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Preserving foods has been practiced by cooks worldwide from the beginning of time. Whether storing food in clay jars, burying it, freezing or canning, the ability to save food has been essential to survival. As a part of my Mormon heritage (not something I choose to believe in, but can’t deny), we were taught the art of canning as every woman in our family was expected to maintain a full pantry at all times, preferably with food grown on their own property or bought or bartered for locally.
Any home cook or gardener can learn to make a large variety of preserves, with a little time, effort and preparation. The key is to grow and/or buy fruits or vegetables you and your family love and anything that could be useful in times when you can not access your garden. The garden this article is based on is maintained by myself and my family in the Salt Lake valley, at about 4,500 feet above sea level. Fruits and vegetables which tend to do well at our elevation and climate (5-B USDA Hardiness Zone) and take well to the pickling process include tomatoes, peaches, beans, cucumbers and beets.
We chose to grow cucumbers specifically for pickles (click this link for “Crazy for Cucumbers,” an article about our plants and the growing process). This article will detail how to cold preserve (or can) garlic-dill pickles. I prefer the cold preserve method as I am not the most graceful of cooks and the less scalding water I deal with, the better. This method allows the cucumbers to be added to the jar prior to the brine and can be emptied out and re-packed, if necessary, without danger of burns. The prepared cook always gathers all necessary items and prepares them.
For this recipe, those are:
-6 medium bell jars which we were fortunate enough to obtain when I scored 18 cases of vintage jars, in various sizes, simply by placing an ad on the local station, KSL, which is renowned in the world of the local Mormons and they do tend to keep a lot of useful items one can usually score for little or even free.
-1 box of lids and rings. Always remember to sterilize both rings and lids, along with the jar in boiling water for 15 minutes. Move the jars gently around the pot with tongs, ensuring equal coverage and remove carefully, placing each on a cloth to cool. BE EXTREMELY CAREFUL and really watch any children of any age as my 26 year old almost grabbed a hot one.
Tongs are absolutely necessary. Never attempt to lift a hot jar with a bare hand or an oven mitt or towel, ever. I use 2 sizes for different tasks and love that the smaller one belonged to my grandmother, who taught me how to can.
You will, of course, also need freshly picked cucumbers, from your garden or local farmers market. I made sure to test each one for bitterness, thoroughly enjoying the taste of summer.
Quality ingredients always make a difference, and we were able to obtain some fresh dill from Living Herbs, which provided an actual, living plant with roots. I utilized one entire package for this recipe and will try to re-grow from the remaining roots. I did attempt to grow dill in our garden, but it was not so successful. I also included dill seeds to assist in the real “dilliness” of these pickles.
Garlic is also a key ingredient and takes a little time to peel, but is well worth it. Tiny pearl onions could also be added, however I did not for this example.
Pickling salt is also necessary and I was able to pick up this large package along with most of the other cannabis supplies at a local Reams grocery store, never mind the smell, the have the best prices on local, Utah produce and canning goodies.
I gathered about 20 mature (just to medium size, not too large) cucumbers which were washed and trimmed into spheres.
I then started packing the cucumbers, added a lot of dill, torn into pieces, the dill seed and at least two whole cloves of peeled garlic.
The next step is the creation of the pickling liquid. I used 2 cups of plain, white vinegar, 3 cups of water and ⅓ cup of pickling salt. A pinch of sugar or a few red pepper flakes can also be added for additional taste. This mixture was brought to a boil, while whisking, then simmered until added to the jars.
When the jars are packed, add the brine carefully, using the funnel, to about ¼ inch from the job of the jar. Wipe the top of the jar with a clean towel, press the lid firmly and screw on the band tightly.
The jars will next require a “processing time” which involved, in this case, a hot water bath. I do not have an actual “canning” kit, so I made use of an old, large stock pot with lid (the same one used to sterilize the bottles, which is probably 60 years old, one of my grandmother’s favorites). I placed the bottles in the pot, covering them almost to the top with water, allowing enough room for expansion as the water heated to a boil. I next let the jars boil heavily for 15 minutes and removed the pot from the heat.
The jars were then placed on a towel, after being carefully lifted with tongs, and left to cool. The sound of the lid popping (which caused my daughter a great deal of concern) is the sound you want – it means your hard work has paid off and you are finished! Your preserves are sealed and should be left in your pantry at least 6-8 weeks to ensure a strong pickle flavor. Any lids that don’t pop within an hour may indicate the seal did not complete, but no worries, the bottles can be refrigerated for at least a couple of months.
Autumn is there and I look forward to canning some more of my harvest, focusing on low-sugar options.
Keep gardening, canning and preserving your way to happiness!
For previous articles in the “Gradi’s Organic Garden” series, click here.
Photo Credit: Gradi Jordan