Monday, January 18, 2010

What's Cooking? Yes, You Can Can

This was originally published in the September, 2009, edition of the Left Hand Valley Courier.

If you think pickling and canning died out with hoop skirts, think again. People are becoming more interested in knowing what’s in their food, and many are trying to avoid high fructose corn syrup, chemicals and preservatives. If you make your own pickles, you know what’s in the jar.

When I was a kid, bread and butter pickles were one of my favorites, and they still are. While most pickle recipes require pickling cucumbers, I’ve found that bread and butter pickles are acceptable using regular cukes. But since pickling cukes are being harvested now, you can make enough of these pickles now, to last you until next season.

These pickles, from Ball’s Complete Book of Home Preserving, are very close to the pickles my mother used to make. The recipe makes about five pint jars of pickles, but you can easily double it. Besides pickles, this book has instructions for preserving just about anything you can imagine.

Bread and Butter Pickles
Adapted from Ball’s "Complete Book of Home Preserving" edited by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine

For pickling instructions, why not go to the experts - the company that has been making canning jars and lids almost since caveman days? Well, maybe not that long. But long enough.

10 cups sliced and trimmed pickling cucumbers
4 medium onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup pickling or canning salt
3 cups white vinegar
2 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons mustard seeds
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1 teaspoon ground turmeric

In a nonreactive bowl, combine cukes, onions and salt. Mix well, cover with cold water, and let stand at room temp for two hours. Drain, rinse well with cool running water, and drain again.

Meanwhile, prepare your canner, jars and lids (check the instructions that came with your canner, or look online for basic instructions if you aren’t familiar with water-bath canning)

In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine vinegar, sugar, and spices. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Stir in the cukes and onions and return to a boil.

Pack the pickles into hot jars to within a generous half-inch of the top. Ladle the pickling liquid into the jars to cover the pickles, leaving a half-inch of space at the top. Remove air bubbles in the jars and add pickling liquid, if needed.

Wipe the rims, put the lids on top and screw the bands down, fingertip-tight.

Place jars in canner, ensuring that they’re completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 20 minutes here at high altitude, or 10 minutes if you happen to give the recipe to a friend at sea level.

Remove the lid from the canner, wait 5 minutes, then remove the jars and allow them to cool, undisturbed.

Notes: If all the pickles don’t fit into your five jars, just put the extra into a handy container and pop it into the fridge. They’ll be ready to eat as soon as they are cooled.

Substitutions: For flavor variations, you can substitute cider vinegar for some or all of the white vinegar, and/or brown sugar in place of the white. Other suggested variations include ginger or horseradish for some extra zing. They’re your pickles – make them the way you like them.
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