crisp (optional)

Wash cucumbers; drain.  Cut cucumbers into ¼ inch crosswise or lengthwise slices, discarding blossom ends.  Combine salt, water and vinegar in a large saucepot; bring to a boil.  Pack cucumbers into hot jars leaving ½ inch headspace.  Add 2 heads of dill, ½ teaspoon mustard seed, and 2 peppercorns to each jar.  Ladle hot liquid over cucumbers, leaving ½ inch headspace.  Add Pickle Crisp to each jar, if desired.  Remove air bubbles.  Adjust two piece caps.  Process for 15 minutes in a boiling-water canner.  Allow at least 7 days for pickles to cure.  Four to six weeks is actually ideal in a cool dark place.

Clean the rims before placing the lids.  Once the jars are packed, put them into the cook pot and lower them down into the water.  A typical pot can fit seven jars.  Add more boiling water if you need it(Cans should have at least 1 to 2 inches of water on top.), turn the heat up, and let it come to a rolling boil.  That is when time officially starts. 

After time is up, take them out, put them someplace cool, dry, and preferably a little dark where they will not be bothered.  Place them apart from each other, definitely not touching.  Two inches is a good guide line.  Do not mess with the lids.  Just walk away.  Allow them time to cool naturally for 12 to 24 hours. 

Once they have cooled, test the seals.  One way to do that is to push the button in at the top.  If it is down, it is sealed.  If it is up, it was unsuccessful.  Another way to test is to take the rim off and gently test the cap.  When it is successful, the cap will be VERY firm.  In fact, I have a hard time getting off even when I am ready to use them.

And that is it!  Congrats!  You have pickles!  Now, after you do this, go pat yourself on the back because you are one step closer now to being self-reliant!  

Thank you to the Veggie Patch, HC Farms at Sandhill Farmers’ Market (Tuesdays, open from 2 to 7) for providing the pickling cukes!  $18 half bushel/ $36 full bushel.  Ask for Mandy!

1 comment:

  1. Great tutorial on the pickles, the bread and butter ones are my favorite.

    Looking forward to more posts.