Pickling adds to the very atmosphere of summertime. There must be early morning forays into the dew-wet garden to gather fresh vegetables; the kitchen must exude sharp gusts of vinegar and pickling spices; there must be dark earthenware jars standing on counter tops, shrouded in white muslin and sparking clean canning jars turned upside down in readiness by the kitchen sink; and by September's end, there must be at least several rows of home-pickled vegetables on the open kitchen shelves.
I cannot let summer go by without canning my family's favorite pickles.
My mother was an inspired and indefatigable pickler. Anything might end up in a pickle: watermelon rind, zucchini, green tomatoes, quinces, green beans, okra, clingstone peaches, bell peppers, pumpkin, tiny ears of immature corn, green walnuts, and, of course, cucumbers. At the end of the summer's pickling, there were sweet pickles, sour pickles, dill pickles and candied pickles. There were three-day, nine-day and 14-day pickles. There was no end to the pickling.
Such tangy delicacies are not available in supermarkets, although unusual pickles show up for sale at bazaars and harvest festivals. The only way to have certain pickled specialties is to make them yourself.
For most purposes, pickles are divided into four general classes according to the ingredients and the methods of preparing them. They are: brined or fermented pickles, fresh-pack pickles, relishes and fruit pickles. The recipes here are for the last three types.
The salt used for pickling should be pure salt with no additives, that is, no iodized salt, sodium-reduced salt or salt with anti-moisture ingredients added. Do not use rock salt because it is not food quality.
Vinegar used for pickling may be either cider or distilled vinegar with 4 percent to 6 percent acidity. The strength of commercial vinegar should be marked on the labels; 5 percent acid strength is common.
Cider vinegar is made from apple cider and is the general-purpose pickling vinegar. Its mellow flavor blends well with the ingredients used in pickle-making. Distilled vinegar is made from diluted alcohol and is either white or cider-flavored. The white distilled vinegar has no color and only its own characteristic sharp, acetic flavor. Use with fruits and light-colored vegetables that would be less attractive if combined with amber-colored cider vinegar.
Making pickles is not difficult. The recipes offered here are simple and do not require brining, fermenting or processing in a pressure canner, procedures that might intimidate the inexperienced. Once you have set aside a block of time and assemble the equipment needed for canning pickles (boiling-water bath, canning jars, tongs and lids), the preparation of the pickles is not much more complicated than preparing a vegetable recipe requiring several ingredients.
If you want to prepare the pickles and skip the canning procedure, you must refrigerate the prepared pickles and use them within a reasonable time, as you would an open jar of store-bought pickles.
To sterilize jars and glasses for pickling, wash the jars in hot suds and rinse them in scalding water. Put the jars in a kettle and cover them with hot water. Bring the water to a boil; cover and boil the jars for 15 minutes from the time the steam emerges from the kettle. Turn off the heat and let the jars stand in the hot water. Just before they are to be used, invert the jars onto a clean towel to dry. They should be filled while they are still hot. Sterilize the jar lids for 5 minutes in a pan of boiling water or according to the manufacturer's directions.
For boiling-water processing:
1: Place the rack in the water-bath canner and pour 4 to 5 inches of warm water into the canner. Place the canner on the stove and adjust the heat to keep water hot if using the raw-pack method, boiling or near boiling if using the hot-packed method.
2: Pack the jars one at a time with the prepared pickles, using a canning funnel. Cover the packed pickles with the accompanying hot or near-boiling pickling solution, leaving designated head space.
3: Remove canning funnel. Insert nonmetal spatula to release any trapped air bubbles between jar and pickles. Clean rims and tops of jars to remove any particles of spilled food.
4: Close jars, following manufacturer's direction for the caps and lids you are using. Place jars on the rack in the shallow hot water in the water-bath canner.
5: When all jars are packed, closed and placed inside the water-bath canner, pour enough hot or near-boiling water to bring the level of the water in the canner to a depth of 1 to 2 inches above the tops of the jars. Cover the canner.
6: Turn the heat to high. Begin counting processing time when the water in the canner comes to a full boil. Maintain a hard boil all during the processing.