With a few small bags of cucumbers from the garden building up in the fridge, I recently decided to start trying to can. And where better to start than pickles. Crunchy, salty, touch of sweet, cold … a perfect summer time snack, and low calorie to boot! Perfect.
Backing up a moment, before I jumped into the canning deep end, I decided to make a quick pickle. I did this as a proof of concept on making a tasty home made pickle. Also, quick pickles make a great activity for a young, pickle-loving kid to take part in. Essentially, it’s just mixing ingredients, adding your cukes and letting them rest for a short period of time before chowing down. We started with this Japanese Quick Pickled Cucumber recipe. I really liked this recipe because, other than cutting the cucumbers into slices, my 3 year old could do all the measuring and mixing. Just due to what we had on hand, we changed the recipe a bit. No way was I throwing 2 kids in the car in this Atlanta summer heat for 2 ingredients when I have things I can substitute. Ain’t nobody got time for that! So here is what I did:
- 3 small pickle sized cukes from the garden, cut into slices
- 1 bunch of chives from the garden, chopped finely
- ¼ C rice vinegar
- 2 tbsp soy sauce – low sodium
- 2 tsp sugar,
- 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 1/4 tsp of chili garlic sauce (don’t want it too hot for kiddos)
- 1 clove of garlic, cut into thin slices, I’m of the mind set that garlic makes everything better
- pinch of fresh ground pepper
Basically, mix all the ingredients, except cucumbers, until combined. Then add the cukes and let it sit on the counter for at least 15 min. Eat immediately or cover tightly and store in fridge. Immediately, they were good. But now they’ve been in the fridge a week and they are awesome. Really very pickle-y with a great Asian twist. The sesame oil taste is very prevalent right after making them, so if you want these for consumption right away, and you are unsure of that taste, I might cut back a bit. But the flavor has mellowed quite a bit sitting in the fridge. I can’t even stress how much I like these more as a refrigerator pickle and less of a quick pickled cucumber. They were good quick, they are great now that they have melded.
So that went well, and it was time to try canning. Finding recipes for making small amounts of pickles is actually not that easy. Got 4-6 lbs of pickles just lying around anyone? I sure didn’t. Which I personally think is a travesty because most small scale home gardeners aren’t making dozens of jars at a time. I only had enough cucumbers harvested to make 3 pint size jars. I stumbled across this Cumin Lime Pickle recipe for canning. It makes 6 pint size jars, which makes for easy cutting in half for my purposes. I’m going to let you read this one on your own because I followed it almost exactly. It also has a video showing how they made it and I enjoyed watching that. Did I mention that it is low sodium? Nice! I want to share the things I learned right off the bat from my first canning adventure and I’ll report back on how the finished product was after they chill and meld for a bit.
- Don’t use a pot that is too large, something just large enough to cover the jars with the proper amount of water. Otherwise, you will wait ALL DAY for your water to boil for sterilization and then processing the jars. Seriously, ALL. DAY.
- Make sure your produce is prepped to a size appropriate for your jar. We found out after the jar were sterilized and ready to be filled with liquid that our cukes were about 1 inch too long. It was a pain to go back and snip them off to the right height after they were in the jar.
- Jars have a fill line, but when they say “1/4 inch head room” in a recipe, they are talking about the top of the jar, not this fill line. If you just barely cover the cucumbers, but aren’t to the recommended head room, you will probably fall short of enough liquid.
- Before you put the lid on for processing, you need to get all the air out from around the produce. You might not see any, but its sneaky and hiding down there. Take the time to run a knife or something thin around the jar to make sure all the air is out. The dill in particular was hiding lots of air. We didn’t do this and after taking it out of the water processing, bubbles started rising like mad making our liquid level too low and exposing our cukes a bit. Exposed produce can go bad.
- Do not tip your jars over when putting them in the water bath, as you are taking them out or while they are cooling. Find another way to get the pool of liquid off the top, like a papertowel.
- If the lids don’t seal and still pop AFTER COOLING COMPLETELY, then you should refrigerate and use ASAP. Don’t worry if they aren’t sealed immediately coming out of the water bath, they can seal as they are cooling. Trust me, this is some high school physics at work (PV=nRT friends). Physics works. I studied rocket science, so I’m sure about this physics stuff. But if your jar has a complication and doesn’t seal (might be a warped lid, the lip of you jar wasn’t clean and dry when you set the lid on, you tipped it and broke the seal getting it out, etc) as I said, just refrigerate and chow down post haste.
Okay well I think its safe to say you see that we made a few mistakes in our initial canning attempts. Due to the headroom liquid level being messed up, even though the canning worked and the jars sealed, we are keeping them in the fridge and not going to wait the recommended 2-4 weeks to eat. I should say the one deviation we made from this recipe was making one of the jars spicy with the addition of 1/4 tsp of crushed red pepper flakes. Fingers crossed! We did have left over pickling liquid (which I think makes me even angrier because of our post canning headroom problem realization) which we took and stuck the few slices of cukes that wouldn’t fit in the jars to make a fridge pickle. After a few hours, they tasted pretty darn good. So I’m excited and hopeful that we will still get something moderately tasty from this experiment. But at the very least we learned a lot and will have a lot more success next time. I hope this will help you get started with pickles or canning. Take a deep breath and go slow, cans of home grown produce are meant to be stored on your shelf, so don’t rush yourself making them.
Do you have a favorite pickle recipe? I’ve got more cucumbers growing as we speak and I’m looking for ideas for my next round of canning. I’d love to hear some of your tips and tricks and recipes!