Pickles!

Pickles!

The pickling cucumbers arrived in the grocery store this week. It’s a pretty short window so I bought 6 litres right away and added pickles to the to-do list. Said list is rather long this week since we are getting ready to go camping and I’m running all over the house, muttering “binoculars…head lamps…towels…rain pants…”.

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Last February there was great consternation in the house when we ran out of homemade pickles. I’ve been making them for several years, after the teenager (who was then 7 or 8) suggested making pickles as a fun summer project. It was fun and the pickles were delicious, but I didn’t realize how much the family loved them until last winter they were all gone.

I find making pickles quite a bit easier than making jam. The only tough part is waiting a month to sample your wares.

Wash and sterilize your jars. I used large 1 L jars this year since the cukes were big. I have also used wide-mouth 500 mL jars and those work well too.

For 6 litres (2 baskets) of cucumbers, I mixed together:

6 cups of vinegar (at least 5% acetic acid); I used pickling vinegar
6 cups of water
6 tbsp pickling salt (it’s important to use non-iodized salt when pickling, so the pickles don’t turn dark or the brine cloudy)
2 tbsp sugar

I heated it on the stove while I washed and cut up the vegetables. It’s not necessary to cut them up, if they fit in your jars properly while whole, but you do have to cut off the blossom end or the pickles can get squishy. I cut a little slice off both ends, just for symmetry. I quartered mine, and last year I did length-wise slices.

Put jar lids in a bowl of hot water to soften.

In each jar, put one head (the flower, gone to seed) of dill and 1 tsp mustard seed. Or you could use pickling spice if you like. I have lots of dill in the garden. I planted it one year and it has self-seeded enthusiastically ever since. If you don’t have fresh dill, used one tsp of dill seed.

I myself do not like garlicky pickles, but you can also put 1 or 2 cloves of garlic in each jar if you do.

Then ram those jars as full of cucumbers as you can make them. The boiling water bath cooks them a bit and they shrink, so don’t worry that you won’t be able to get them back out when it’s time to eat. I had an assistant with very small hands and she was able to arrange the cucumbers entirely to her liking.

Pour the hot brine into the jars, leaving about a centimetre at the top. Put the lids and screwcaps on and can them in a boiling water  bath for 20 minutes, making sure that the water has come back to the boil before you set the timer.20160722_123607 We had a mishap in the canner; one of the jar bottoms came clean off. This happens sometimes if there is a fault in the glass. Oh well. We made 7 jars, so we still have 6 left.

Remove the jars and allow them to cool overnight. Label and store for a month until you can eat them. I am going to try to make more after our camping trip, since I don’t think 6 jars will last the winter.

A note on crispness:

If a crisp pickle is important to you, it’s a good idea to soak the cucumbers in a salt solution overnight. You can use iodized salt for this step. You need a really big bowl, or several smaller ones.

Cut up the cucumbers however you like. Make a solution of 8 cups of cold water and 1/2 cup salt, stirring to dissolve the salt. Add 8 more cups water and pour it over your cucumbers. Place in a cool place overnight. Usually in pickle season this is my fridge. When you are ready to make your pickles, drain and rinse thoroughly.

One of my favourite preserving books, and my go-to for pickle-making, is The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving. This is another gem I found while browsing in the library while the children were very small. At one point we went to the library every day after school; I was pregnant with Little, and I had a two-year-old and a five-year-old whose appetite for going to the library was boundless. It was winter and that pregnancy made me very dizzy. The children were happy, I could sit down, and we all found lots of wonderful books. Hurray for public libraries!

The recipes in this cookbook are excellent, with all the classics and some quite interesting combinations as well. I was delighted when reading the book to discover that it was Canadian, and moreover that the authors knew Ottawa. This almost never happens. The only other book that comes to mind is Mother-Daughter Knits, in which one of the knitted coats is deemed appropriate for wearing to skate on the Rideau Canal, our very own UNESCO World Heritage Site.