Category: canning tips & tricks

Q & A time: why aren’t my pickles crisp? … and more!

Why aren't my pickles crisp? And other burning questions- answered!

You probably thought you were so smart. You looked everything up, or bought a book. You sterilized your jars, you made sure to boil your brine, and you washed all your produce thoroughly. You used your canning rack & processed them, and proudly went to open a jar a few months (or days) later and…

Limp pickles. Gross, limp, soft pickles.

I feel your pain, and I’m here to help.

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2014 canning round-up!

Canning round-up 2014 - Cupcake Rehab dot com

Spring is here, summer is coming in a few weeks. Which means I’m sure that most of you “canners” (or preservers, or dabblers) have started making your lists for spring/summer 2014, or even started canning already. If you even make lists at all- which I usually don’t, but I’m trying to be  more organized this year. I haven’t really stopped canning all year, myself, between apples & pears in the fall, & all the winter citrus fruits, then the rhubarb. But this is really the time to start to prepare for the canning boom… pickled cucumbers, carrots, zucchini, & berry jams & jellies, oh my.

So this year I thought I’d do a little preparation post slash canning round-up, and what better to feature in the post than some of my vintage jar collection & my 1945 Kerr Home Canning book!

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Canning for dummies.

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No, I don’t think you’re all dummies.

But I realize that for a lot of my readers, this is the closest they’ll get to a canning blog. Most of you are here for the cupcakes or baked goods, maybe even the macaroni & cheese or pizza, but that doesn’t mean you can’t expand your repertoire. Maybe you want to, but you just don’t know where to go to find info. Maybe you, too, were in a Williams-Sonoma store lately and saw those displays I photographed (below) and thought, “Hey… I’d really like to try it. But I don’t know how.” So I figured I’d do a kind of canning-summary post for newbies. Granted, I’m far FAR from being a pro. I am not a Master Preserver, I am not perfect and I sure as hell don’t know everything. But I’m not a professional baker, either, and that didn’t stop me from making some frosting tutorials a couple of years back. So I thought I’d do a brief outline of what you’ll need, what you’ll want, and some basics you’ll need to know before you get started with waterbath canning.*

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Canning is not hard. Canning is not something you can only do if you have a lot of chemistry knowledge. Canning is a lot of fun, and if you do it right, it can save you money too. Although I do it just for fun, if you’re serious about it, you can put up just about anything & feed your family for an entire season using it all. However… it’s serious too. If you aren’t clean enough, and your jars aren’t sanitized enough, and you don’t wash your produce or follow safety procedures, you can expose yourself and anyone who eats what you make to things like botulism, listeria, e. coli or some very nasty yeasts, to name a few. But it’s not dangerous, it’s not scary, and it’s not something that should scare you. Why should you start canning? Well, there are tons of reasons. Some people, particularly those who eat only locally or sustainably, like to create their own products from local organic produce. People who live on farms or grow their own produce do it to avoid wasting the product & to sustain their families through the winter, just like in old times. Others still do it because they like to create unique “designer” jams or jellies or pickles… like me. Sure, you can probably buy a lemon-orange whiskey marmalade somewhere, at some gourmet shop most likely, but you’ll be paying far more for one small jar than I did per 4 pints. I made an amazing version of Brooklyn Brine Co’s Hop Pickles for way less than the $15.00 a jar they sell it for. And not only that, but food made from scratch just tastes better, and canning is no exception. No preservatives, no dye, no high fructose corn syrup. Just real ingredients. And price wise, if you’re buying the fruit or vegetables from a farmer’s market when it’s in season and not paying exorbitant prices, you’re still coming out on top price-wise vs. supermarket canned goods. I did the math for mint jelly last summer, but it’s easy enough to figure out any type of canned goods when you’ve got all the prices at hand.

I’m known as sort of a baking rebel, but when it comes to canning, DO NOT BE A REBEL. You can certainly come up with your own recipes, but they have to be acidic enough to be safe. Do your research first. Don’t play around with the health & safety of yourself and others. True, you never hear of people dying from improperly home-canned items. It’s pretty rare. But do you want to be that one asshole that makes it on the nightly news because of your jam?

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Like I said above, this list of basics focuses on waterbath canning, NOT pressure canning* and not freezer jams.** Waterbath canning is the process most commonly used for high-acid foods: pickles, jams, jellies, preserves, fruit butters, conserves & marmalades. And I quote:

High acid foods are processed in a boiling-water canner. The heat is transferred to the product by the boiling water which completely surrounds the jar and two-piece cap. A temperature of 100° C (212° F) is reached and it must be maintained for the time specified. Always follow a modern recipe with proven and tested processing times.

This method is adequate to kill molds, yeasts, enzymes and some bacteria. This method never reaches the super-high temperatures needed to kill certain bacterial spores and their toxins, which can produce botulism, therefore, this method cannot be used for processing low-acid foods. See more about the Basic Steps for this method, or learn more about pressure canning and low acid foods.

Water bath canners are widely available. You can use any big pot, however, if it is deep enough for the water to cover the tops of jars by several inches. Allow 5 to 10cm (2 to 4 inches) above jar tops for brisk boiling. The canner must have a tight-fitting lid and a wire or wooden rack. The jars must be held off the bottom so the heat can penetrate properly. The jars are divided so they will not bump into each other or tip over in the boiling water during processing.

To ensure uniform processing of all jars with an electric range, the canner should be no more than four inches wider in diameter than the element on which it is heated. However for flat top stoves, canners should be no more than 2 inches wider than the diameter of the element.

- missvickie.com

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First off, you need certain supplies.  Like jars. You must use canning-safe jars- not old spaghetti sauce or applesauce jars (save those for refrigerator pickles & salsa). Ball® & Kerr® are the two most popular brands. Both are made in the U.S.A. and are fairly inexpensive. They’re both owned by Jarden Brands and the lids and bands are interchangeable. These jars are both the easiest to use and the easiest to find; you can get them at some Target stores, Ace Hardware, Walmart, and other hardware and home goods stores as well as the usual online ordering.

They come in the following shapes/sizes:

Unless you’re going to be doing some serious canning and/or you’re planning on making your own juice, or canning whole fruits, you probably won’t need a half gallon or quart jar. I have quarts for making sun tea or storing beans, grains, rice, etc. However they’re also really good for making pickles. If you eat a lot of pickles or want to make whole pickles (not sliced) then a quart jar is perfect. If you want to just make regular supermarket size jars of pickles, a pint jar will do. If you’re going to be focused more on jams or jellies, I’d recommend the 8 – or 4- ounce jars. All the jars come with lids & bands, but if you end up reusing the jars, you’ll need to buy more lids as they’re only made for one time use. The bands can be reused as long as they’re not rusted or crusty or they don’t impede with the sealing process.

(EDIT 9.7.12: Thanks to Susan Lutz at Zester Daily, there’s a new rundown of what jars are good for what products. Check it out!)

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Walmart sells other jars as well, under the Golden Harvest name, the Alltrista1 name and the Mainstays name. Having never used any of them but Golden Harvest, I can’t speak of them from experience. However I do have a few quart Golden Harvest jars and they work just fine (I used Ball® brand lids/bands, I don’t trust the lids that come with them for canning). Quattro Stagioni is yet another canning jar option. They use a one-piece lid that can only be used one time for canning. I’ve never used this brand myself, but the jars are very attractive and there is something to be said for the one-piece lid. HOWEVER, they’re a bit expensive (around $3.95 per jar at the Container Store). Another jar option is Weck. Weck is a German company that makes fancier canning jars at higher prices. They’re beautiful looking, beautifully made, come in a variety of sizes and don’t use rings or bands like the Ball®/Kerr® jars do. They instead use a rubber ring, or gasket type thing, and a glass lid. Because these jar options are a bit trickier to use and also pricier, I’d recommend starting out with Ball® or Kerr®. And frankly in comparison, they’re just made to a better standard of quality than the Golden Harvest/Alltrista1/Mainstays jars, as far as I’m concerned. The Weck jars are also made very well, but far more expensive. For example, Weck is priced at $17.75 for six 19.6-ounce jars, whereas Ball is $12.99 for twelve 24-ounce jars.

And before I continue I have to say this: DO NOT USE VINTAGE OR SECONDHAND JARS FOR CANNING. For decoration, or storage, or even fridge pickles if you must… but never for canning. Those adorable blue vintage jars you bought at the thrift store? Keep them for their looks. Use brand new (or at least ones bought fairly recently, i.e. modern) jars. The old model jars are not recommended for safe canning any more, due to numerous reasons. Also, never use a jar with any kind of chips or cracks in it. It seems obvious, but you never know.

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Second, you’ll need equipment to process the jars safely. I use a large stainless steel lobster pot and a cheapo plastic rack for processing my jars. There are tons of options here, from canning kits that include everything from the canning pot, a metal rack & jar lifter tongs to the simpler kits that just include a plastic canning rack and an instruction booklet that rely on you to get your own pot, tongs, etc. Then there’s the “elite” canning kit. I highly recommend you get a kit, regardless of what kind it is. It’s cheaper than buying things individually and there are certain things you just NEED. Like..

  1. A canning pot – this is just a necessity. Whether you buy a dedicated “canning pot” or use a very large pasta pot or lobster pot, if you’re canning you’re going to 100% need a pot to process them in. Ideally, when filled with water, there should be 1-2″ of it over the tops of your jars. And as I quoted above: To ensure uniform processing of all jars with an electric range, the canner should be no more than four inches wider in diameter than the element on which it is heated. However for flat top stoves, canners should be no more than 2 inches wider than the diameter of the element. This pot also needs a lid that fits.
  2. A large saucepan – for cooking the jellies, jams and brines. Ideally, it should be at least three times as deep as the mixture you’re cooking, so we’re talking about a fairly large pot. This is especially important for jams and jellies which bubble up a LOT and can boil over, which is obviously dangerous. For brine, unless you’re doing very large batches, a medium (or even small) saucepan will do.
  3. A canning rack – this is another absolutely necessity. The jars that are being processed cannot touch the bottom of your pot, they must be held off of it. Now, a lot of people just use some rolled up dish towels, and some people tie together canning rings to make a little homemade rack. Still others opt for the stainless steel racks, and like I said, I have a simple, small green plastic one that processes roughly four jars at a time. Which is great for me since I do small-batch canning. Whatever works for you.
  4. Jar lifter – the first time you can, you’ll think you won’t need this. Then you’ll either burn your hands or drop a hot jar using an oven mitt and you’ll see the error of your ways. So just buy one now.
  5. Jar funnel – Not an absolutely necessity, but it certainly makes things a hell of a lot easier. A jar funnel fits perfectly in the rims of your jars, filling them with boiling hot jam/jelly or pickle brine without spilling it all over.
  6. Tea towels or linen dish towels – this is something that you’ll need for after you remove the jars from the boiling water. The hot jars shouldn’t touch a cold countertop, particularly if you have a granite or stone counter. So you fold up one or two very light, not textured linen towels for them to sit on. It absorbs the temperature and it’s soft. If the hot jars touch a cold counter, they could crack or shatter immediately. Now, I’ve never had this happen, and I’ve sometimes been a bit rushed or lazy (I hate to admit), but it can and it does… so please be aware. Don’t take the chance. I stock up on these linen towels at Ikea every time I go. For around $.79 cents each, they’re worth their weight in gold. I use them for not just canning, but for everything! When they get too grungy, I toss ‘em. (Side note: I barely use paper towels anymore!)
  7. Jelly bag – if you’re going to venture into jellies (and by that I mean fruit jellies, not things like wine jelly or tea jelly), you’re going to need a jelly bag. You can buy a jelly bag contraption, or you can rig one up using cheesecloth/jelly bags and either your faucet (if it’s a gooseneck) or something else. But you’ll definitely need it- especially if you want clear jelly.
  8. Commercial pectin or homemade apple pectin – Commercial pectin comes in many different kinds. There’s liquid pectin (ex: Certo), powdered pectin (ex: Ball Flex batch/ Small batch and Sure-Jell) and powdered pectin that uses calcium water to gel (Pomona’s). Each pectin needs a different amount of sugar & acid to set, and they are NOT interchangeable. Pomona’s Universal Pectin can be used with full sugar jams & jellies and also with low-sugar or even NO sugar. Ball also makes a low-sugar powdered pectin. All pectin is made from natural fruit pectin, so they aren’t in any way “fake” at all, but still, if you choose to go au naturel & use something homemade, there are ways of making your own pectin. I have a recipe for homemade apple pectin here. There are tons of different kinds, and they all work very well. I’ve used every single one at one point or another and I’ve never had an issue. For clear jelly, I like liquid Certo. For jams I don’t mind using a powdered one, usually Sure-Jell. But I’ve used Pomona’s too, and it wasn’t as complicated as it seemed. All in all, it’s about personal preference. Try them all & see which works for you.
  9. Candy thermometer – if you’re making jelly, this is another requirement. They can be purchased in any supermarket, Bed Bath & Beyond store, online or at any housewares store for pretty cheap. And remember, if you buy a glass one, they’re delicate and they retain the heat like crazy. I dropped mine after trying to grab it while it was still hot when I was making champagne jelly last New Year’s and ended up with no thermometer & shards of glass all over the damn floor. That is something you do NOT want to happen to you, it really ruins the mood of the jelly-making.
  10. Pickling salt – this isn’t a necessity, meaning you can still pickle with Iodized salt or un-Iodized salt. But most recipes will probably call for pickling salt. Basically, it’s just a finer grain of salt that has no Iodine mixed in it, so you can use regular un-Iodized salt if you like. It works just fine and that’s mostly what I use. Iodized salt might make your brine cloudy. It most likely won’t affect the taste or quality, but it won’t look as nice.
  11. Vinegar – the most basic and obvious of all, along with salt. You need this for pickles; be they “fridge” pickles (or quick pickles) or actual “canned” pickles. The type might vary. For starters, get a gallon of white vinegar, and a smaller bottle of apple cider vinegar, both MUST BE 5% acidity. After that, it’s basically all a matter of taste. You might want to try an Asian-inspired pickle and use rice wine vinegar. You might want a red wine vinegar pickle. Those are all just fine. But the most basic vinegars you’ll need are white and apple cider. And any recipe that is canned using a waterbath canner must use a vinegar with 5% acidity. No less. Any vinegars less than 5% can be used for fridge pickles, but not shelf-stable pickles.
  12. Lemon juice – I always have at least one bottle of lemon juice in my fridge. You need it for providing the acid in a lot of jam or jelly recipes. Some people prefer to use only fresh lemon juice, but I like to use the bottled stuff for most things. Some exceptions include lemon curd & lemon jellies.

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The rest of the stuff: sugar, spices, etc., is all dependent on the recipe/pectin you decide to use. And what is pectin, exactly?

Pectin is a naturally-occurring thickening agent that is most often used by adding it to jams, jellies and similar products to help them gel and thicken. Pectin creates a thick, clear set when it gels. It is a carbohydrate (a polysaccharide) found in and around the cell walls of plants, and helps to bind those cells together. All fruit has pectin in it, but the amount varies widely. Apples and oranges contain the most pectin, and the pectin from both fruits is used commercially to thicken many different types of products. Pectin generally needs a high sugar content and some acid, such as citric acid, to activate, and some commercially available pectins include citric acid as an ingredient to help ensure that consumers get their desired result when working with their products.  Pectin can be bought at the grocery store in both powder and liquid forms, and it can also be introduced to a recipe by adding fruit that has a high natural pectin content, such as apples or plums.

Gelatin and pectin both produce clear gels with a high sheen, but the products are not the same. Pectin is a water-soluble fiber, while gelatin is a protein derived from animals. Pectin is used almost exclusively in high-sugar products, like jams. Gelatin, on the other hand, is used in a much wider variety of foods, including mousses, marshmallows and frostings because gelatin sets in a cool environment and does not require that specific ingredients be included to activate it.

- Baking Bites

Like I said, what kind of pectin you use: homemade, commercial, liquid, powdered, etc., influences how much sugar (or what kind of “sweetener”) that you’ll be needing, which is in turn all dependent on either your dietary needs/wants or the recipe you’re using. Which brings me to the Three R’s.

When it comes to The Three R’s: research, resources and recipes (three very important things), you have to know where to go. There are a number of amazing canning blogs and websites out there jam-packed (pun intended) with amazing information. But how do you find them? Well, right here! These are seven of my favorite and most trusted sites when it comes to preserving (and some of them have other stuff, too, like cooking or grilling). The first is an official website for the USDA, the second one is a website that’s instructional on all the basic canning steps & info (and has information on where you can pick your own veggies & fruits) and the third is a similar site, and the fourth one is a community of canners/preservers all sharing their knowledge. However, the last four are user-friendly blogs. Bookmark them. Now.

You’ll also need a few books. Websites are great, yes, and there are tons of them that can help you with questions you have. But a book will always be there for reference. I recommend the following books: The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving by Judy Kingry & Lauren Devine, Better Homes & Gardens You Can Can, We Sure Can! by Sarah B. Hood, and Canning For a New Generation by Liana Krissoff. The first two are basic guides, with the most commonly used and requested recipes for jams, jellies, pickles, chutneys & more, along with detailed drawings & explanations as to why certain procedures are done, why certain things are not waterbath-canner safe, etc. The second two books are filled with such things as homemade pectin recipes and recipes for more unusual or unique jams, jellies & pickles. Altogether they’re a compact yet excellent little collection of canning books that cover everything you need to know, from the very basic to the more exotic.

In my humble opinion, pickles are the easiest to make. I’d definitely start with pickles, either pickled cucumbers or pickled green beans (“Dilly beans”; shown in the top photo) or pickled vegetables like Giardiniera. Then I’d say jams would be the next easiest, specifically blueberry, raspberry or strawberry jam. Blackberry too, but the fact that you might want to use a food mill to get rid of the seeds makes it a bit more tedious than the others (I never ever do that, by the way). None of them require much work, though, not even any added commercial pectin. Next easiest? I’d say marmalade; either orange, lemon or a combination of the two. It’s a longer process then jam but it, too, doesn’t require added pectin. Some people have a difficult time getting it to set, but I personally never have, and my whole philosophy is “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” You never know until you try, right? And then last, but not least, jelly. Jelly is the hardest because it requires added pectin, and also it requires a candy thermometer and a very specific degree that it has to be cooked at before it will set. Now, technically speaking, all jam & marmalade has to be cooked to that degree, or “setting point” as well, but it’s easier to “see” when jams/marmalades/preserves are at the setting point. Jelly is a bit harder since it stays mostly liquid until it cools. Not only that, but you need patience and even then it can be tricky. It’s not something to be scared of, but to me it’s the most difficult of all the waterbath canned products.

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Canning, like baking or cooking, is fun. But it’s also work. It’s an art and a science. It’s important, just as in baking, to understand the different chemistry that makes things work the way they do before attempting to do it. If you don’t understand why you need baking powder & salt, then you shouldn’t bake; or at least you shouldn’t consider yourself a “baker.” And if you don’t understand why you need lemon juice to make your commercial pectin work, then you shouldn’t be canning. You don’t need to be a master chemist or science major, you don’t need to have a pH kit or massive knowledge of the acidity of every fruit or vegetable on the face of the earth. All you need is curiosity, and the basic knowledge of why you have to do certain things to make it work. At the very least, you should be open to learning the reasons why things are the way they are. Once you’ve got that- you’re on your way.

The acidity level, or pH, of foods determines whether they should be processed in a boiling water canner or pressure canner. The lower the pH, the more acidic the food.

Acidic foods have pH values below 4.6. These foods include pickles, most fruits, and jams and jellies made from fruit. (In pickling, the acid level is increased by adding lemon juice, citric acid, or vinegar.) Acidic foods contain enough acidity either to stop the growth of botulinum bacteria or destroy the bacteria more rapidly when heated. Acidic foods may be safely canned in a boiling water canner.

Low-acid foods include red meats, seafood, poultry, milk, all fresh vegetables and some tomatoes.  Low-acid foods have pH values higher than 4.6. They do not contain enough acid to prevent the growth of botulinum bacteria. These foods are processed at temperatures of 240 degrees F to 250 degrees F, attainable with pressure canners operated at 10 to 15 pounds per square inch (psi) of pressure. The exact time depends on the kind of food being canned, the way it is packed in jars, and the size of jars.

Although tomatoes used to be considered an acidic food, some are now known to have pH values slightly above 4.6, which means they are low acid. To safely can them as acidic foods in a boiling water canner, you must add lemon juice or citric acid.

Pressure canning is the only canning method recommended for low-acid foods like meat, poultry, seafood and vegetables.

Clostridium botulinum, the bacterium that causes botulism food poisoning, is destroyed in low-acid foods when they are processed at the correct time and temperature in pressure canners. Canning low acid foods in boiling-water canners is absolutely unsafe because the botulinum bacteria can survive this process. If Clostridium botulinum bacteria survive and grow inside a sealed jar of food, they can produce a deadly toxin. Just a tiny taste of food containing this toxin can be fatal.

- missvickie.com

Before I wrap this up, I’m going to really quickly cover refrigerator pickles. It’s not technically “canning” per se, but if you’re unsure/scared about starting the real canning process, you could try making some “quick pickles” or fridge pickles & see how you like it. The upside for most people to fridge pickles, aside from the fact that they’re super quick to make, is that it requires no canning pot, no canning jars/lids, no jar lifter, and no canning knowledge whatsoever. You can use any clean, food-safe glass jar that you want; from a clean spaghetti sauce jar, to a mayonnaise jar, to an applesauce jar, even a pickle jar. Or, a regular old canning jar! Anything. And you can “pickle” anything you want this way. You can make regular cucumber pickles, pickled green beans, pickled cauliflower, pickled okra, Vietnamese pickles, pickled carrots, pickled onions… the list goes on. The downside? Not shelf-stable, meaning they have to be stored in the fridge at all times. Also, they should be thrown out after 6 months in there, tops. Confession: I have some in my fridge for longer that are just fine, but I’m a loner Dottie… a rebel.

All you do is clean and chop or cut up your veggies, pack them into a jar, add your spices or herbs of choice, heat up some brine (usually a combination of vinegar/salt/water but sometimes there’s no vinegar, as in the Kosher Dill’s I list below) and then pour the brine over the veggies. Close the lid (not too tight!) and put them in the refrigerator. That’s all.

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Just like canned pickles, you can make fridge pickles with fresh dill and/or herbs, or you can use dill seed and/or dried herbs & seeds, as you can see above. I have a few recipes for fridge pickles up on the blog, one of which is taken from Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking‘s basic fridge pickle recipe, & I’m going to list them below. I encourage you to give it a shot, it’s very easy and it’ll give you a taste of what canning pickles is like without actually having to can them.

For preserving summer produce without canning at all, visit this page at The Kitchn. a complete list of the jams/jellies/preserves/pickles I have posted, see the recipe index. Or just search the categories, below. Either way- go forth & can! That way, little brunches & lunches like this can be an every day occurrence.

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P.S. Do you have any questions? Leave them in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer them, or refer you somewhere else. And did I forget anything? Did I leave something out? Is there a book or website you think people should know about? Add it in the comments! All input, big or small, is graciously & gratefully accepted.

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*None of this references pressure canning, which is primarily used for low-acid foods (potatoes, soups, meats, etc). If you’re interested in that, please visit this page.

** For more freezer jam information, please visit this page.

Quick & dirty chive vinegar pickles.

Oh, pickles.

You come into my life oh so quickly this time of year… and get eaten up oh so quickly. And then I’m hounded for more pickles by the pickle monsters that plague my existence. Good thing I love them. And that I’ve got plenty of jars to fill.

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Yeah, I’ve got a lot. That’s just the tip of the iceberg- there’s a load of stuff in my fridge that needs to be cleaned out and those jars will soon join these in awaiting their new fates. Remember my chive blossom vinegar? And the ensuing chive blossom potato salad & egg salad? Well, I knew I wasn’t finished with that vinegar. I had more ideas bubbling in my brain and this was one of them. I figured, why not try making pickles with it?

And I decided on making cold-pack refrigerator pickles. I’ve been on a pickle kick lately. And most of them have been fridge pickles, I guess ’cause it’s so hot it’s just easier.

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;When I say ‘quick & dirty’ in the title, I don’t mean they’re literally dirty, obviously. No olives in this martini. They’re just really quick to make, no processing time required. They do need a week or two to stew in the fridge before they can be eaten, however. But it’s a small price to pay for homemade pickles without the “canning.” Here’s my favorite quick version from The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking. It’s fun and easy and you can pickle just about anything this way.

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Some ideas for fridge pickles? Zucchini, cauliflower, carrots, eggplant, cucumbers, onions, okra, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, green beans, garlic, etc… or a mix of all of the above!

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And you can use any jar you want for fridge pickles. An old spaghetti sauce jar works just fine.

REFRIGERATOR CHIVE BLOSSOM VINEGAR PICKLES (adapted from The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking’s refrigerator pickles)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup chive blossom vinegar
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar, 5% acidity
  • 1 cup filtered water
  • 1 tablespoon Kosher or non-iodized salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon each of picking spice, dill seed, mustard seed
  • 2 pieces fresh dill (if using, use less dill seed, about half)
  • Cucumbers; as far as the amount you’ll need, I used about 2 and a half smallish/thinnish cukes for one pint jar… but she says:

Wash and cut up your vegetables and pack them into a clean jar.

The weight of your starting produce will vary depending on what you’re pickling. Eyeball it at the market, and if you end up with too little veg, just use a smaller jar (or make more brine to account for extra space in the jar).

Directions:

  1. Boil the vinegar, water and salt in a medium saucepan. Meanwhile, put your dry spices in the dry jars, and then pack your veggies in the jars. If you prefer a less raw taste, you can blanch them first or even cook them in the brine.
  2. Pour your just-boiled brine over the veggies in the jars. Wipe the mouths clean and seal.
  3. DON’T SEAL TIGHTLY. And I quote: “Don’t screw on the lid on as tightly as you possibly can or the lid might pop off when you go to open them in a couple weeks. Vinegar breaking down the veggies inside a jar causes a little release of gas, and leaving the lid loose will let that escape. [I know what you’re wondering and the answer is no. If your pickles have been stored in the fridge, it’s not possible for botulism spores to activate.]“
  4. Put them in the back of your fridge and forget about them for at least a week. “Two weeks is better, three is the best” according to her. They keep indefinitely, but if you’ve got some sitting around more than 6 months, I’d ditch ‘em.

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That beautifully colored tangy vinegar is going to make a chive-y, dill-y, super tangy pickle. A perfect compliment to potato salad or grilled stuff; burgers & hot dogs, etc. If you prefer a less chive-y flavor, or should I say, a more subtle one, then just change the ratio from 1/2-1/2 to 1/4-3/4 in favor of the white vinegar. But make sure you use half water, half vinegar and the full tablespoon salt. Any vinegar is fine to use as long as it’s 5% acidity. Red wine vinegar, rice vinegar, apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar or just plain old white vinegar.

I have to say I was surprised it wasn’t slightly more pink in the jar, as when it was boiling up it was a pale pink. Hm. I’m half tempted to just use 100% chive vinegar next time just to get pink pickles!

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In case you’re wondering, you can pickle anything this way: cauliflower, zucchini, carrots, peppers, etc. I have a bit more information on refrigerator pickles here. If you don’t have the equipment to do actual canning, refrigerator pickles & refrigerator jams are the way to go, as are freezer jams. You can make amazing stuff that way. Sure, it’s not shelf-stable and you need to put it in the fridge/freezer right away, but it’s a good way to get started. That way you can see if canning is for you. If you decide you want to explore canning further, you need a decent amount of background information and some important materials. A great place to get started is the USDA National Center for Home Preservation.

And speaking of canning, in a few days- on August 21st most likely- I’ll be blogging about the very basics of waterbath canning, I’m calling it “Canning for Dummies” to be exact. So if you’re interested in getting involved in basic canning, keep an eye out for that post. Not that you’re a dummy or anything. I’m just saying.

Red onion revolution.


Happy July! I guess summer is officially in full swing, right? Summer is the time for fresh everything. Fresh veggies, fresh fruit, fresh herbs. And obviously, taking advantage of having those fresh herbs around is a must. So I try and use my fresh dill (see above) for pickles rather than dill seed as much as I can. ‘Cause before you know it, it’ll be fall and then winter again, and this will all be a memory. And because it’s summer, it’s also pickling time. Which means that anything and everything is in danger of being pickled.

So watch your back around me. You might end up in a mason jar, like this red onion.

Yup. Pickled red onions. Another stupid easy refrigerator pickle recipe that takes about 10 minutes to make and that looks absolutely gorgeous. I found the recipe on Punk Domestics, so big thanks to them & Comfy Cuisine for making the burgers & hot dogs at my day-after-father’s-day barbecue extra awesome. Yep- that’s right- these pickled onions are excellent on hot dogs, too. And sandwiches. AND THEY’RE SO EASY TO MAKE.

Fridge pickles were my foray into the world of canning. Just last year around this time, I ordered a canning kit and as it was on it’s way, I made some jars of refrigerator pickles. Just to get a feel for it. It was so fun and easy, I knew I wanted to keep doing it. So I made some rhubarb ‘fridge jam. The cool thing is that you can use any kind of jar for refrigerator pickles (and refrigerator jam). An old spaghetti sauce jar, an old pickle jar, an old glass mayo or peanut butter jar, a decorative jar, basically anything that’s food safe. But it doesn’t have to be a canning jar!

I actually got the jars I used for the onions (and the pickles below) at a local dollar store. The name is ‘Frutta Delprato'; I had never heard of them (a simple Google told me they’re available in NZ and AUS- weird!), they had a gold tone one-piece screw-on lid, and it didn’t seem canning-safe or as reliably made as a Ball jar, so I got a few to just use for quick fridge pickles and fridge jam. And of course for storage. It’s always good to have extra jars lying around, especially for excess pastas, grains, rice, nuts, granola, etc. Just be sure to always sanitize them. I know it sounds really obvious, but it’s a must for any food storage container, especially when making pickles or jams. Thoroughly wash both the jar and the lid in very hot sudsy water and rinse before using. I should really thank the canning boom & this whole Pinterest mason jar craze for making this stuff so freakin’ popular & readily available. I plan on going back to that dollar store and stocking up on some more of these jars.

You can get jars in many shapes and sizes: Leifheit jars, Quattro Stagioni, Le Parfait or these pretty Bormioli Rocco jars are all excellent ideas for storage or refrigerator pickles. Of course you can use your canning jars too, but I find that I’d rather use a separate jar and save the canning safe ones for actual canning. Although apparently Quattro Stagioni can be used for actual canning too, I can’t personally vouch.

PATTI’S PICKLED ONIONS (adapted from Comfy Cuisine to make one half-pint)

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pickling spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 medium red onion, peeled and sliced thinly

Directions:

  1. In a medium pot, bring 1 cup of water to a boil. Add sliced onion and blanch for 1 minute. Drain.
  2. In a small saucepan, bring brine ingredients to a full boil. Add drained onions and cook for 1 minute.
  3. Let cool and pack into pint jar.
  4. Refrigerate overnight.

And that’s it. Seriously. You’re done.

The only thing is… you might have bought an extra red onion or two. Or maybe not all of your red onion would fit in one jar. And maybe you also have some extra brine. That means you’ll want to make something else to use those up. So you might want to make some red onion refrigerator pickles.


Pickles, pickles, everywhere. Wow, look at this: a two for one recipe post today! You guys are so lucky. I hadn’t made pickles with red onions before, just white onions. Now I’m wondering why I never did! It seems kinda obvious now that I think about it. It might be because I have mostly white onions in the house, and when I have a red onion I use it for salad (I adore red onions in a nice crisp salad with blue cheese dressing!).

REFRIGERATOR PICKLES WITH RED WINE VINEGAR & RED ONION

Makes about one pint (16-oz.) jar

Ingredients:

  • 3 medium pickling cucumbers, or one large cucumber (unwaxed), sliced
  • 3-4 sliced red onion “rings”
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 3/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon Kosher or pickling salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pickling spice
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed slightly
  • 2 sprigs fresh dill (or 1/4 teaspoon dill seed)

Directions:

  1. Boil the vinegar, water, pickling spice and salt in a medium saucepan. Meanwhile, put your garlic and red onion in the jar, and then pack your veggies in the jars. If you prefer a less raw taste, you can blanch them first or even cook them in the brine. They’ll stay crisper if you don’t, however, and that’s how we like ‘em here: crisp.
  2. Pour your just-boiled brine over the veggies in the jars. Wipe the mouths clean and seal. Don’t seal too tight or the lids will explode when you open it from the building of gases as it ferments.
  3. Let them sit in the fridge for one to three weeks before eating. The longer they sit, the stronger the flavor.

I really like the way the red onion looks in the jars, don’t you? It’s pretty.

So it took me like, I don’t know, a half hour tops to make both of these. Probably less. Don’t tell me you don’t have time for this stuff, ’cause that’s a bunch of crap. Anyone who says they don’t have time to cook, or bake, or make things is a freakin’ lunatic liar. I swear. And you can hate me for saying this but it’s true. Not everything takes a long time- you’re probably just lazy.

But that’s okay. Save the awesomeness for people like me.

And speaking of awesomeness, this year’s Can-It-Forward Day is July 14th. Don’t forget to get involved. Here’s a little info and background from FreshPreserving.com:

National Can-It-Forward Day

Join National Can-It-Forward Day on Saturday, July 14, 2012!

National Can-It-Forward Day lets everyone share the joy of fresh preserving. If you love garden fresh produce, we would love to show you how easy it is to preserve it to enjoy throughout the year. Whether you’re new to canning or are a Master Canner, we have recipes, tips and tricks to help make fresh preserving easy and fun!

This year the National Can It Forward Day will originate from Minnetrista a cultural center in East Central Indiana, and the original home of the Ball Brothers. On Saturday, July 14th, Jarden Home Brands, the makers of Ball® brand fresh preserving products, and the Minnetrista Master Preservers will demonstrate just how easy it is to preserve fresh produce for delicious results. And, chefs from the American Culinary Federation will share their recipes using these preserved products. New and exciting this year is the Ball® FreshTECH Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker. Watch as it transforms fresh fruit, sugar and pectin into mouthwatering homemade jam. This small kitchen appliance allows you to enjoy homemade jam or jelly in just 30 minutes. It uses SmartStir™ Technology to automatically and consistently stir your jam or jelly while it cooks. You don’t have any guesswork and you don’t stand over a hot stove – you just set it and go! Who ever dreamed delicious could be this easy?

Set aside some time to learn simple ways to preserve the fresh food you love and share your canning knowledge with friends and family. Whether you watch us on-line, host a home canning party or join us in person, we hope you’ll share your stories. Like us on Facebook then post your Can-It-Forward Day stories and photos on our page and in your status updates. And, join the conversation on Twitter with #CanItForward. No matter how you participate, we want you to enjoy fresh preserving and Can-It-Forward Day.

It’s a great way to start canning, if you’re new to it. There will be video demonstrations and all kinds of fun stuff. Plus, there are downloadable jar labels, and a list of amazing nationwide Farmer’s markets that are participating in the 2012 Discover You Can program℠. So get on it! The Fresh Preserving website has tons of info for you. Canning isn’t something to be scared of, it’s totally fun… so get yourself some jars, some equipment & some fruits & veggies and start preserving. Shit. Making something new is so awesome & empowering, even if it’s just pickles. Stop being afraid of new things. If you take just one thing away from this blog, make it that. Alright… enough preaching for today.

And if you’re not into preserving, but you’re into baking, and you’re also into small kitchen appliances & KitchenAid.. then you’ll like this news. It’s somewhat exciting. I was asked by MarketVine (a Dell company) to create a little mini-store filled with a select amount of my favorite KitchenAid items. It’s right here on the website, and of course, you can always buy other things that aren’t in my store, since all of the items are sold via KitchenAid.com! There are great prices on there, and also some great refurbished items available for a low price. The store can be accessed by all pages on the blog just by clicking the banner up at the top- you see it? The one that says “My Favorite KitchenAid Things”? Yep. That one. Just click it and you’ll be transported to my little store where you can shop till your hearts content. You all know how much I love KitchenAid, and Lola, and so this is very exciting for me. If you’ve always wanted your own Lola… then go get one!

English muffins that make use of all those jams, jellies, preserves… & extra canning rings.

It’s no secret I’ve made a LOT of canned items in the last year. I currently have in my “larder”: three different kinds of marmalade, five different jellies, five different conserves, one preserve, two kinds of curd and three jams (not to mention the pickles, pickled peppers, and the savory sort). Pretty nuts, although not as nuts as it would be if I hadn’t given so much away, if I had more room & if I preserved to actually get through the winter/for sustenance as opposed to just for fun. I started canning last June and I’ve done a ton of canning since then. Maybe too much- Jay actually mentioned the other day that the last time there were ‘actual cupcakes’ posted on Cupcake Rehab was back in early February. Uhm. Yeah. I do apologize for that, but you understand that I’m trying to expand my repertoire, right? By trying new things like making my own salsa & jelly. That means I’ve bought a lot of jars, which in turn translates to having a lot of lids/rings. Or bands, if you prefer that term.

And that’s not even all of them. There’s plenty more. If you’re a “canner” or preserver, you know that those rings/bands can be reused; so long as they aren’t rusty or there isn’t anything impeding them from doing their job. Lids are a one-off thing, so you never end up with extra boxes of used ones laying around. But rings? I have an assload. I can’t bear to just toss them, so I save them, and then I end up with way more rings than jars or lids. They’re tucked in plastic jars, in drawers, in boxes. What to do with them? Well.. how about make English muffins?

Yeah, seriously.

I’m just crazy about this idea. Talk about recycling! I don’t even like Alton Brown & yet between the amazing canning ring idea & how easy these were to make, I’m reconsidering my hatred. I enjoyed making these (and eating them) immensely. I’d like to make them again, perhaps this time using a little cornmeal to mimic Thomas’ English muffins. Also, a word to the wise: make sure you let them cook enough. They’ll seem like they’re fine, but the inside will still be a little undercooked. Be 100% sure about them but don’t let them burn!

ALTON BROWN’S ENGLISH MUFFINS MADE IN CANNING RINGS (adapted by Dishing the Divine)

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup non-fat powdered milk
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon shortening
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1 envelope dry yeast
  • ⅛ teaspoon sugar
  • ⅓ cup warm water
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • Non-stick vegetable spray and oil for brushing
  • Wide-mouth canning jar rings

Directions:

  1. In a bowl combine the powdered milk, 1 tablespoon of sugar, ¼ teaspoon of salt, shortening, and hot water; stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Let cool. In a separate bowl combine the yeast and ⅛ teaspoon of sugar in ⅓ cup of warm water and rest until yeast has dissolved. Add this to the dry milk mixture. Add the sifted flour and beat thoroughly with wooden spoon. Cover the bowl and let it rest in a warm spot for 45-60 minutes (longer = more holes!).
  2. Preheat the griddle to 300° degrees F and brush the bottom of skillet with a thin coat of oil. I don’t have an electric griddle with a temperature gauge, so I just cooked my muffins on the stove-top with the heat set to low. If you are in the same situation, I recommend cooking one muffin as a tester muffin before filling your skillet with as many rings as you can. Because the muffins cook for 5 minutes per side, they are easy to burn. You want a temperature that will allow the outsides to brown nicely while the insides are just cooked.
  3. Add the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt to mixture and beat thoroughly. Coat the metal rings with vegetable spray and place them on the griddle. Using an ice cream scoop, place 1-2 scoops of batter into each ring and cover with a lid or cookie sheet and cook for 5 to 6 minutes. Remove the lid and flip rings using tongs. Cover with the lid and cook for another 5 to 6 minutes or until golden brown. Place on a cooling rack, remove rings and cool. Split with fork and serve. Note that these must be split open with a fork. If you cut them open with a knife, you can kiss all those beautiful holes goodbye!

I personally like to make English muffins in a White Zombie t-shirt. Doesn’t everyone? No?

Anyway, not only does this make use of those extra rings, but it helps you use up some of those opened preserves, jellies, jams, curds & conserves you have in your fridge! Or maybe that’s just me. I’ve mentioned this before, but my fridge is jam-packed (pun intended!) with a crazy amount of preserves. So I made up some muffins and I had a little brunch-type thing, and I served thee muffins with a spread of various preserved items I’d made, and of course some delicious salted butter. There was Guinness jelly, Meyer lemon curd, two kinds of conserves (the cherry/cranberry/dark chocolate/almond & the fig/plum/walnut), vanilla-brandy chestnut jam, candy apple jelly, that blood orange marmalade from the other day, Meyer lemon-cranberry jelly, orange/lemon marmalade, c-lemon-tine marmalade (clementine/lemon) & lemon-orange whiskey marmalade at everyone’s disposal. But the option to have them plain was there, too.

If you don’t have canning rings, you can use muffin rings or mini-tart rings or cans that used to house tuna fish; just remove the top as well as the bottom and make sure to clean them thoroughly. You don’t want English muffins with the scent of tuna. As a matter of fact that’s kind of nauseating. And if you use the rings for this purpose, do not use them for canning again. Clean ‘em off and keep them for doing this, or toss ‘em.

And I do promise that very soon… there will be cupcakes!