Pickling with Friends
New Leaf Market E-newsletter July 9, 2012
By Crystal Wakoa
Cucumbers are the vegetable equivalent of watermelon – crunchy, juicy and deliciously refreshing. In June, when cukes ripen like gangbusters, I’m always chagrined that I can’t pop some in the freezer to enjoy after the bounty subsides. So this year I asked my friend Sue to teach me to turn some of my green garden beauties into bread and butter pickles.
Canning is an all-day process and depending on one’s mindset, could be construed as a lot of work. Therefore it is best done with a companion, someone who enjoys working together and having fun along the way. I’d canned only once before—tomato sauce with my husband—and I’m happy to report that we ingested good memories with every jar of tasty, organic sauce we ate that winter.
But David turns his nose up to pickles, and Sue is an expert pickler as well as a beloved friend, so I was happy to see her arrive at my door at 9:00 am sharp, arms loaded with pots and jars and produce. (Sue was making her second batch of pickles for the season as well as showing me the ropes.) “We have to focus at the beginning and the end, but we’ll have almost a three hour break in the middle. Are you ready?” she asked. I answered with a sweep of my arm across my kitchen counter lined with canning jars, a bag of sugar, vinegar, garlic, onions, peppers and a pile of 25 cucumbers.
We washed all the cucumbers and peppers with warm, soapy water. Then it was slice time. Sue’s recipe calls for 4 quarts of cucumbers per batch. This is equivalent to 16 cups, approximately 20 medium-sized cukes. My husband walked in and saw us slicing away at our cutting boards. He suggested we make short work of it and hauled in our seldom-used Cuisinart from the utility room. Sue typically slices everything by hand, but decided to try the Cuisinart, which sliced the cukes thinner than we were doing by hand in a fraction of the time. Sue decided to experiment with thinner pickles. I wanted mine thicker so I stuck to my knife for everything but the onions.
Here’s what went into my two large bowls: 16 cups sliced medium-sized cucumbers, 6 thinly-sliced medium onions, two green and one red bell peppers, thinly sliced, and 5 garlic cloves, halved. Over this colorful medley, we sprinkled 1/3 cup pickling salt and mixed it well with our hands. We topped off the bowls with ice cubes, covered them with clean towels, and set them to rest for 3 hours.
Following lunch and a swim, we spent the latter half of our break mixing our spices for the brine and sterilizing our canning jars. We combined 3 cups sugar, 1 ½ teaspoon turmeric, 1 ½ teaspoon celery seed, 2 Tablespoons mustard seed and 3 cups cider vinegar. (The recipe called for 5 cups sugar, but most bread-and-butter pickles are too sweet for our tastes and Sue’s experience gave me confidence that decreasing the sugar wouldn’t hurt the final product in any way.)
Next we removed any remaining ice from our pickle bowls, drained the cucumber/veggie mix in colanders, and placed the mixture in a large pot on the stove. We added the brine spice mix, stirred it up and brought the mixture just to a boil. Using a wide-mouth funnel, we transferred the pickle mixture into our hot, sterile one-pint jars, being careful to leave ½ inch of headroom at the top of each jar. I was thrilled to see I had enough to fill 11 pint jars.
We placed the jars in Sue’s canner—an extra-large pot with a wire mesh basket shaped to hold 7 jars at a time—after securing their new, sterilized lids and let them cook in the boiling water bath for 15 minutes. A special canning tongs is a must-have for removing the jars safely.
We were finished by 3:30 pm. The whole process took 6 ½ hours, including a 1 ½ hour break in the middle. What a lovely way to spend a productive day with a good friend. And as Sue said on her way out the door, “You get to enjoy it all over again when you give them away for Christmas. It’s just fun!”