Only recently, when I started to read more about the history of food preservation did it occur to me how functional and necessary pickles (and all their pickled brethren) might be. In earlier times, when there was no refrigeration, the only way to have green and crunchy things in the winter, alongside all those starchy storage vegetables that could last through the cold season--was to pack vegetables and fruits in as much salt or sugar or vinegar as possible, to keep the spoilage at bay.
So pickles weren't always the frivolous treat I once imagined them to be. They served a crucial function--seasonally, nutritionally, culinarily. And these days, when we're trying to eat more locally, home-canned pickles (and pickled corn relish!) serve as really nice contrasts to the heavy potatoes and celeriac and turnips. Something bright and fresh-tasting!
Last year, the pickles we made were from cucumbers bought by the bushel at the farmer's market. I mostly followed the guidelines set by the National Center for Home Food Preservation, opting for the slightly more labor-intensive Low-Temperature Pasteurization Treatment (which cooks the cucumber at slightly lower and harder-to-maintain temperatures) because it promised a crunchier pickle. And it delivered!
Of course, you can make pickles without canning them, by just relying on the salt and/or vinegar to keep them preserved in the refrigerator for at least a few weeks. Tomorrow, I'll write about my mom's method for making pickles without canning, so stop back by for more pickled goodness!
From the National Center for Home Food Preservation
8 lbs of 3- to 5-inch pickling cucumbers
2 gals water
1¼ cups canning or pickling salt
1½ qts vinegar (5 percent)
¼ cup sugar
2 quarts water
2 tbsp whole mixed pickling spice
about 3 tbsp whole mustard seed (2 tsp to 1 tsp per pint jar)
4½ tbsp dill seed (1 tbsp to 1½ tsp per pint jar)
about 14 heads of fresh dill (3 heads to 1½ heads per pint jar)
Yield: 7 to 9 pints
- Please read Using Boiling Water Canners before beginning. If this is your first time canning, it is recommended that you read Principles of Home Canning.
- Procedure: Wash cucumbers. Cut 1/16-inch slice off blossom end and discard, but leave ¼-inch of stem attached. Dissolve ¾ cup salt in 2 gals water. Pour over cucumbers and let stand 12 hours. Drain.
- Combine vinegar, ½ cup salt, sugar and 2 quarts water. Add mixed pickling spices tied in a clean white cloth. [I didn't do this extra step, and just left the pickling spices in throughout the canning process. That seems not to have affected anything.] Heat to boiling.
- Fill jars with cucumbers. Add 1 tsp mustard seed and 1½ heads fresh dill or dill seed per pint.
- Cover with boiling pickling solution, leaving ½-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process according to the low- temperature pasteurization treatment (LTPT).
- The LTPT results in a better texture but must be carefully managed to avoid possible spoilage. Place jars in a canner filled half way with warm (120º to 140º F) water. Then, add hot water to a level 1 inch above jars. Heat the water enough to maintain 180º to 185º F water temperature for 30 minutes. Check with a candy or jelly thermometer to be certain that the water temperature is at least 180ºF during the entire 30 minutes. Temperatures higher than 185ºF may cause unnecessary softening of pickles.
- Remove jars from hot water, let them cool overnight, and you have canned pickles, good to eat at your leisure for up to a year (and probably longer)!
*A post for SMF, to help her figure out what to do with all those cucumbers popping off the vines.