By Barbara Beltrami
If you’re not picky about your pickles, you should be because there’s no comparison between homemade and commercially prepared ones. Although you need an uninterrupted couple of hours and a few special pieces of equipment to “put up” a batch of pickles, once you’ve made the investment of time and supplies, you’ll be hooked and do it every year.
Two great moments of culinary satisfaction happen first when you hear the sound of the jar lids popping to release the air and vacuum seal the jar and later when you stand back and regard the row of pickle jars sitting like so many green soldiers on your pantry shelf.
Here is a list of canning supplies available in most local hardware and agricultural supply stores. You most likely already have many of these things in your kitchen.
Large enamel pot with canning rack
Large pot for boiling pickles
Glass jars with ring and dome lids
Large spoons and ladles
Sharp knives and vegetable peelers
Measuring cups and spoons
Wide-mouth funnel to fit circumference of jar tops
A few precautionary tips: Jars should be unchipped; veggies should be fresh and unspoiled; after processing, jars should be closed tight with a small dent in the middle of the lid; jars, domes and rings and implements must first be sterilized in a hot water bath or the dishwasher for at least 15 minutes. Now that you’ve got it all together, you’re ready to start making your own pickles!
Bread and Butter Pickles
YIELD: Makes 7 to 8 pints
4 pounds medium or Kirby cucumbers, washed and cut into ¹/₄-inch slices
1 pound small white pearl onions (frozen are OK)
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded and sliced thin
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and sliced thin
½ cup kosher salt
3 quarts ice water
5 cups sugar
5 cups cider vinegar
2 tablespoons mustard seed
1 teaspoon celery salt
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon peppercorns
DIRECTIONS: In a large bowl, combine cucumbers, onions and peppers. Add salt, mix well and add three quarts ice water. Cover and let sit for 4 hours. Fill canning pot to indicated water level, cover and bring to a boil. In a large pot, mix remaining ingredients and bring to a boil; let boil 3 minutes. Meanwhile, drain the vegetables, rinse thoroughly and drain again. Add veggies to liquid and bring to a boil again. Remove from heat and pack into hot one-pint sterile jars; leave ¼ inch headroom.
With a damp paper towel, wipe the top and side rims of the jars; with tongs place domes on jars, then screw on rings just to the point of stopping; do not tighten. Using tongs or pot holders, carefully set jars on raised rack of canning pot, then gently, being careful not to topple any jars, lower the rack into the hot water, cover and return to boil. Process (boil) for 10 to 15 minutes. Turn off heat.
With tongs or pot holders, raise rack and remove jars onto heat-proof surface. As you lift them out, you will probably hear them popping, which means they’re sealed. With your finger, poke any that do not have a slight indentation in the middle. If they still have a slightly raised surface in the middle after several attempts to depress them, put them aside, and when cooled, refrigerate and use within a week or two.
YIELD: Makes about 7 pints
¾ cup sugar
½ cup kosher salt
1 quart white vinegar
1 quart water
3 tablespoons mixed pickling spices
2 cloves garlic
35 medium Kirby cucumbers, sliced in half lengthwise or cut into spears
7 to 8 heads fresh dill
DIRECTIONS: Have canning pot and rack ready with boiling water reduced to simmer. Combine sugar, salt, vinegar and water in medium pot. Tie pickling spices and garlic cloves in a cheesecloth bag and add to mixture. Simmer for 15 minutes; remove and discard bag. Meanwhile, pack cucumbers into hot sterilized pint jars and add one head dill to each jar; leave half an inch headroom. Bring vinegar mixture to a vigorous boil and ladle hot brine over cucumbers; leave ¼ inch headroom. Proceed as in italicized part of previous recipe.