...if you have a backyard and a kitchen, this blog might be for you!

a chronicle of tips and recipes on everything from gardening to canning and baking your produce, even if you're planted in suburbia...in fact, especially if you are planted in suburbia.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Classic Canning: Dill Pickles from Scratch

No pre-packaged mix this time, boys and girls. We're making dill sandwich slices from scratch today! But because those pickles will keep me pretty busy, I think I'll just start some chili con queso in the crock pot and put some french bread on to bake. Supper can slow cook itself while I concentrate on canning. Speaking of which, it's time to put the water on to boil. I'll get back with you as soon as I can, taking you step by step through the process...

Alright, I'm at a resting point. I'll catch you up on how these pickles came to be. As I listened to the whirring of the bread-maker, I began gathering my ingredients for the pickles. Here's one important tip about canning pickled foods: you need to use genuine, canning salt. I checked a forum where this question of canning vs. table salt was raised. I chuckled when I saw an argument almost erupt amongst posters over whether or not you could just run non-iodized salt through a coffee grinder to use in place of "official" canning salt. All did agree, however, that iodized salt is not ground fine enough to dissolve well for canning purposes, and it turns the brine (the liquid in the jar with the pickles) cloudy. If you're not doing a lot of pickling, you might just want to get a little bag of it to have on hand, as seen in the photo. Another ingredient that needs to meet specific criteria is the vinegar. Only use distilled at 5% acidity. Most all of the standard vinegar you buy at the store fits the bill, but it doesn't hurt to check.

Now on to the recipe. I began by sorting through the last two or three days worth of cucumber pickings, washing the ones I wanted to use for pickles. Then I turned my attention to the brine. A large saucepot took its place alongside the canner on the stovetopand in that saucepot I put:

1 quart of white vinegar

3/4 C of sugar

1/2 C of canning salt

1 quart of water

1/2 tsp of turmeric

1 spice bag containing 3 tablespoons of pickling spices

Some recipes prefer a clear brine, hence the spice bag, while others just allow the spices to float. But if you don't have a spice bag, you can do what I do. Keep a bolt of cheesecloth and a ball of cotton yarn with your canning supplies. Whenever you need a spice bag, cut a square and a length of yarn to fashion your own bag each time you need one. You can wash and recycle the squares or just toss them when you're finished.

The mixture needs to simmer 15 minutes, so I used that time to slice the cucumbers and pack them into hot quart jars along with one head of dill per jar. Dill straight form the garden. You can't get much tangier than that! If you don't have access to fresh dill, however, two teaspoons of dill seeds per jar should do. By the time the cucumber slices were packed in the jars, the brine was just about ready to pour over then. (This would be a good time to drop the lids into hot water to prep the seals if you're canning along with me and haven't done so already.)

Next, using the funnel, I ladled the brine over the pickles in the hot jars. Just like the salsa, pickles have a headspace requirement. This time I needed to leave 1/4 inch at the top for it.

When the jars were filled, I ran a spatula--one that is non-metallic--between the pickle slices and the jar. You do this to release trapped air bubbles, one more procedure to insure against potential spoilage. When all the air was out of a jar, I wiped its rim and threads clear of any spilled brine, took a lid from the hot water and centered it on the jar, "rubber" side down against the glass. Lastly, I screwed the band over the lid, finger tight.

With quart jars, water levels in the canner are more of an issue. A full canner easily covered the pint jars we used making salsa, but if you're trying your hand with quart jars this time, know that you need the water level to be 1 to 2 inches above the jars while processing. If, when you lower the rack of pickle jars into the canner, you see you don't have deep enough water, add more boiling water to reach the necessary level. I put the lid on the canner and brought the water back to a full boil. When the water was at a rolling boiling, I set the timer for the recommended 15 minutes.

I had a couple of cucumbers remaining, so while I waited for the processing time to finish, I sliced them, too, and made a side dish for dinner. A couple of cucumbers, a thinly sliced onion, 1/2 C of sour cream, 1 T each of sugar and vinegar and 1/2 tsp of salt mixed and allowed to season an hour or so all go together to make a refreshing side salad, replacing the lettuce salads that are now out of season.

At the end of the 15 minute processing time, I turned the heat off, and removed the jars and set them on a cutting board to cool. It's a good idea to put them a couple of inches apart from each other as they cool, and don't re-tighten the bands.

As I did with the salsa, I checked the lids--pressing the center of the top to make sure it didn't flex up and down but rather was drawn down against the jar. Then I unscrewed the ring and tried to remove the lid with my fingertips. I got a good seal! It was finally time to wipe the jars down, label them and add them to the pantry shelf. They'll need to stay there a good 4 to 6 weeks for the flavor to rise. They should be just about right for an autumn harvest meal.

Alright, I'm really looking forward to that dinner now. I've worked up quite an appetite today. Blue plate special tonight includes french dipping bread with the chili con queso, yesterday's salsa with nacho chips alongside the cucumber salad and some freshly sliced peppers. Dessert will be simple: a bowl of white Georgia peaches with a handful of fresh blueberries dancing across the top.

See you next time...oh, and help me remember, I need to buy more pickling spice. We used the last of it today.

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