Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Canning...time and effort with big rewards!

With the veggies ripening in the garden on a daily basis, all the produce filling your counter tops can become a bit overwhelming.  One thing I really enjoy doing is "putting up" fruits and veggies for a future day.  Mostly it's just been butters (apple, peach and pear) and jams but this year I am expanding to other things as well.  Pickles have topped the list, with the cukes from the garden, and I hope to soon be putting up some tomatoes.  I would love to have enough to last until next summer and not have to buy canned tomatoes at the store.  The whole issue of what they line the cans with stresses me out.  Now I'll admit, canning can be a bit time consuming, especially making jams and jellies, but when you're popping open that jar of fresh peach jam next January and slathering it on a piece of homemade, organic bread, you'll be glad you spent the time to do a little canning.  I know my kids always are!  When we get to the last jar of jam, there's always a melancholy that settles over the kitchen as they divvy it up.  

Back to canning, I love the PickYourOwn.org website.  They have instructions for canning just about anything that can safely be canned.  For my pickles, I use a recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, modified to my taste.  Here's how I do my pickles.

First, you must start off with small, fresh from the garden, pickling cucumbers.  I tried making pickles with the big, yellow cukes my CSA was giving out last year and they were all pure mush.  Not an appetizing quality in a pickle.  This year, I opted not to join the CSA and am instead investing that money into growing my own food.  My pickles have been better for it!  Once you have your specified amount of pickles (this recipe makes about 3 or 4 pint-sized jars worth), wash them up really good.  Make sure and remove all the dirt and little prickles on your pickles.  :)  Next, stuff them in the jars.  Your jars should be nice and hot, sterilized.  I use the dishwasher sanitizer cycle.  In order to make the most of my space, I've been slicing the odd shaped cukes and stuffing the slices in around the whole cukes.  Into the jar, add about 5 peppercorns, a teaspoon (or so, to your taste) of minced garlic, and a sprinkle of dried dill weed or a stalk/branch (what's a piece of dill plant called?) or so of fresh dill.  I failed to mention that you should have already had your vinegar solution mixed and heating on the stove top.  Oops!  Anyways, heat 1 3/4 cup water with 3/4 cup vinegar (I use white, I've also seen recipes calling for apple cider vinegar) and 2 T of pickling salt.  Make sure and use pickling salt or your liquid will be cloudy (so I read, I haven't experienced this personally).  Now pour your heated vinegar over your cukes, fill to 1/4 inch from the top and process in the canner for 10 minutes (that means after the water returns to boiling for my fellow canning novices).  Take them out, let them sit overnight without touching them and then put them away for another day.  We tend to eat an entire jar at a time.  These are not Vlasic so don't expect any big crunching to be going on but I did recently discover Ball's Pickle Crisp (which is food-grade calcium chloride) and I have tried it in a few jars to see if improves the crispness factor.  I'll update when I find out.  Even without though, they are quite tasty and not mushy.  Please check out the website mentioned above for general instructions on canning, in case I forgot anything.

So here's to your future canning endeavors.  It's a bit time-consuming and requires some effort but knowing you're eating organic or local, home-grown (or at least home-processed) food is worth every minute!  Feel free to comment on your canning experiences, recipes or observations.

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