Summertime brings with it thoughts of beach visits, amusement parks, time off from school and warm nights. For some though, like myself, it brings with it a bounty of fresh picked fruits and vegetables. It also brings canning time! One of my favorite times of the year. Yes, canning is work, but it is satisfying and good work. It is work that you can look back on a year later when you crack open that jar of strawberry preserves and remember picking the berries with your children. Or when you look in the pantry and to your surprise you find one last jar of bread and butter pickles when you thought there were no more left. You sneak to the kitchen and open it up and you indulge in their sweet and sour goodness. Nothing like home preserved foods. Nothing like knowing exactly what is in that jar, good wholesome fruits or veggies and lots and lots of love.
We live in such a hurried society now, that few people actually take the time to "put up" their own pickles, jams, jellies etc. Yes, I know, it is easy to go to the store and purchase your favorite pickle. Very easy to twist open a jar of strawberry jam from the local super center. But how many of you have actually taken the time to look on the label and see what is going into your jar of "All Natural" preserves or "Extra Crisp" gerkins? I think if you looked, you would find that there are some ingredients that are less than desirable like high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, preservatives, etc. Not to mention that many of the fruits and vegetables grown for the mass market are genetically modified so they will grow without rotting, have a longer shelf life or ward off unwanted pests by actually having the pesticide placed in its DNA.
I can for many reasons, one is because I love it. Many years before I jumped on the healthy and safe food bandwagon, I canned because I love it. I did not watch my mother do it, I did not even watch my grandmothers do it. I was introduced to canning by a lovely woman named Jeannie Weise in Williams, Arizona. A long time ago my family lived in that area. Her family owned a local mom and pop grocery store. At a holiday gathering she had brought several jars of her bread and butter pickles and they were heavenly. I had never tasted anything like them, certainly nothing that could be purchased off the shelf. I asked her if she would mind writing down the recipe for me. A little conversation transpired and she realized I did not know anything about canning. She invited me to her home and taught me how to make her pickles. This was the beginning of my love affair with pickling and preserving.
This led to my desire to learn how to make, jams, jellies and eventually pressure canning to preserve my own soups and stews. It also led to my love of gardening and my intense passion for cooking. It all works together. Plant the seed that grows the cucumbers that you can turn into pickles, either sweet or tart, and the relish sweet and hot. The best part of canning and preserving? Sharing! You have never seen someones face light up as you do when you present them with homemade plum jam or tomato sauce or hot pepper relish. Today people are blown away that there is someone who still does such a thing!
I do find it a little sad though. Our grandparents lived through the depression and World War II. They preserved as a way of life. The post war era came along and the baby boomers helped to make life as we know it easier, allowed us to have more "free time". Allowed the housewife to take it easy by opening a package, box or jar and adding water and stirring to make a "Meal fit for king". Our lives are add water and stir, but that is for another blog!
Since I do work full time and have two kids, and still manage to maintain a huge garden that grows from April through November, my weekends are spent canning the bounty that I have proudly produced myself. I do not can my bounty exclusively though. I do not grow many fruits, save some various berries, but I am blessed to live in a bountiful area that hosts acres and acres of strawberry and blueberry fields as well as peach orchards and miles and miles of fresh corn.
With the current economic situation in our country, I find that people are taking the time to go back to some of the old ways. These pickles are as old as you can get. Fermentation was one of the original forms of food preservation. Employed by the ancient Egyptians, it has been refined throughout the ages and is what we know of best today as pickling. Yes you can pickle without fermenting, but if you want an authentic and true Kosher dill pickle, this is how you need to go about it.
Fermentation is a process in which good bacteria is introduced into an environment, to turn one thing into another. In this case I turned cucumbers into pickles. You can turn cabbage into sauerkraut or kim chee or any number of fruits or vegetables into their pickled counterparts. The process I used in this recipe is called lacto-fermentation. This is because the bacteria which we are inviting is called Lactobacillus. This looks like a long scary word, but in reality it is nothing more than the bacteria that turns milk into yogurt, thus the "Lacto" prefix.
I know that once you have the cukes all happy in their briny bath, you will be tempted to peek more than you should, a Mrs. Kravitz of the kitchen if you will. DON'T! no matter how tempted you may be, just let them sleep in their briny bath for a few days and let the bacteria do it's thing. Eventually you will have a lovely pickle. Also by opening and closing the vessel too much, you run the risk of introducing bad bacteria to the party. If this happens all your work will be for nothing because you will have produced a putrid pickle!
I know that this is a brief and hasty introduction to preserving, but if you are interested, look into it further. Try out some pickles, move on to some jam, you never know, you may get bitten by the canning bug and never look back. These are life skills that you will have forever. Share them with your children. I hope if you do, you find joy in the quiet solace that comes from putting up your own jars of love.
Here is what you need to make these pickles:
5 pounds pickling cucumbers (Kirbys)
2 bunches of fresh dill
2 heads of fresh garlic all cloves peeled
1/4 cup pickling spice
3 to 4 or more hot peppers either Jalapeno or Serrano
1 quart white vinegar
3 quarts filtered water
1 cup pickling salt (do not use iodized salt, sea salt or kosher salt)
Wash cucumbers well in a sink full of cool water that has had a bit of white vinegar added to it. Scrub well, avoid bruising or removing skin.
In a large pot combine the water, vinegar and pickling salt. Bring to a boil making sure the salt is totally dissolved. Allow to cool to room temperature.
In a clean 5 gallon pickle crock or 5 gallon plastic bucket that has been well cleaned and sanitized, place the cleaned cucumbers, vinegar/water mixture, garlic, peppers, pickling spice and fresh dill in crock/bucket.weigh down with a plate or some form of weight. You need to make sure that the cucumbers are submerged below the liquid. Place lid on bucket/crock but do not seal. Sealing will allow gases to build up and could potentially lead to an eruption when too much gas accumulates and then you will have a mess you don't want to deal with that could have easily been avoided. Leave alone for at least 3 days.
After 3 days has passed, lift lid and inspect. You may notice a foamy scum that will build up on the surface of the water or even a nasty looking milky skin on the surface. This is normal and it means that the lactobacillus bacteria is doing it's job. take a stainless steel spoon and remove the scum and throw it down the drain. Remove the weight or plate and rinse with filtered water. Return the plate to the crock/bucket making sure to submerge the cucumbers fully. Return the lid making sure not to seal.
Continue this process every few days or even once a week. After 3 weeks, try a pickle, remove one and try a slice. Inspect the interior. Does it look somewhat translucent and no longer opaque? Does it taste like a pickle? If you find that you want a more intense flavor, let them stew a few more days, repeating the test at that time. Do not allow fermentation to exceed 4 weeks.
When you are ready to can your pickles, remove them from the bucket to a clean and sanitized sink of cool water, making sure to reserve the brine. Rinse the pickles well and drain. Slice as you wish either in spears or slices in preparation of canning.
Strain the brine into a large pot and you may want to remove some of the liquid, you will not need 8 quarts of brine to fill the jars, a little more than half will do. Bring to a boil and continue to boil for 10 minutes.
I used the cold pack method of canning for this application. This simply means that you will be putting the cold sliced pickles into clean cold jars. Into each jar place the following: 1 bay leaf, 1 clove of fresh garlic (do not use the garlic from the brine) 1 teaspoon of mustard seed and one fresh chili pepper. Add the pickles to the jar packing firmly without tearing or breaking the pickles. Ladle hot brine into jars to within 1/2 inch of the top. Wipe the jar rims with a clean damp paper towel and place the lid on along with the ring, tightening to resistance. Don't tighten too much or you may risk your jar cracking in the canner.
In a water bath canner, place as many jars as will fit. Since I did pints I was able to fit 7 jars at once. Allow the water to come to a full rolling boil and allow to boil for 15 minutes. Remove the jars from the canner to a wooden surface or a surface which you have covered with a bath towel. Keep out of drafts and away from open doors or places where the temperature is likely to change rapidly. Allow to cool for 24 hours after which time you can wipe your jars with a clean damp cloth and label appropriately. You may store with or without the rings, your choice, they say if you store them without the rings you run less risk of contamination by rust, in a cool dry, dark place. Even though you will most likely not have any after a years time, try to eat your pickles within that amount of time. This is the time recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I have found, however, that properly stored home canned goods often last far beyond the recommended consumption date. If done properly, home canned goods can last quite a while.
Remember, canning is a scientific process. If done right, you can feel safe in knowing that you have produced a product that is good to eat. If done with abandon, you can run the risk of food poisoning from Botulisum which can be life threatening or even deadly. Cleanliness is important and sanitary sterilization even more so. Just keep your surfaces clean and your pets out of the kitchen when doing your canning and you should be good to go.
I hope that you try this and I hope you enjoy it. It is certainly a labor of love, but the rewards are great. You will know what is in your food and you won't have to worry about poisons or preservatives when feeding your family. Give this a try and until next time, See ya!