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(link no longer available), 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!Print
Crisp Lacto-Fermented Garlic Pickles
For a 1/2 gallon jar
- 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 (Use the code kitchenstewardship for 15% off of your first purchase)
- 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.
- Need a little help getting healthy food on the table every day? Real Plans takes the stress out of meal planning and puts the nourishing food BACK on your table. There’s a plan for every diet type, including GAPS, Paleo, AIP, Whole30, vegetarian and more! You remain totally in control: use your own recipes, accept theirs, and teach the system what your family likes…Check out how powerful it is here!
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.)Print
Canned Garlic Dill Pickles
Makes 8 quarts
- 4 c. white vinegar
- 12 c. water
- 2/3 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. 🙂
Other Experimentation Posts:
- Can You Saute with EVOO?
- Natural Dishwasher Detergent Experiments
- I’m a Garlic Virgin
- Katie’s Simple Cabbage Soup with Secret Super Food
64 thoughts on “Finally…Crunchy Pickles! (Lacto-Fermented and Canned)”
About how many pounds of pickles for the canned recipe?
I so rarely buy by the pound, especially fresh at the Farmer’s market – I’m pretty sure if you bought 2 pounds, you’d have enough for a half gallon jar.
I was excited to try this recipe as I do can and get really frustrated by all the mainstream canning recipes that call for additives etc. I tried it and loved it! I love that it’s not such a high concentration of vinegar. I made 20 quarts with the recipe. After having done that I was reading some info on creating your own canning recipes. I read that for pickling you need at least a 1:1 ratio of vinegar to water. I just don’t know what to think now! There’s so much information and mis-information about canning out there! I don’t know where I fall….because I don’t want to give my family botulism and yet it seems like the same government people that say raw milk is going to kill you (which is ridiculous) are the ones saying NO dairy in canning, you HAVE to add lemon juice to tomatoes, etc…I did try to run this recipe by my state extension office (which I haven’t yet been able to determine if I care about their opinion or not) and she told me they cannot recommend any recipe that has not been tested by the USDA. Anyway…all that being said, I love the recipe but I am a bit concerned about the low vinegar ratio. Yet I don’t want to throw 20 quarts away! Any thoughts? The friend you got it from…is that her tried and true recipe that she’s used for years and it’s never spoiled? Any info would help. Thanks! 🙂
Yikes! Sorry this scared you so much, Rachel – this was definitely the tried-and-true recipe from my friend. I didn’t realize the vinegar ratio wasn’t USDA recommended! The pickles and peppers were both yummy when I made them….
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I found this site looking up how to make fermented pickles. Although I love the tips, I was extremely upset by your comment about “mommy brain disability”. I understand being a mother takes a lot of energy, but please do not compare it to an actual disability. You are not the first mother that I have heard this from recently. As a person with a disability, I can tell you that having children is a choice, being saddled with a permanent disability for reasons outside your control is not, and this is extremely insulting.
Thank you so much for commenting – I often say “mommy brain” which is definitely true starting with pregnancy, but I rarely use the term “disability” with it. Surprised I did in this post – and I edited it out, because you’re right. Thanks again for bringing it to my attention – and I hope your pickles turn out great too! 🙂 Katie
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HI Iwould like to add my 2 cents to this interesting site.I understand way back when they used alum to keep pics crispy and the flesh doesnt get mushy.Thanks for listening nelson
Oh Wow. Katie, so glad you posted this LF recipe. I’m a card carrying WAPF and GNOWFGLINS member. do I’m all about LF foods. I tried the NT recipe a few years ago and it was mushy mushy mushy. So I caved and went to canning. the lricess is tedious and messy and the finished profit tastes like store pickles anyway.
This is the best pickle recipe. I’ve done it over and over now, even reusing the brine for new batches. If it tasted a little weak, I just added a little more salt or whey or spices.
We can’t get enough of these and we fight over them at home! Thank you thank you.
mmm! i hope they turn out well!
Going to do that right now too! That is what nap time is for, eh?
Great resource and recipe for Lacto pickles! This is my second batch and I added a sliced habanero for heat.
I did modify your recipe by replacing the oak leaves as a tannin source with oak chips! It worked great in that my pickles are crunchy an it adds a wonderful oak flavor to the pickles. What I did was heat 1 cup of water in the microwave then put in 2 tablespoons of oak chips. I let them steep for a few minutes. I got my chips from homebrewing beer, but I can’t see why oak chips for BBQ’ing wouldn’t work. Although, homebrew stores will have a great selection of oak chips, such as medium toast French oak chips. Next I may try mesquite chips to see how they taste.
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Thank you for this!! First batch of pickles I made, with the recipe from Nourishing Traditions, were delicious and crunchy, but too salty for my liking, so I went my own way and added less salt for the second batch. The result was no-crunch pickles! Waaah. I’m so excited to try your lacto-fermented recipe and hear that crunch again!!
…wonder if I can pluck oak leaves and freeze them until I make another batch? Minnesota winters come swiftly, afraid I’ll wake up one morning to find bare branched trees!
I read that if you add one or 2 grape leaves to your brine, the pickles will be crunchier. I am going to try this and add some grape leaves. I will let you know how they come out!
Should the finished pickle product look a tad cloudy?
Yes, from what I remember… Katie
I put together a jar of lactofermented cukes last night using your recipe. I’ve tried the NT recipe before, but my husband was not a fan of the flavor (I thought they were okay, but not great). I’m hopeful these will be better because of the garlic!
By the way, I think the recipe above has the wropng amount of cukes listed. It says only 4 for a half gallon jar, but I’m thinking it should say 8 or so.
Thanks for the recipe!!
was the point in trying 2 different recipes (lacto-fermented / canned), to see what you like best or is there another reason? how long does the fermented kind keep?
That was absolutely one of the reasons, and the other is related to your second question: the fermented kind keeps quite a while (I think), like months, BUT they have to be refrigerated. I just don’t have that kind of fridge space, so I did canned as well. They’re tasty even if they don’t have health benefits! 🙂 Katie
I saw a process for making sauerkraut & is said something about testing for a pop when it is opened or fizzy. Do I need to use a metal lid, or would a plastic one work just as well?
Funny thing, my grandmother used to make sauerkraut and chow-chow. I didn’t like them, but my tastes have changed since I was a child so I hope I will like sauerkraut now. My bother loved the chow-chow. I will have to ask my dad what was in the chow-chow, I don’t remember it very well since I didn’t eat it.
Got this in email from someone subscribed to the thread:
“Do follow all approved home canning practices for canning and food preservation. You should be able to find some great recipies for both in the Ball Blue Book. I highly recommend cabbage for sauerkraut that has been exposed to frost. It changes the structure of the plant cells and makes for better fermentation.
There are many different recipies for ChowChow and you can add whatever you like, as long as your acid levels are kept safe. The Ball Blue Book has several recipes. I hope you find what your Brother likes.
No I would do anything differently, just put them in the fridge. They take a few weeks to get ready and you don’t have to chill or salt the pickles pre-packing for fridge use. They will be incredibly crispy and you won’t really need the oak leaf. Fridge pickles were the only way I could get crispy pickles before I found the oak leaf method. But when you put them in the fridge, they will last for at least a year. We have some bread and butter’s in there that have been there for almost 2 and they’re just getting to the point where they are soggy. Honestly, they’re probably still edible. Good luck with pickle making!
Thanks so much for the info! Can’t wait till pickle season!
I, too, would love the recipe from you, Gabrielle. I live in Louisiana and my mother in law got me hooked on Gundelsheim Garlic barrel pickles when she brought me some home from Germany. I now have to drive 3 hours to Texas to buy them. I would love to make pickles as close to them as possible. Thanks in advance.
Sure just go to my website and I have the recipe listed here: http://mrsyodersherbgarden.blogspot.com/2010/10/pickles-pickles-glorious-crunchy.html
They turned out very nice and crunchy I think! I still have several jars sitting around in the pantry. I also did some raw packs of these and they were good, but believe it or not the flavor was better for the cooked pickles. If you want garlic dills, I’d just add a few cloves of garlic to this recipe. I have two recipes there, actually, but you’ll figure out which one I mean. Good luck and let me know how they turned out for you!
Thanks so much, Gabrielle! They both look great. So, when you do the second recipe raw pack, do you do anything differently? Or just skip the processing and put them in the fridge? How long will they last that way?
Gabrielle, would you be willing to share the recipe you use when you do your pickles raw pack?
I’m a fairly experienced canner. I’ve canned my own jams, jellies, and preserves since I was 10 and a few years ago I branched into canning tomatoes and peaches. (I don’t use a pressure canner, btw, because it can be just as bad as microwaving your food, so I only can high-acid foods and everything else is either frozen or dried.)
Last year, I tried my hand at canning my famous bread and butter pickles and I was horribly disappointed, like you were, by the mushiness.
This year was different! I almost always just make my pickles raw pack and put in the fridge where they last for at least a year or two. I really wanted more fridge space this year so I tried my hand at canned dills this time. Last year my dills tasted terrible in addition to being mushy, so a total loss. I’m so happy I came across your blog and tried again! I followed your advice per the oak leaves and cold cukes and everything worked perfectly! I now have a couple of gallons of perfect pickles in my pantry. I made them German-style and happily they turned out to be very similar to my favorite Gundelsheim barrel pickles! If you’d like a new recipe or two to try, let me know! I have tons of recipes for pickles and canned items, as well as re-making items to be healthy. Maybe I’ll start posting them on my blog! Who knows?
Thanks again, so much, for inspiring me to can pickles again!
Awesome, thanks for sharing! I totally missed cuke season this year as everything was 2 weeks early around here and I was on vacation in prime time. So it’s store bought for me with high hopes for next year! 😉 katie
You might read about nuka zuke, Japanese Rice Bran pickles. The rice bran bed takes a couple weeks to “mature”, but once you’ve got it, you can produce an endless stream of pickles with almost no effort. Simply bury veggies in the bran ferment. Leave them for a few days, then dig up, rinse and serve. I bury my leftover half carrots, broccoli stems, etc, and they come out wonderful!
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Did you ever try eating one of the garlic cloves from the lacto fermented pickles? DS is coming down with something, and I’m thinking about it!
I didn’t do it straight, I don’t think, but I DID use them in recipes. Good luck! 🙂 Katie
I was wondering, did you use coarse-ground sea salt or fine-ground? I tried the recipe in Nourishing Traditions and found them quite salty. (The same was true for the other lacto-fermentation recipes I tried from there.) Wondering if it was because I used fine-ground salt.
I don’t have coarse ground, so it couldn’t have been that! I probably used my standard health food store brand, pretty basic. Katie
congrats on being featured on Tip Junkie. I too enjoy canning and wanted to invite you to stop by my “Canning Week Blog Party” that I’m hosting on my site this week. We are daily posting tips and recipes in hopes of encouraging and educating others about canning. Hope you can stop by and join the fun!
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I need to come back here later and do this. I just got handed MORE cucumbers :). I have a bunch of sweet pickle relish canned but wanted some garlic dill pickles, too. My attempts at lacto-fermenting thus far (with cucumbers, anyway) have NOT gone well and I just don’t have the space in my fridge so I think this year I will stick to canning. Oh well.
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Kate – Make sure they’re as fresh as fresh can be when you can them (another tip for crunchiness) or at least store in the fridge until you get to them as a last resort. 🙂 I’m just hoping I find time to can at all this year!
Got some cukes on sale and finally had enough to keep ahead of my cucumber-devouring kids to try your pickles! I haven’t finished yet, but wanted to add one more suggestion from Alton Brown for crunchiness: cut off the ends. He says some chemical in the stem makes that end go mushy, and I’ve definitely noticed that with raw cucumbers, so it makes sense to me. I’ll let you know how it works!
Thanks for doing all the pickle experiments. I didn’t have a single cucumber pickle last year because I didn’t live near a farmers market and the grocery store never had pickling cucumbers available. I will be making pickles this year whether from my plants or the huge farmers market near my new home.
I had read about the oak leaves, grape leaves, etc. to keep pickles crispy but have yet to try it. This gives me confidence that my lacto-fermented cucumbers will be crispy. Do you suppose the same method will work for squash or zucchini? I love the flavor but hate the texture of those two ferments.
By the way, you could try using boiled glass marbles in a cheesecloth “bag” to hold the veggies below the brine level. It works much better than a rigid insert. 🙂
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Great suggestion on the weight. I haven’t a clue about other fermented vegs; this was my first try at any lacto-fermenting!
Plastic inside your pickling jar can leach bad chemicals into your pickles. Also, hot water bath canning is destroying the nutritional goodness of your wonderful lacto-fermented pickles. Check out Pickl-It for an easy and great tasting approach to making lacto-fermented vegetables. System includes a glass “dunk’r” for holding down vegetables during fermentation.
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Great post! I’m on week three of a fermented pickle experiment. The first 7-10 days the pickles were really firm, but they’ve softened up quite a bit now. They still taste good, but a little too soft. Someday I’d love to figure out how to keep them in a barrel for several months. But batch #2 coming up, and I’m glad to read the tips in your article- thanks!
When yu say softened do you mean you put them in the fridge or they are still sitting out and softened?
I just posted a follow up to my lacto fermented pickle tutorial which is a Pickle FAQ. One of the most common questions I get is how to keep pickles crisp. I never had a good answer, but now I have your post to point people to!! I’m definitely going to try the ice bath trick if my cucumber plants give me more cucumbers 🙂
Thanks so much!!
I’ve not done any lacto-fermented foods, I just don’t have the space. A friend of mine does and she said she noticed a difference if the leaves she picked were smaller and new, picked from underneath, the same day she canned them, just an hour before. I’ve tried grape leaves and cherry leaves, no oak, though.
Regarding the pollutants, some people don’t care. Some people find, depending on where they live (city, country, suburbs) that taste can differ. Also, if you fertilize trees or use pesticides / fertilizers on lawn, or around the trees, these can be carried into the leaves.
This was a really ambitious undertaking! Thanks for sharing your tips with us. The pickles look wonderful.
Thanks for sharing your tips. My mom only made bread and butter pickles (my fave) but DH only likes the kosher dills. I can’t wait to try the recipes. One note- one reason for using pickling salt vs. non-idodized salt (sea salt) is because pickling salt dissolves in cold water.
I have to comment here, the National Center for Food Preservation no longer endorses grape leaves or any other sort of leaves in pickles. While the tannins in leaves might act as a crisping agent, most are more concerned about the pollutants in the leaves.
I am also certified in food preservation and food safety. Your fermented pickles are not processed long enough to avoid Listeria bacteria and a host of other bugs. If you choose to do fridge or icicle pickles, please remain aware that you need to consume them within a month, since they are not water-bath canned at all.
Finally, if you want crisp pickles, get yourself a Ball Blue Book (the bible of canning) and choose a recipe. To said recipe, add 3/4 tsp of Calcium Chloride for a pint or 1 1/2 tsp for a quart. This is a readily available crisping agent that also allows you to omit salt from your recipe.
I hope you check out the National Center for Home Preserving site that that you want to can even more.
Wow, what a wealth of information! We probably will eat the lf pickles (in the fridge) in a month – no room for them to hang out there longer! There are health benefits to lf foods that aren’t found in canned foods, so I’ll probably still do both in the future.
If I washed the oak leaves in hot water, why would they have any more pollutants than my tomatoes growing 30 feet from the oak tree, or the lettuce I buy at the store for that matter?
Thank you so much for the comment and tips!
First time visitor via The Nourishing Gourmet. Hello!
Ice water bath — so that’s why pickles didn’t stay crunchy! I pretty much used the same method in your post, but mine did get very mushy after being in the frig.
Thanks for sharing the important tip!
wait, I must know. . . how does the flavor of the canned pickles (and crunch for that matter) compare to the lacto-fermented – for you, your husband, and compared to delicious store bought (I actually first skimmed from the first ‘review’ to find the missing second – before returning to read more thoroughly) At first I was disappointed (seeing the 8 week comment) but then saw you may not have been able to wait. . .
My second try at lacto-fermented pickles are fairly crunchy, but they don’t exactly make a sound like you’d need for a good pickle commercial though. The taste is a little on the sour side, so they don’t taste quite like the store pickles that I like (Polish or Kosher). Hubby thinks they’re too much like cucumbers.
The reason I tried pickles in the first place is because I had them (canned) at my friend’s, and they were SO tasty. Like, I asked for a second and had to restrain myself from stealing the jar and taking it home. 😉 This is her recipe, so I’m banking on my second batch tasting like hers, but I don’t have room in the fridge to taste them yet. The first batch had the taste but not the crunch…
Thanks for sharing your pickling experiences! I need to try my hand at pickling some cucks. 🙂
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I’m going to have to try the leaves thing some time. I made more-crisp lactofermented pickles the first time I tried them, I think it wasn’t so hot in my kitchen. In my most recent batch (yesterday) I left them out 2 days rather than 3, hope that helps.
We planted our first garden last year. It was also the first time I had tried my hand at canning. My mom always canned growing up – and she never poisoned us. 🙂 But, since she lives in another state, I didn’t have her with me to supervise. So, I was pretty nervous, like you. I got a book on canning and read it before I started. I called my Mom when I had a question on canning day. I experimented with my own salsa last year, and realized that I need to stick with the formulas in the book. Other than that, all was well. This year, I’m much more comfortable with it. I even canned my beans yesterday from memory.
Keep it up. Your nerves will calm down and your confidence will soar as you get more comfortable with it. The pay-off all winter is definitely worth the bit of work at the end of summer.
I can’t wait to try salsa – with grandma’s help! 🙂