When the harvest hits and we’ve got bushels of bounty ripe for the eating, we can still only consume so much in a day. That’s when the canners come out. Some of us tend toward jams, others toward sauces. This 101 is for the picklers in the bunch.
Not just cucumber picklers, mind you, but the full gamut of all that is pickling. According to the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving, pickling is defined as fermenting in brine or packing in vinegar. There are five basic types (more on each below):
» fresh pack
» chutneys and sauce
But before we get into the nitty gritty, a helpful word from HOMEGROWN member Chris on overcoming intimidation, from a discussion on first-time preserving: “I'd like to address the fear factor: While it's wise to practice caution, follow tested recipes, and adhere to USDA-recommended canning methods, the likelihood of killing anyone is practically nil. One thing that I always remind people is to remove the rings after the jars have cooled completely and before putting them in your pantry. Test the seals by actually lifting the lid—and test again when you get the jar out of your pantry. As long as you have enough acid (all fruits and tested pickle recipes have enough) and a good seal, your food will be fine. Small batch canning is definitely the way to start. Prevents overwhelm, as Bonnie says, and if you make something you don't like, you're not stuck with dozens of jars. (Ask me how I know.)”
BEFORE YOU GET STARTED
• HOMEGROWN's Small-Batch Canning 101 walks novices through the basics.
• Also recommended for newbies: refrigerator pickles! Cornelia's step-by-step recipe includes thorough instructions for first timers. These pickles are quick, crunchy, and don’t require a canner. She writes: “I have to say, this makes one tasty pickle—the kind of pickle you think about all the way home from work, like a handsome suitor, reminding you of its charming garlicky demeanor and crispy, confident snap. A stand-over-the-kitchen-sink crunchy snack.”
Pickling is like house painting: It’s all in the preparation. Just like scraping, sanding, and filling clapboards, the process of trimming, peeling, chopping, and stuffing produce into jars should be done with patience.
Also critical: the quality of the ingredients you use. The preservative that you choose, be it salt or vinegar, should be pure and free of additives (table salt and iodized salt contain anticaking ingredients, which can lead to a cloudy brine). Sugar and spices can vary according to your recipe, but the same rules apply: pure and natural ingredients only. If you have hard water from the tap, it’s recommended you soften it by boiling for 15 minutes, then letting it settle for a day and skimming any scum that accumulates on the surface. (Sounds like a lot of trouble to go to, though. We’d love to hear from well-water folks: Do you do this? Please post your comments below.)
A very basic water-canning setup is all you need. Use stainless or wooden utensils and unblemished glass jars with new lids. We like how Matthew sterilizes the lids in a separate pot, part of his well-planned assembly-line setup in the Canning Peaches 101. As Caroline suggests, keep it simple. As long as everything is clean, you’re good to go. We covet the ceramic fermenting crocks that some folks have—and may one day have one of our own. For now, we use a quart or half-gallon canning jar.
Below, some of our favorites from the HOMEGROWN file, categorized by pickling method.
» FRESH PACK
• This sour pickle recipe from Wild Fermentation provides a useful lesson on varying the salinity of your brine.
• Sauerkraut and kimchi are both considered brined pickles. Follow the links for step-by-step 101s.
• Radish pickles: Mud Pies to Sticky Buns’ recipe packs radishes with spices such as dill and clove.
• For the foragers in the crowd, the Japanese hot knotweed pickle makes gratifying use of a despised invasive plant.
• Natalie’s desire to honor her G-ma’s watermelon-rind pickles yielded several recipes from the HOMEGROWN flock (see right).
• Green tomato relish might sound like a sad, unripe alternative to tomato ketchup, but it’s a hot dog’s best friend.
• Traditional Amish chow chow is a neat way to put a piece of history on your table.
• Joy shares a lovely-sounding recipe for warming apple chutney, which evokes the smells and flavors of winter holidays.
• Planning to go pear picking this fall? Tamika shares a pear-ginger chutney recipe that sounds like the perfect combination of sweet and spicy.
• And no matter how much we eat, we can't get enough of Jenni's small-batch ketchup (see right).
In a pickle and need more advice? Got the perfect fresh-pack recipe to share? Post it below and keep the conversation rolling! If you're really jamming, you might consider joining the Recipe Sharing and Food Preservation groups. And you can always find more things to cook, preserve, plant, grow, make, craft, and brine in the HOMEGROWN 101 archive. Happy pickling!