Canning is kind of addictive. I think it is addictive because you really feel a sense of accomplishment when you start seeing jars of food that you grew AND preserved sitting in your fridge and pantry. You have complete control over flavor profiles of the items you intend on storing. But today, we are just talking about pickles. I should let you know that I really like balanced pickles. I am actually very pickle picky as I had a bad run in with some old pickles as a child and it took decades to recover from that. If I’m going to eat a pickle, it must be crisp and have a well-rounded flavor, no one super strong predominate taste. So here’s what we learned after tasting batch #1 and giving a go to round #2.
Our first batch of pickles was really interesting. We knew we made some mistakes, but quite frankly, they came out pretty darn well. I really like the basics of the Cumin Lime pickle recipe that we used. So the coolest thing about it was that the pickles developed a natural sweetness after they were in the jar with no sweetener of any kind added. Not sure if this just happened or if the Sugar Crunch cucumbers imparted something, but it was awesome! Think balance, not sweet pickles. My one big issue about the pickles we made is this … we used the McCormick brand pickling spice. It was a bit over the top with sweet spice. Maybe I needed to mix it out of the container before hand, but the cinnamon/ginger/clove/allspice seemed to be a majority of what we got in our scoops. Believe me when I say, those thing needed to be there in pickles (to my liking) but a bit less would be better. Also, we made one jar with 1/4 tsp of crushed red pepper flakes, and quite frankly that jar was amazing just as is.
So we took this knowledge, and multiple bags of cucumbers that built up in the fridge over a week and a half, and we dove head first into pickle making again. The first thing we did differently was to adjust our recipe. We knocked back the peppercorns to 12-ish. We did more like 18 peppercorns the first time … and 12 really was a better number. Isn’t a huge deal, but those peppercorns give a lingering punch of heat that catches you in the back of the throat (please note that I use a pepper medley with black, white, green and pink peppercorns). Then we bought a new pickling spice to substitute a bit in. This new pickling spice is from the spice area at our nearby farmers market. Where the McCormick’s has loads of sweet spices (clove, ginger, cinnamon, allspice), this farmers market type is more basic (coriander seed, bay leaf , mustard seed, dill seed). We put 1/2 tsp of each of these blends into our jar for the total 1 tsp like the recipe called for. The take away is that every pickling spice is different and will change the fine tuning of your pickles. So read your pickling spice ingredients (if they have it, my farmers market stuff didn’t sadly) and decide what works best for you. Or be brave and make your own pickling spice. This recipe looked particularly interesting to me.
The next stuff we tweaked was preparation based. We used a smaller pot so as to expedite the water boiling process but making sure that it still covered the jars by roughly an inch. We also took the time to measure the cucumbers ahead to make sure they would absolutely fit below the fill line. Any extra ends got sliced and added to the sliced pickle jar we are testing out. Waste not, want not.
Probably the most important thing we remembered to do this time is to burp the gas out from around the veggies in the jar. We used a skinny tool, a butter knife would work, and ran it around the edge reaching all the way down to the bottom. You will be surprised how much gas hides down there, especially when you use dill or have slices in a jar. If you don’t do it, you’re liquid level in the end won’t be high enough in the jar. And speaking of the liquid level, we actually filled to within 1/4 inch of the top. Seems to have worked just fine.
Which brings me to … I think we canned! I think we canned! I think we canned! The seals stuck, the pickles were covered … and now they are sitting in our pantry doing their pickle thing that they do. We also tried picking through our pickles (say that 5 times fast!) and making some with whole cucumbers. Probably not the best idea for a pint size jar, but we’ll roll with it. All in all, super excited. We got 6 pint size jars made. It’s crazy how making my own has now eliminated my fear of pickles. Only thing we didn’t do was try making a spicy jar. But with the chiles in that new spice mix, I figure better safe than sorry.
So are you feeling brave yet? We have harvested 70 cucumbers from 2 plants to date. And they are still growing more. That has led to plentiful cucumber eating and 9 total jars of pickles so far. Stop being scared and go pickle something. As long as its pretty crunchy, you can probably pickle it. More on our pickled veggie dabblings later.
PS: I’m adamant that pickles must be crisp and not squishy. I’ve read that trimming a few millimeters off the blossom end will help remove an enzyme that leads to soggy cukes. So I have done that each time. I haven’t tried a batch without trimming as I seriously am nauseated by a pickle that my teeth squish into before actually breaking through. But we so far have very crisp, snappy, crunch pickles. Could be luck, the type of cucumber or blossom-end trimming … anyone have any personal experience with this? Just some food for thought as you contemplate your own pickles.