Thursday, August 7, 2014

What to do with all those cucumbers!

It's the second half of summer, racing quickly into the fall season. That means harvest time around here.

We still haven't seen too many tomatoes, but they're out there, green as can be, just waiting to turn red. And I'm sitting here, anticipating that heavy tomato haul.

These past few weeks have been filled with giant zucchini, ample yellow squash, eggplant, and my favorite, pickling cucumbersFour plants have provided plenty of pickles so far. I've shared with neighbors and friends, and I still have more. Today, I did a second round of dill pickles. I used dill from the garden, garlic from the garden, and of course, the cukes from the garden! 

There are a lot of ways to do pickles, some don't even require a canner from what I understand. I've been doing it this way for years, so I'm comfortable with it. But you can do other ways too!

Here's how I roll:

Step 1: Sterlize your jars. I do this first and foremost, since it takes the longest time. I also generally use widemouth pints for pickles, but if you have exceptionally large cucumbers, use quarts and adjust your recipe. I've done it. It's not too hard. 

I didn't want to bust out my official canner, so I settled with this large pot. It's hot out, don't judge me. 4 jars at a time is nice though. Gives you time to prepare things, especially if you have a tiny workspace like I have. 

Step 2: While you're sterilizing your jars, prepare your ingredients! Slice your cucumbers, chop or pluck your dill, mince or slice the garlic.

I have no idea how much these weigh, how many there are, nothing. I wing it. You can too, if you're fearless (read: impatient like I am).

Step 3: After, like, 10 minutes in the rolling-boil pot of water, your jars should be ready. Pull those things out, and prepare to fill 'em.

Step 4: Now you get to throw ingredients into the jar. I put about a medium-sized clove or garlic into each pint, and maybe a tablespoon or so of fresh dill in there. It's all about what you want to taste. My husband likes a little red pepper flake in there as well to give it a kick, but I like straight dill and garlic.

My dill is a little ripe. It's just starting to die out, so there are some burny-looking tips in there. I actually kinda ran out of some too, so I had to use dried dill weed. Use a little less of the dried stuff if you have no fresh dill on hand for this. 

Step 5: Get your vinegar solution moving! You're going to use this to pickle those cucumbers. For this amount of pickles, I used the following:
  • 6 cups of water
  • 6 cups of white vinegar 
  • 1/2 cup of pickling salt
  • 1/2 white sugar

I don't know about sugar substitutes, so please don't ask. I've read that using honey is dangerous when canning and preserving, but I don't know about anything else. 

You can pick up the pickling salt at your local gargantuan box store, or just order some online. It lasts forever. You can substitute salts, but please, please, please look into it before doing it. Here's a good resource, and also here. Google it, be sure of what you're doing. There's so much information out there, you don't have an excuse! :)

So get that stuff in a pot, and rolling to a boil. You want it hot when you pack the pickles.

Step 6: Start packing your jars. 

Your aim is to leave half an inch of head space, which I actually haven't really... done very well. It's worked for me, but heaven knows for how long I will get away with it.

Step 7: Pour the vinegar solution into your jars, leaving that 1/2 inch head space, and seal 'em up with your lids and bands..

Put them into the canner and let them go for a good 10 minutes at a rolling boil. If you put 'em in and the water isn't at a rolling boil, give it a few minutes until it gets going again to start your timer.

Step 8: Once your 10 minutes is up, you can pull them out and let them set quietly on a counter or shelf. You want them to cool down and seal, so I try and treat them like a child having a tantrum*: quietly ignore it while it settles down by itself and gets right.

Step 9 (and arguably the most important step for successful pickles!): Once these have thrown their tantrum and are right as rain again, put them in the fridge to properly cool off and crisp up. More timeout for about a week in the cold, dark fridge.

Step 10: After a week is up, pop those bad boys out and have a go at them. They're delicious, tasty, and crisp! 

SHARE THEM with people you love and appreciate. Give them to your friends, your neighbors, your family, and co-workers. 

*I don't actually have any children, so take this metaphor with a grain of salt!

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