July 9, 2013
Pickles. They are some cute, funny things. Whenever I think about making pickles, I think that they will take me a long time and that I don't have a household that could justify a huge batch. However, I was wrong about that. Last year, I made a dozen pint jars of preserved things. Half of the batch were chipotle salsa, and the other half were nectarine vanilla bean jam. We ate all of the salsa, but only two jars of the jam. I found that when I canned even those small amounts, they lasted almost a year.
Each time I opened up a jar, the smell would take me back to the summer. That feeling goes a long distance in the middle of February. I wondered, if I felt this way, how many others may feel this way and opt out of something so rewarding as canning your own summer goods? In that same year, I didn't buy salsa a single time, and I didn't purchase any jams. So this summer, I decided to step up my game.
Around me the farmers' markets have been filled with tomatoes, squash, bell peppers, corn, cucumbers, hot peppers, watermelon, blue berries, lettuce, and several healthy looking greens. I picked about 3 lb of 4" non-waxed cucumbers for $8.00. I then went to the grocery store to pick up canning supplies (pickling salt, distilled white vinegar, canning jars). In addition to the cucumbers, I picked up supplies for pickled jalapeños. The total time investment was probably a day spent purchasing the items, prepping them, canning the goods, and then cleaning up. I started around 10 am and ended around 4 pm.
Here is what the rest of it cost:
1 dozen, 1 pint Ball jars $9.49
Pickling salt $1.79
Pickling spices $3.59
White wine vinegar $3.69
White vinegar $3.15
Jar lids $2.39
3 lb cucumbers, 4", local $8.00
1.35 lb jalapenos $3.09
1 lb poblanos $3.19
1 jar = $3.20*
Adjusted 1 jar = $2.25
*Now this cost does not count for pots and pans. I invested in these last year, so I'm not including the cost. The adjusted cost would not count for the pickling salt and Ball jars because these could be reusable, and I would think of them as a one-time cost unless you manage to run through 4 lb of pickling salt. The other thing I did not adjust for was the energy cost associated with making all of this. If you were an avid canner, I could see that several of the up-front costs would not continue to be costs if you kept with the hobby. I didn't include the cost for sugar and garlic, because these are already in the household.
If you are new to canning, I recommend checking out a few library books, or doing a web search. Cooperative Extension agencies maintain websites on canning basics. The reason for this is that you want everything to be clean and sanitized, because you do not want any harmful bacteria growing in your preserved food products. Over the years, I have checked out different books, and I finally bought this one: Better Homes and Gardens Can It! It has good recipes and easy to follow instructions, with good visuals of what your final product should look like.
Dill-y Pickle Spears
Recipe adapted only slightly from the Better Homes and Gardens Can It!
Yield: 6 pint jars of pickles
3 to 3 1/4 lb 4" pickling cucumbers
4 cups water
4 cups white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup pickling salt
3 T pickling spice*
3 T dill seeds*
*Note: The original recipe calls for 6 tablespoons dill seeds. I couldn't find dill seeds at two grocery stores so I used pickling spice. I had some dill spice rub that I opted to experiment with.
1. Wash and sanitize all the jars and lids. You can immerse the clean jars in a boiling water bath for a few minutes. Use some tongs to remove them to a clean wire rack. I don't touch them at all after pulling them out. I lower the heat and add the lids and rims. Adding the lids to boiling water can activate the sealant, so just add them to the hot water and let them sit for a few minutes. Pull them out and let dry in a colander.
2. Scrub the cucumbers with a brush. Trim off the blossom and stem ends, quarter them into spears, and then set them in a large bowl, until ready to use. You will eventually place them in the canning jars.
3. Combine the water, vinegar, sugar, and salt in a medium non-reactive 4-5 quart pan. Heat up until boiling. Once boiling, turn the heat off and let sit until ready to use.
4. Now, take each jar and add 1 T of dill seeds OR pickling spice to the bottom. Hold the jar at a slight angle and pack the spears in. Leave 1/2 of headspace. If using Mason or Ball jars the 1/2" mark is usually the middle line where you screw the rim on.
5. After packing all the spears into their canning jars, top the jars off with the vinegar mixture leaving 1/2" of headspace. Tap the jar slightly to remove any air bubbles. Set the lids on top and place the rims on.
6. Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Start timing it once the water has returned to boiling. Once done, remove them to a wire rack. Letting them cool on the counter can crack the jars.
Let them rest for a week before serving. If storing, store them in a cool, dark, and dry place.
I like to label the lids with the pack date along with the contents.