Making pickles is pretty much foolproof. Keep it sanitary, follow a recipe and you get pickles. If you want to get good pickles, as opposed to pickles that are merely safe to eat, you have to try a few recipes and understand how the crisp gets into the pickle. Cold will do it, salting before canning helps, but my secret is salting and using Ball Pickle Crisp*.
Cold pack pickles, such as Claussen, are put raw into cold sterilized jars, which are then filled with cold brine and the jars are refrigerated. After a month or so you have great pickles. The only problem is storage space. I don't have room in my refrigerator for more than 2 jars of pickles. My garden produces way more than 2 jars worth of cucumbers. To keep jars of pickles safely at room temperature requires processing the jars in boiling water long enough to kill any bacteria and using a brine that has the proper pH. Don't worry, you don't need a food chemistry degree. You just need a recipe from a reliable source.
Here's my favorite Garlic Dill recipe. This recipe makes 2 quarts or 4 pints. It's adapted** from The Complete Book of Year Round Small-Batch Preserving. Small-batch is important to me, because my cucumbers ripen in small harvests. The best pickles are made from fresh cucumbers. They're harvested and kept refrigerated until I'm ready to can, usually the next day. I've adapted the recipe in that I salt the cucumbers overnight, and use dried dill weed instead of dill seed. I also added Ball Pickle Crisp.
3 lbs. small pickling cucumbers, scrubbed in cold water
2 tablespoons pickling salt
2 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
2 additional tablespoons pickling salt
To add to jars:
4 teaspoons dried dill - Quarts: 2 teaspoons per jar, Pints: 1 teaspoon per jar
6 cloves garlic, peeled
Ball Pickle Crisp - Quarts: 1/4 rounded teaspoon per jar, Pints: 1/8 rounded teaspoon per jar
Cut 1/4" slice from both ends of cucumbers and discard. The ends of cucumbers contain enzymes that can result in soft pickles. Cut each cucumber into 6 or 8 spears and place in a non-reactive container large enough to hold them all. Add 2 tablespoons pickling salt and toss to coat. Cover and allow to sit at least 3 hours and up to overnight in a cool place. They don't have to be refrigerated, I place it in my cool basement.
Last night that container was full of sliced cucumbers and 2 tablespoons canning salt - no liquid. The salt has drawn off all that extra juice. Getting rid of the juice will help make the pickles crisp. The pickles are drained and rinsed in cold water three times, then allowed to drain in a colander while I wash the jars and heat them in the canner.
Having everything set out and ready to go makes for a stressless canning session. Fill the canner (or large tall stockpot) with cold tap water, add a rack to lift the jars off the bottom of the pot and begin heating. Wash 2 quart plus 1 pint or 5 pint jars in hot soapy water, rinse well and place upright into canner, allowing them to fill with water. (I always prepare 1 jar more than I think I'll need, just in case). When it's simmering, make the brine. Combine brine ingredients in a small, non-reactive saucepan and bring to a boil. Once the jars are all full, you'll know how many lids to heat. Heated lids can not be reused.
When the brine boils and the jars are simmering it's time to get started. Take one jar at a time out of the canner and drain its water into a small pot. You'll use it to heat your lids but won't need a fire under this pot. The hot water softens the sealing compound on the jar lid so it will readily adhere to the jar.
Place the hot jar on its side on a towel lined countertop. It's easier to fill the jar if it's laying down. Put the cucumber spears one at a time into the jar. When it's hard to slide more in, turn it upright and pack in more spears in between the ones already in the jar. You want them to fit very tightly. Add garlic, dill and Pickle Crisp and ladle in the boiling hot brine. Use a long, thin, non-mettalic object (a spatula handle or chopstick works well) to 'bubble' the jars. Wiggle it between the cucumbers and the inside of the jar to coax any air bubbles to the surface. Top off the jars with additional brine to within 1/2" of the top of the jar. Wipe the jar rim and rings with a damp paper towel to clean off any brine or seasonings. Carefully add the lids, avoiding touching the inside of the lids and jar rims. Add the rings and screw on until you just meet resistance. Screwing it too tight will prevent the air from escaping, which it must do to form a vacuum. Other, more dire consequences are possible - see my Blowout post.
Have the water at a full boil and carefully lower the jars into the canner. The water should be at least 1" above the top of the jars. If necessary, add some of the hot water in the small pot back. You'll see bubbles coming out of the jars - that's good. Begin timing when the water boils again.
|Ready for their nap.|
When the processing time is finished, carefully remove the jars and place on a heat proof surface lined with a kitchen towel. Cover completely, top and all sides, with another towel. You want them to cool slowly. You'll hear the jars 'ping' as they cool, that tells you the jars have sealed. Don't move the jars until they are completely cool - at least 12 hours. Then test for seal by pressing gently on the top of the lid. If it moves, the seal failed; place the jar in the refrigerator and use like an opened jar. Don't forget to label the jars with contents and date.
My friends Penny and Leah wanted to learn how to can tomatoes. We had a lot of fun!
*Ball Pickle Crisp makes pickles crisp without changing the pH of the recipe.
**You can safely add, change quantities or delete spices. Do not change the quantities of salt, sugar, water and vinegar.