Making pickles from your garden

  • Pickling is a rewarding way to preserve vegetable garden bumper crops. Abbe Hamilton—

  • Pickling is a rewarding way to preserve vegetable garden bumper crops. Abbe Hamilton—

  • Pickling is a rewarding way to preserve vegetable garden bumper crops. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton

  • Pickling is a rewarding way to preserve vegetable garden bumper crops. Abbe Hamilton—

  • Pickling is a rewarding way to preserve vegetable garden bumper crops. Abbe Hamilton—

  • Kitchen pickling stovetop setup Abbe Hamilton—

  • Kitchen pickling stovetop setup Abbe Hamilton—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 8/19/2019 1:10:13 PM

I got carried away when I was picking the cucumbers the other day. This means I’m now locked in a race against entropy, one that began in the garden and will end, inevitably, just a couple days from now. If I win, the produce I harvested with abandon will be transformed or ​​​immortalized. If I lose, it will be to the devastating, guilty waste of wilt and mold.

The cover of my “Victory Garden Cookbook” features the author, Marian Morash, smiling and posing in a kitchen where every surface is covered in fresh produce. During the summer and fall, I find myself returning to her face, searching her eyes. Is it possible that she’s unfazed by the perishables, closing in from all counters? Is she so masterful a chef that she’s not, behind her smile, petrified by the immensity of the task ahead of her?

I wonder if she, like me, is a woman incapable of restraint in a garden or a produce sale. Why be satisfied by a dainty bag of green beans when an entire box is so cheap? One single tomato plant, when you could stake up twelve in so little time? They’re practically giving away the peach seconds, so why stop at one bushel?

The recipes Marian provides (helpfully organized by vegetable in anticipation of seasonal harvest gluts) are great – but for a produce hoarder like me, this is the time of year I praise to the miracle of canning: a technology capable of changing my pile of ethereal cucumbers into a robust, tasty snack to be enjoyed at leisure throughout the year.

Making canned pickles is easy. Grocery and hardware stores prominently feature canning supplies this time of year, and usually you can find the jars, utensils, vinegar pickling spices and salts you need all in the same place.

It takes a couple tries to dial in a favorite process and recipe, and I recommend starting with a small batch in case your first attempt doesn’t satisfy. It’s better to have one jar of rubbery or too-salty pickles rather than fifteen. (Ask me how I know!)

Here is the Ball canning jar company’s recipe for dill pickles, annotated.

Supplies

■Canning pot. Any pot tall enough to submerge an upright quart jar will work, but the bigger the pot, the more cans you can process in one batch. That’s important if you have a giant produce habit.

■Canning jars with lids and bands

■Sharp knife for produce processing

■Ladle

■Jar lifter – you can find these for sale with canning jars, and they’re a life saver for maneuvering hot glass jars in and out of a boiling pot.

■Large pot for brine

■Towels for staging jars and cleaning up drips and spills, ample counter space, and a couple uninterrupted hours. Bring a friend!

Ingredients (for two quart-jars of pickles, scale as desired)

■3 1/2 lbs pickling cucumbers (about 14 small to medium)

■2 cups water

■1 cup vinegar (5% acidity)

■1/4 cup Ball Kosher Dill Pickle Mix

■Two quart (32oz) preserving jars with lids and bands (Wide-mouth jars are easier for packing and snacking)

Preparation

■ Use fresh cucumbers and lop off the tips: the blossom end can contain an enzyme that makes the pickles soft. Cut the pickles into spears. I like to use the oversized cucumbers that blew up while unattended in the garden, but some (more vigilant gardeners than I) exclusively use small and medium cucumbers for optimal flavor and texture.

■Combine water, vinegar, and Ball Kosher Dill Pickle Mix in a pot. Heat to a boil. This is your brine, and there are lots of acceptable ways to make it. To ensure crisp pickles, it’s important to include some calcium chloride. This is one of the ingredients in the Pickle Mix.

■Prepare the canner, jars, and lids according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This usually means making sure the canning pot and jars are clean. The lids should be fresh, to ensure a perfect seal. Some people sterilize the jars they use by running them in the dishwasher, or simmering them in canning pot. I sterilize jar lids in a small pan.

■Pack the spears into hot jars. Don’t hesitate to add a sprig of dill, garlic clove, hot pepper or other accents to the jar. Ladle hot pickling liquid over spears leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe rims. Center lids on jars. Apply bands and adjust to fingertip tight. Place the jar in the boiling water canner. Repeat until all jars are filled.

■Process jars in boiling water for 15 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Turn off heat; remove lid and let jars stand for 5 minutes. Remove jars and cool. Check for seal after 24 hours. Lids should not flex up and down when center is pressed. If a jar didn’t seal, just refrigerate the jar and consume immediately.

Pickles acquire their maximum flavor after for four to six weeks. Once you unseal a jar, keep it refrigerated.

Good luck! If your foray into pickled preserves leaves you itching for more, opportunities are endless for variations in technique and ingredients.


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