Phew! I don’t like having mishaps and failures in the kitchen. So much time, so much capital and raw material invested in any new venture. I was pretty excited and nervous to try my hand at canning, and I was (mildly) devastated when the result was soft pickles. Lacto-fermentation had similar results, but the pickles were downright mushy.
Luckily Lovey Girl LOVES pickles, and the mushy ones are right up her alley. She’ll finish the jar of lacto-fermented ones for us. The canned version tastes DELISH, so I think I can use them for potato salad. I can tolerate the texture when eating them whole, too.
Tempted: The Impulse Buy
I was bummed out about the failures, though, and absolutely decided I would not be tackling pickles again without someone to help me who knows what they’re doing. Hmph. Done. Finished. …until I saw the most beautiful, humongous stalks of dill being sold at the Farmer’s Market for a mere dollar. I hemmed. I hawed. I couldn’t pass them up! I bought the dill, which was, without exaggeration, as tall as me, with heads as big as…well, as big as my head! Three whole plants, roots and all! As I walked away from the stand, it struck me: now I have to buy some more cucumbers and make more pickles!
Other women’s impulse buys, I’m sure, are often shoes, clothing or jewelry. Me? I buy dill at the Farmer’s Market. I don’t always think through these impulse buys though! I found a basket of “seconds” at the organic stand and bought them for $2.50. I actually left them there and had to drive all the way back, but that’s another story and another proof of my mommy-brain!
Take Two: Pickles
I feel like I can actually share the recipe this time, because I did it! The lacto-fermented pickles did their thing for two days on the counter, and I tasted them and decided they were quite good, and quite crunchy! So excited! I can’t open the canned ones yet, because (if you’ve kept count), my fridge is plenty full enough of pickles. I’m assuming that since I did the same two tricks for pickle crunch, they’ll be excellent. (How’s that for an ego?)
If you’re ready to try something new, here are the pickle recipes I used. The lacto-fermented pickles recipe is inspired by Sandor Ellis Katz’s Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods and this Fermented Foods post at Nourishing Days. The canned pickles recipe comes from my dear friend Maria, who is patient enough to give it to me over the phone!
- Whole cucumbers or cut into spears to fill jar (about 8 medium)
- Pot or sink full of ice water
- 8 cloves garlic
- (Sandor Katz says 3 whole bulbs, but he's kind of a garlic freak. This was good enough for our family; fiddle with it for yours.)
- 1 Tbs mustard seeds (optional)
- 4-5 oak leaves, fresh from tree
- 4 black peppercorns
- 1 head and 3 sprigs fresh dill
- 7 Tbs
- 2 Tbs sea salt
- 2 c. filtered water plus more to fill jar
- (optional) Clean plastic lid that fits inside the jar
- For at least 3 hours but no more than 8, soak the cucumbers in ice cold water. Really. Add lots of ice. Keep adding it. I even put mine in ice water in a pot in the fridge. This helps them to get and stay crisp, especially if your cukes aren't directly from the garden that day.
- If you're going to slice or cut your cukes into spears, just put them back into the ice water until you're ready to get them all into the jar.
- Put garlic, mustard seeds, peppercorns, dill and oak leaves at the bottom of your half-gallon glass jar. (Note: I would put the sprigs of dill and half the garlic at the top after the cukes next time.)
- Pack the cucumbers in the jar. If you get them adjusted so they hold each other in and prevent floating, you'll have fewer problems with mold on top.
- Mix 2 cups filtered water with the whey and sea salt until dissolves. Pour over cucumbers. Add more filtered water to fill the jar without about an inch from the top.
- If you have a plastic lid that fits inside your jar, place it on top of the cucumbers and weigh it down (with water or something clean and heavy - Katz recommends a boiled rock). Its job is to keep the cucumbers submersed in the water.
- Put the lid on tightly and leave in a warm place (anywhere in your kitchen in the summer should do) for 2-3 days. You can taste the pickles whenever you want. Moving them won't hurt the fermentation, but you'll want to arrange them so they're submersed again.
- When you're happy with the flavor, store the finished pickles in the refrigerator. You can take the plastic lid out at this point. I like them, although they're still not as tasty as the store pickles I'm used to. I tell myself they're so healthy, and that helps. My husband doesn't like cucumbers (but does like conventional pickles), and he says they still taste too much like cucumbers, if that helps anyone.
How to Make Successful Crunchy Pickles: Two KEY Steps
Oak Leaves (or grape or horseradish leaves): I was a little weirded out by putting oak leaves in my food, but I kept telling myself that all our food comes from outside, and I’m not actually eating the oak leaves. I used leaves from the ground that were still green in my first batch. Mush. Pick them right off the tree the day you make the pickles, even if your neighbors might think you odd for standing on a chair picking oak leaves at 9:00 at night. Trust me. Then wash them well and move on.
An Ice Water Bath: The ICE cold water also makes a difference. I had a little space left in my jar and no cucumbers left, so I grabbed a few from the fridge that I had saved for eating and added them to the lacto-fermented batch. I cut them differently, because I love a good experiment. Results? They are definitely less crunchy than their ice-bathed counterparts. Do the ice bath. (You’ll know it’s cold enough when you reach in for the cucumbers, and your hands are so cold that you almost pee your pants.)
- 4 c. white vinegar
- 12 c. water
- ⅔ c. pickling salt (I used sea salt)
- 2 cloves garlic PER QUART, sliced or crushed to let the fla-vah out
- 1 sprig dill weed PER QUART
- 1 head of dill PER QUART
- 1-2 fresh oak leaves PER QUART
- Soak cucumbers in ICE water at least 3 hours but not more than 8. (See above for details.) You can leave them whole or slice or spear them.
- Sterilize jars and lids in boiling water 10 minutes. (I used the water in my big canning pot so I could just use the same water again to seal the jars.)
- Mix vinegar, water and salt. Bring to a rolling boil.
- Make sure your water in the canning pot is boiling away and ready.
- In each jar, put oak leaves, 1 clove garlic and the head of dill at the bottom.
- Fill with cucumbers (don’t go above the bottom of the thread line on the jar).
- Place the other clove of garlic and sprig of dill on top.
- Fill with boiling brine to 1 inch from the top (approximately the bottom of the threads on the jar).
- Wipe rim clean of liquid with a clean dishcloth.
- Seal with lid and rim.
- Carefully lower canning rack into boiling water. Make sure it covers at least 1 inch over the tops of the jars.
- Process in boiling water 15 minutes.
- Remove jars and allow to sit on the counter overnight.
- If any jars have not sealed, move to the fridge.
- Wait 8 weeks before eating for the flavors to fully enter the pickles. (But they’re really good before that time, too, if you just can’t wait to try them!)
What I Learned About Canning
- Canning is stressful. You worry about not getting everything right, not keeping things hot enough, not moving fast enough, and a little about poisoning your family. (Be sure to read up on safe canning if you try it for the first time!)
- Getting out all the supplies before messing with the hot stuff is the key to success.
- The ice bath and the oak leaves are vital for pickles.
- It’s pretty frugal: I figure I would have spent at least $16 to buy this stuff in the store, and I spent $5 MAXimum plus the energy costs and my time.
- The little “POP!” as the jars seal is the most gratifying sound in the world after you’ve worked so hard (see no. 1) to make the pickles.
Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that this was my first time canning, more or less. I don’t know what I’m doing. Canning is a little scary because of the risk of bacteria and death. If I were you, I would use the food part of my recipe and go somewhere like Canning Jars, Etc for the method!
Disclosure: The Amazon link will give me a small kickback, but I would just get the book from the library if I were you! In fact, I did. 🙂
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