Briny Secret

I think pickling is good for a relationship. Don’t you? Getting in the mood, enjoying the process, and reveling in the pure satisfaction that comes with good results.

What?! Get your mind out of the gutter! I meant pickling as in canning! Preserving cucumbers in jars with a salty, vinegary brine!

Sheesh.

I’ll pretend that never happened.

Jay is obsessed with pickles. And by obsessed, I mean he critically assesses the flavor, crunch-factor, spice level, saltiness and just about any other characteristic that a pickle might posses.

To date, the best pickles we’ve both eaten are made just outside of Detroit. McClure’s pickles, the spicy variety to be specific, are as close to perfect as a pickle can be. The fabulously labeled preserved cucumbers are a family recipe. And I think Jay would like to have a briny secret of his own.

So when I expressed interest in learning how to preserve the summer bounty by canning, Jay was 100% on board and his mind went straight to pickles. Dilly, spicy, crunchy pickles.

A couple of weeks ago, we went back to EggPlant Urban Farm Supply in St. Paul for a Sunday afternoon canning class. The class focused on tomatoes, but the same principles apply to pickles. Using a water bath canning method, we learned how to sterilize jars, pack them with picked-at-its-peak summer produce, top them with lids, boil them and wait for the gratifying “ping” noise as the jars seal.

While we’re at it, we decided to try our hand at pickled jalepenos. Jay has childhood memories of the crunchy peppers his best friend’s dad used to make. Every time he buys a jar, what’s inside just doesn’t meet his high expectations.

I’m harvesting a couple of cucumbers a day from the garden, but in order to make a big batch of pickles, we decided to buy a bushel from the farmer’s market. We also picked up fresh dill, along with spices like peppercorns, red pepper flakes and mustard seed.

After setting up my biggest stockpot with a steamer basket set inside to simulate the design of an actual canning setup, I quickly realized it was time for a trip to the store. Our jars were too tall to be covered by water once they were in the pot. My beginner’s advice on canning? Just buy the canning pot and jar rack that fits inside. The stainless steel version will set you back about $90, an enamel version is half that. I forked out the cash, once again aware that the beginning of any homesteading effort isn’t about saving money, it’s about experiencing the process and enjoying the tasty products you create.

I prefer to share original recipes with you, but in the case of canning (and to preserve the integrity of Jay’s sure-to-be-famous-but-not-quite-perfected pickle recipe) I’ll defer to the experts. And in doing so, avoid any of you contracting botulism and blaming me for it.

My canning class instructor recommends a delightful blog called Food in Jars because the recipes are tested for safety. We used the posted Garlic Dill Pickle recipe and added some of our own spices, additional hot peppers and cutting our cucumbers into spears instead of slices.

For the jalepenos, we took advantage of the same resource and used this Unfancy Pickled Jalepeno recipe as our starting point.

The results?

Pickles = amazing flavor, but could still use a little more crunch.

Jalepenos = limp and mushy.

We’ll keep practicing.

And goodness gracious people, I’m talking about canning! Unbelievable. 😉

10 thoughts on “Briny Secret

  1. Good for you and Jay. I have been canning for years and my sons have asked me to show their gals how to do it as well. When I went to get them a cookbook as a guide I was amazed that there was just one book (Ball Jar brand) and at least 50 cookbooks on crockery or slow cooking. I have found for dill pickles to stay a little crunchy put them in a ice cube bath for a couple of hours before spearing and packing. From the picture I see that you are using the right salt but sometimes you might have to adjust that too. Pickles need to be packed really really tight. Otherwise they float to the top and are not covered in the brine. I bet your kitchen smelled awesome! Good Luck and keep at it. After 30 years of canning I still find new tricks and ways to can and preserve. Love your blog and thanks for taking us on your journey:)

  2. Elizabeth…try cutting off 1/8″ of the blossom end, I also soak mine in ice cold water for at least two hours and add 1/2 tsp powdered alum and 1 grape leaf to each quart size jar. I have researched a lot on the internet to find out how to get crisp pickles and this seems to work for me. We also do NOT process in a boiling water bath, many canners say that will make them soft. I put my jars in the wash cycle so they are steaming hot when I add the cukes and the brine has been brought to a full boil. The seals I keep on the stove in hot water – do not boil those – until ready to seal the jars. Then once on the counter I cover with a heavy bath towel until they have cooled. These are just some tips I have tried from other canners…it really is satisfying to see the results 🙂 ~Tammy from Marshall MN

  3. We cheat and use Mrs Wages dill pickle refrigerator mix. It is SO easy and the pickles are SO delicious and crunchy. It does require lots of room in your fridge…..

  4. Hi Elizabeth, I use lump alum when pickling dills, my mother in law told me to us it, it’s better than powdered, and I toss a good pinch in the bottom of the clean jars, I’ve tried putting it in the brine, but they were mushy. I don’t know if you can use too much or not, but my pickles are always crunchy. And we add a jalepeno pepper to each jar of pickles too, we like spicy. We’re doing beets now, got 24 jars of pickled beets and 36 of regular beets done. We love pickled beets and can’t wait to eat them this year. Good luck and keep your posts coming, love the show and to hear from you.

  5. Don’t you just love canning. I used to can just about everything except meat and low acid vegetables.Now I’m 65 and have alot of problems with my feet so only do tomatoes, tomato juice and salsa. But I always feel so productive when I.m canning and I just love the smell of the kitchen especially when I used to can pickles.

  6. Your Grandma Ries has a really good recipe for pickling. It’s Garden Pickle Relish. What’s good about it is that the relish can be used in many different foods:tuna fish, potato salad, and on hot dogs or brats. The relish is made from carrots, onions, bell peppers, and cucumbers, everything that one would grow in a home garden. It’s a must at our house as I can 24-30 pints every two summers and my kids come to pick from the cellar. It’s the best around and it’s not hard to put together. Aunt Chris

  7. My nephew who lives in Michigan sold McClure pickles for two summers at the Farmers Market during college and they are great! I have seen them for sale at Williams Sonoma too. I wondered what kind of camera you are using. Your photos are really good.

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