I got myself in a pickle, again.

Not really, don’t worry. I just made some pickles, that’s all. The only “pickle” I might be in is making too much preserved/canned/jarred items- now that I’ve started, I can’t stop. Before I start talking about pickles, though, I want to wish Jay luck on playing his first official “gig” this weekend with his band at the Central Illinois Metalfest. What a first gig, huh? way to get baptized by fire. Anywho, I love him, I’m proud of him, wish I could be there to see him, & I also miss him. And I’m going through a terrible time missing my grandmother, and him not being here makes it so much harder on me. I didn’t want to start posting yet. I had all intentions of just putting this site on hold for a while.  But this post was written before she passed, and she loved my baking, my cooking, and really anything I made… but she especially loved my homemade pickles. Sadly, she never got a chance to try my newest batch, so I’m posting this for her, also because she loved the idea of my blog & was one of my biggest fans. So this one’s for you, Nana.

See, first, here’s just a little update on my refrigerator pickles

The opening dates were June 24th at the earliest (1 week of fermentation), July 1st (2 weeks of fermentation; what I recommended), or July 7th at the latest (3 weeks of fermentation; the optimal time to wait). My dad opened his jar on the 1st, and called to say they were amazing. So we opened them. Consensus was: at 2 weeks, they got 2 huge thumbs up! Amazing crunch, amazing dill taste, just perfect. My grandmother said it was better than any Kosher dill deli pickle she ever ate; like I said, my homemade pickles were her favorite thing ever. I’m not even kidding when I say her and my mother ate the entire jar on the 4th of July. So once my cucumbers are ready, they’ll become pickles, but until then, I already made some more using Kirby’s and a new method for me- canning, and that’s what I’m posting here today.

I’m new to canning & jarring, so I’m certainly no expert on all this. I will say that I did my research thoroughly beforehand, both here and here, on top of doing some other pickling inquiries at other sources (like Practical Preserving, Food In Jars & Tigress in a Pickle). I’ve always wanted to can my own stuff, for years now, and I thought it was the time. I bought a Ball® starter canning kit (free shipping! came with salsa mix & pectin! so exciting!) and some jars and went to work. Before I get to the pickles, I just wanna say that August 13 is National Can-It-Forward Day! Sponsored by Ball®, it’s a way to celebrate the “bounties of summer” through canning. So get all your friends & family together, can up some goodies & share them.

Alright. So last year I made some quick 24-hour pickles, and everyone really liked ’em. As a matter of fact, I made three batches (all with my own cucumbers that I grew!), although I was asked to “lower the heat” on the last two. Heh. Also, back in June, I made a different refrigerator pickle recipe that was an even bigger hit than the first (probably because that one you could keep longer than a week… and they weren’t hot, pfft… pusscakes). I got so many requests for more pickles I thought I’d up the ante a bit on the next batch. I’ve had this recipe saved for about a year now. I first saw it on Flowers and Sausages last summer & I’d been waiting patiently to get my canning materials & make it, ’cause it’s a “real” pickle recipe, not one of those 24-hour quick jobs or refrigerator pickles (although there’s nothing wrong with those, at all, trust me, those fridge pickles were one of my biggest hits ever). So here we are! It definitely was not as hard as I thought it was going to be. I used my Cowhorn peppers as opposed to chili peppers, so I can’t for sure say what the difference in heat is because I harvested young Cowhorn’s that were still green, just to avoid any “OH MY GOD THIS IS WAY TOO HOT” complaints from these lame-asses around here. I also made some without the pepper, just as garlic pickles for the even lamer lame-ass people (hi, Jay). However, supposedly you can harvest these peppers at any point during their growth to find the level of heat you like, from mild (immature/lighter green) to hot (fully mature/bright red). That said- I haven’t tasted them at any stage, so I have no idea from personal experience the amount of heat they give. I’ve read some conflicting reports, but apparently fully mature it’s around 15,000 – 30,000 (and perhaps up to 50,000) Scoville units. Take that as you will. Nobody here complained about them being too hot.

Clearly, I cut mine into spears, not slices

You can see a green Cowhorn in that picture, if you look carefully..

…..

Before I start getting into the canning do’s & don’ts, let me just give you a reason to cut off those nibbly-bits on the end of the cucumbers; the blossom end contains an enzyme that will make your pickles mushy & soggy. Seriously. So always cut off both ends and ditch ’em before you slice your cukes. Okay, now let’s get to the canning. First thing I feel the need to discuss is the whole “nonreactive” pot thing. I’d suggest stainless steel, seeing as how it’s common & readily available. Both aluminum & copper are both reactive. As this website says:

Reactive Pan: It is one made from a material that reacts chemically with other foods. Aluminum and copper, metals that conduct heat extremely well, are the 2 most common reactive materials used to make in cookware. Lightweight aluminum, second only to copper in conducting heat, reacts with acidic foods, imparting a metallic taste, and can discolor light-colored soups and sauces, especially if you stir them with a metal spoon or whisk (it is a very soft metal). For that reason, you should neither cook nor store light-colored foods in aluminum cookware. Anodized aluminum has a hard, corrosion-resistant surface that helps prevent discoloration. Most copper pots and pans are lined with tin to prevent reaction. However, tin is a very soft metal, so it scratches easily and then exposes foods to the copper underneath.

Non-Reactive Pan: When a recipe calls for a non-reactive cookware, use clay, enamel, glass, plastic, or stainless steel. Stainless steel is the most common non-reactive cookware available. Since it does not conduct or retain heat well, it frequently has aluminum or copper bonded to the bottom or a core of aluminum between layers of stainless steel. Although expensive, this kind of cookware offers the benefits of a durable, non-reactive surface and rapid, uniform heat conductivity.Glass cookware is non-reactive and although it retains heat well it conducts it poorly. Enamelware is non-reactive as long as the enamel is not scratched or chipped. Cast-iron is considered reactive; however, we have to say that our extremely well-seasoned pans seem to do fine with tomato sauce and other acidic foods as long as they do not stay in contact with one another for extended periods.

Also, there’s the pickling salt. I personally just used a table salt that was non-iodized, because pickling salt is:

a salt that is used mainly for canning and manufacturing pickles. It is made without iodine or any anti-caking products added.[1] If pickles are made with table salt, they will have dark and cloudy juice, due to the iodide in the salt, although the flavour should be about the same. Pickling salt is very fine grained, to speed up dissolving in water to create a brine, so it is useful for solutions needing salt.

Thanks, Wikipedia! Of course, you can buy pickling salt if you want. Hell, you can even use regular Iodized salt… the worst that will happen is your “pickle juice” will be cloudy. It won’t affect the taste, I promise.

I suggest that if you’re going to start doing this stuff, you research the hell out of it. It’s like chemistry class the way certain things work & others don’t. There are also a few steps to take before you put the stuff in the jars, i.e. sanitizing the jars, so make sure you look into it. It isn’t hard, but you have to know what you’re doing so you can safely process your food the right way. Food safety is very important, you want to make sure you’re preserving it properly so you don’t get sick, etc. That said… it really isn’t that difficult. Just do your homework, the websites I referenced in the top paragraph are all good places to start.


HOT GARLIC PICKLES (from Better Homes and Gardens July 2010, courtesy of Flowers and Sausages)

Ingredients:

  • 3 to 3 ¼ lbs small pickling cucumbers
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 cups cider vinegar
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ⅓ cup pickling salt
  • 6 tbsp dill seeds
  • chili peppers (1 per jar)
  • garlic (1 to 2 cloves per jar, halved, so 6 – 12 cloves total)

Directions:

  1. While you are preparing and sterilizing your jars, rinse the cucumbers & peppers and peel & halve the garlic cloves. Cut off a thin slice from the end of each cucumber and slice into ¼ to ½ inch thick slices. In a large nonreactive pot, combine water, vinegar, sugar, and pickling salt, and bring to a boil.
  2. Pack cucumbers loosely into hot pint canning jars, leaving a ½-inch headspace. Add 1 to 2 peppers, 1 to 2 garlic cloves (halved) and 1 tablespoon dill seeds to each jar. Pour hot vinegar mixture into jars, leaving ½-inch headspace. Discard any remaining vinegar mixture. Wipe jar rims and top with lids.
  3. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes – start the timer when the water returns to a boil. The water should cover the jars by at least 1″ and the water should be a rolling boil. Remove cans from water bath and let stand for 1 week.

Like my labels? I kinda love them… self made, of course

I assumed given the amount of dill seeds and the instruction to use 1 tablespoon per jar that the recipe calls for 6 jars… I ended up using 5 pint-size jars, because I only bought about 2.5 pounds of Kirby’s (my bad, I know about 4 Kirby’s equal a pound, & I counted about 12 Kirby’s, but some were tiny). I also ended up with about ¼ cup vinegar brine left, which if I had some half-pint jars I could’ve used to make some pickle slices. I used two immature Cowhorns, making only 2 jars of “hot” garlic pickles, which I’m guessing was a good thing if they really are as hot as I’ve read. Although I added about a ¼ teaspoon of hot red pepper flakes to those two jars too, as an added ‘kick.’ This was my first harvest of them so I haven’t even really tasted them yet! For the rest of the jars, like I said, I just omitted the pepper and used garlic, about 2 cloves per jar unless the cloves were large. I figured they’d still be good without the ‘heat’ even if the heat really wasn’t even that bad because the peppers weren’t mature. Am I making ANY sense at all here? At any rate, they had to sit for a week before anyone even thought about opening/eating them, and then they were INHALED. My dad didn’t even wait the full week, and he may have even eaten the pickled pepper! He said the “hot” ones weren’t that hot, probably because the peppers were young. When I make these again, I’ll use the mature peppers. Heh heh heh.

Jay’s jar, no peppers, just garlic, tied up all pretty-like for him.

General things you’ll need to start canning:

Where to buy the jars, you ask? I bought mine at my local Ace Hardware. I paid about $11.00 for 12 of them, plus tax, because I had a coupon that was sent with my canning kit. Ace has pretty good prices on all sizes of jars, and they sell the lids as well, if you’re planning on reusing your jars. Also if you don’t live close to an Ace, and you only want to make one trip for a lot of jars, you can order them online and have them shipped to the store, then you can make one trip just to pick them up without paying for shipping costs. Also, Walmart sells jars for good prices, not just Ball® but also they carry a “generic” brand of their own. So if you shop in that “evil” store, then give it a shot. My store doesn’t usually carry them except for around this time of year, unfortunately. So if you live in an area, like me, where canning isn’t a popular thing year-round, you might want to take advantage of their prices now & stock up. Long story not-so-short: I absolutely LOVE canning. It was way, way, WAY easier than I thought. I have no idea why I thought it was so involved & complicated. Although, this was just an easy pickle recipe. I’m planning on a whole bunch of other interesting canned items for the rest of the summer & fall, so stay tuned for that.

That’s all for now. Luckily this post was written already, because I really don’t think I’d have had the frame of mind to write it at this moment (other than the first paragraph, which I had to add). Grieving is a shitty process, but somehow I feel better keeping up with the blog than if I didn’t.

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