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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Why Bother? 2012 - Pickles

There are a few Why Bother challenges this year that I was not looking forward to.  Pickles was on the list of those that I was dreading.  It's not that I don't like pickles, or that I'm afraid of them, like one of my pickle-phobic coworkers (yes, seriously).  I was a little apprehensive about the process of pickling and preserving. 

I was well-prepared with canning cookbooks, mason jars and a huge pot.  The cookbooks courtesy of my fascination with jams, jellies, pickles and all things canned last year.  The jars and elephantine pot complements my mom, who was storing them in her basement for twenty years (they're vintage Bell mason jars!).  All I had to do was dive in and get to pickling.

Once I read a little bit about preserving and determined I wouldn't get botulism from homemade pickles (botulism tends to be found in low-acid preserved foods, pickles contain a lot of acid!), I read on and made a list for the spice store.

Did you stock up on spices last week when we made ketchup and mustard?  Well, you'll need those spices and a whole bunch more.  Mustard seeds, dill seeds, whole cloves, whole allspice, cardamom seeds.  The list is long on this one, unless you can locate pickling spices.

After searching several stores, I found pickling spices at Fairway.  If your grocery store isn't well stocked, I would suggest heading to Penzey's online.  They've got everything. 

Between my three canning cookbooks, there were fifteen different cucumber pickle recipes!  That's not even including the other vegetables and fruits that you can pickle - asparagus, green beans, pineapple, peaches, beets, garlic and plums.  The pickling section was extensive.  I chose to go with refrigerator dill slices and preserved bread and butter chips. 

If you want to make pickles, be sure to set aside a few hours.  Just like making ketchup last week, this was a bit of a process.  Between preparing the jars, making the pickling liquid, preparing the cucumbers and finally canning the veggies, you'll be in the kitchen for at least two hours.  The results though, are beyond anything I've had from the store.

The dill slices, my refrigerator pickles, came out crunchy, full of flavor and slightly sweet.  The bread and butter chips have been amazing on our turkey burgers, and straight out of the jar.  I don't see myself making anymore cucumber pickles any time soon, I have a pretty good stockpile in the pantry and fridge!  I do find myself leafing through the cookbooks, trying to decide what to pickle next!

One Year Ago: Creamsicle Fudge

Pickling Spices

If you can't find pickling spices in your local store, you can make your own!  This will also require you to hunt down spices, so get ready to head to your local grocery stores.  I had to try three stores before I found all of the necessary spices.

1 4-inch cinnamon stick, crushed
5 bay leaves, crushed
2 tbsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp whole allspice berries
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp dill seeds
2 tsp cardamom seeds
1 tsp hot pepper flakes
1 tsp whole cloves

Combine everything in a jar and shake it up.  The spice mixture will be stay good for up to a year, when kept in an air-tight container.

Refrigerated Dill Slices
Adapted from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

When pickling,  you want to make sure that you are using vinegar that is 5% acetic acid.  My bottle of vinegar says "pickle perfect," but you can check the back in the ingredient list.  It will tell you the percentage of acid in the bottle.  Also, if you can't find specific pickling or canning salt, look for kosher salt with no additives.  You want pure salt, with no anti-caking agents.

5 pickling cucumbers, ends trimmed, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup water
3 tbsp pickling salt
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp pickling spices
dill seeds
mustard seeds
black peppercorns
garlic cloves

Place sliced cucumbers in a bowl and set aside. 

In a small stockpot, combine vinegar, water, pickling salt, sugar and pickling spices.  Bring to a boil and dissolve sugar and salt.  Cover and boil for 10 minutes.  Pour liquid over the cucumbers and cover the bowl with waxed paper and set aside for 30 minutes.

While the cucumbers sit, get your jars ready.  You'll need 4 1-pint jars.  Be sure they have been thoroughly washed and fill each jar with the following - 1 1/2 tsp dill seeds, 1 tsp mustard seeds, 1/4 tsp peppercorns and 1 clove garlic, cut in half.

Add cucumber slices to the jars and leave 1/2-inch headspace.  Ladle the pickling liquid into the jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace.  Apply lids to the jars and put jars in the fridge.  Let cucumbers turn into pickles for at least two weeks.

Honeyed Bread-and-Butter Pickles
Adapted from Canning for a New Generation

These pickles were prepared via pasteurization, not processing.  By heating the pickles for longer at a lower temperature, they retain a crunchier texture.  Be prepared for this by bringing a large pot of water to 180 F.  Wash your jars, I only needed 3, and keep them warm in the pot.  Place the lids in a heat proof bowl.  Now you're ready for pickles.  If you don't have a candy thermometer to monitor temperature, you can process your pickles instead. 

5 small pickling cucumbers, ends trimmed, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
1/2 small white onion, halved & thinly sliced into half circles
2 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
1/2 tbsp celery seeds
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
3 cup cider vinegar (5% acetic acid)
1/3 cup honey
1 1/2 tsp mustard powder

Place cucumbers and onion in a large bowl, sprinkle with salt and toss to coat.  Cover the vegetables with ice and wrap the bowl with plastic wrap.  Place in the fridge for at least 8 hours to overnight.

After the rest period, remove cucumber bowl from the fridge and pick out any unmelted ice.  Pour veggies into a strainer and rinse with water.  Return to the bowl and add mustard seeds, celery seeds and red pepper flakes.  Toss to coat and set aside.

In a 4-quart pot, combine cider vinegar, honey and mustard powder.  Bring to 180 F (or bring to a full boil if you are processing). 

Ladle some hot water from the canning bath into the bowl with the lids.  With tongs, remove the jars from the canning bath and dump the water back into the pot.  Quickly, pack the cucumbers and onions into the jars, leaving about 1/2-inch of headspace.  Ladle pickling liquid into the jars, leaving headspace.  Take a wet paper towel and clean the lips of the jars.  Place lids on the jars and gently close them.

Place jars in the canning bath and heat to 180 F for 30 minutes.  Monitor your canning bath to keep the water above 180.  Any time spent below 180 must be added to the 30 minutes.  If you are processing, bring the canning bath to a full boil and leave the jars in there for 15 minutes.

Once the canning is complete, remove jars from the bath and place on a kitchen towel on the counter.  After 1 hour, check to see if the lids have sealed.  Press the top down, if it pops up and down, place that jar in the fridge immediately.  Allow the sealed jars to sit undisturbed for 12 hours.  Once the time is up, put the jars in your pantry and enjoy pickles all summer long!
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