Inundated with cucumbers this summer, the cukes in my refrigerator reached critical mass and I had to do something about it, or we would be over run with them. I had at least 100 of them stuffed into every space in my refrigerator and I had already made cucumber salad, cucumber water, and everything else that you could throw a cucumber in just to use one more in an edible way.
I was planning on cucumber facials and cucumber gazpacho when I broke down and got together with some friends and made bread and butter pickles. Our neighborhood doesn’t do anything by halves and we ended up making a little more than 6 batches of pickles for a grand total of 46 pints!
To accomplish this feat, it takes team work, precision, and lots of sugar, vinegar, and spices. The cucumbers were free, so our only expense were these items. And of course jars!
The mammoth task of slicing the cukes was accomplished with a steel mandolin that was brought to our pickle session by a professional cook. This saved an enormous amount of time! And it sliced the cukes very precisely and evenly.
The onions were another matter. Lots of tears were shed slicing these babies by hand, but we changed places to minimize this side effect. But by the time we had sliced up 12 pounds of onions, everyone’s eyes were watering as the fumes filled the kitchen area.
The spices were measured into individual bowls so they would be ready to throw into the simmering vinegar and sugar mixture.
Working in assembly line fashion, we sliced, mixed, and cooked and got it done in a couple of hours.
The process of making pickles is pretty simple (From the Ball Blue Book of Preserving)
Slice up your cukes (4 lbs) and onions (2 lbs), layer with salt, cover with ice and let stand for 1 1/2 hour.
Mix up your brine which is 3 c of vinegar and 2 c of sugar with your spices(recipe follows) in a large stove top pot
Cucumbers are spilling out of my vegetable drawer and my harvest basket. I am picking at least 8 to 10 a day, sometimes more! I can’t give them away fast enough! So, I am going to make Bread and Butter pickles and Hamburger Dill pickles which I love and are so much better than store-bought. There is nothing like home-made pickles! Jars of pickles make great gifts and it just so happens I am going to a house-warming party this weekend, so I will make sure I make enough.
For small batches, I use the book, Food in Jars, and for larger batches I use the Blue Ball book of preserving. The Food In Jars book will give you interesting recipes for small batches, such as a single jar of Dill pickles that you keep out on your counter (covered with cheesecloth) that will ferment and turn sour over a couple of weeks. No water bath is needed, you can keep it in the frig for up to a year though. The Ball Home Preserving book gives you detailed instructions on equipment used for canning, both pressure and hot water and lots of recipes where you will make multiple quarts and pints ready to store in your pantry. Yo should own this if you are doing serious canning.
Cucumbers are so easy to grow that you could have a brown thumb and they would be no problem. Just pop some seeds in loamy soil in sun or partial sun and wait for the results. Everything in the literature about growing cucumbers say full, full sun but I have been successful in part day sun. I have a large veggie garden but have a small corner with sprawling cucumber vines that is in part day sun and the cucumbers are loving it. I planted 2 varieties, a Burpee Bush and a slender one, thinking that they would produce enough for pickles and have enough for fresh slicing. And they are going gangbusters. When I select the seed to plant in the winter, I just make sure that the variety is resistant to mosaics and rust diseeases which can kill cucumbers before they get going. I never water or coddle them as they are the most forgiving of vegetables to grow. Cucumbers will produce a crop for several weeks running and then the cucumber beetles get to them and they are finished. That is ok with me as I am sick of them by that time.
Right after 4th of July, I begin to pick them, just a few – then a deluge builds up to a peak of picking. My pickle making is done at the peak which is right now! I pick them at least once a day, sometimes twice as they can get ahead of you quickly. I make sure they are young and slender and still prickly. Once the cucumbers get too large, the flesh gets seedy and pithy – not good eating.
Pickles are relatively easy to make but can be intimidating if you have never made them before. I have been making them for years, way before canning got trendy. Now with farmer’s markets and sustainability being trendy, people are learning about canning all over again. Canning is something that your grandmother used to do with all those veggies coming from the garden all at once before freezers were around to keep food. I am seeing lots of new cookbooks out about preserving foods and even canning classes at adult education.
Some people use the cold method of making pickles because you don’t need a canner and you keep them in the refrigerator. This is convenient for small batches. I prefer the hot water bath canning because I make a lot and keep them in my pantry for at least a year and use the jars up one by one. I don’t want them in my refrigerator taking up room.
Canner – You need a boiling water canner with a wire rack that lowers the jars into the boiling water. This is available on-line or any good hardware or housewares store.
Canning Salt – I picked this up at Wal Mart. Salt is used to create a brine for the pickles to start the process of pickling. Most salts have an additive, an anti-caking substance, which could cloud your pickling brine. The pickling salt does not have this additive.
Pickling Spices – This is a mixture of various whole spices, like peppercorns, mustard seed, broken up bay leaves, sometimes cinnamon and hot peppers. You can make up your own or buy it already prepared. To make your own, just combine together 10 broken up bay leaves, 2 T of black peppercorns, mustard seed, celery seed, dill seed, and coriander seed. I like to use fresh green heads of dill for my dill pickles and they happen to be ripening just about the time that the cucumbers are starting to come in.
Canning Jars and Lids – The jars come in quarts and pints and I prefer the wide mouth variety as it is easier to fill with your veggies. The lids and the bands are in 2 pieces. You can reuse the band part that tightens the lid but the lid has a sealing compound that closes the jar and can not reused.
Canning Funnel – This is nice to have but not essential. The funnel will help the hot cucumber slices of bread and butter pickles to be packed in the jars without mess.
Jar Lifter – Another nice item to have but not essential. It really helps to have this to lift out the jars from the canner with a secure grip.
Labels – I always label my jars so I know what month and year I made them. I want to use the oldest jars first.
Scale- Use a small kitchen scale to weigh your cucumbers so you can accurately measure the proper amount of ingredients to fill your jars.
Thoroughly wash the cucumbers, removing any prickles remaining on the outside. Wash the jars and lids on the hot cycle of the dishwasher and keep the jars in the dishwasher until you are ready to use them so they don’t get dirty.
Fill the Canner
Fill the canner about 2/3 of the way full of water and set it on the stove to heat up about a half hour before you are ready to put the jars in. Fill the canner with more water if you are canning quarts rather than pints. The water must be at least one inch over the tops of the jars.
Prepare the Cucumbers
Slice the blossom ends of your cucumbers off as there is an enzyme there that could prevent the cucumbers from becoming crispy. For dill pickles, I slice the cucumbers 1/4 inch thick lengthwise, and for the Bread Butter slice them 1/4 inch thick crosswise.
When you fill your jars, it is important to not overfill them. Leave 1/4 inch of room or head space at the top of the jar. Also, run a small rubber spatula around the inside of the jar after filling to release any trapped air bubbles.
Bread and Butter Pickles
This is my favorite pickle recipe that I have successfully used for years with some minor adjustments to the pickle spices.
4 Lbs 4 to 6 inch cucumbers, sliced 1/4 inch thick crosswise
2 Lbs onions, sliced thinly
1/3 C canning salt
2 T mustard seed
2 Tsp turmeric
2 Tsp celery seed
1 Tsp ginger
1 Tsp peppercorns
3 C vinegar
Combine cucumber and onion slices in a large bowl, layering with the cannng salt. Cover with ice cubes and let stand 1 1/2 hour. Rinse; drain; rinse and drain again to get all salt off. Combine remaining ingredients in a large sauce pot and bring to a boil. Add drained cucumbers and onions and return to a boil. Pack hot pickles and liquid into hot jars; leaving 1/4 inch head space. Remove air bubbles and adjust the two piece caps. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.
Yield : 7 pints
Since we love grilling hamburgers, this pickle is perfect to slap on a hamburger sandwich or a cuban.
4 Lbs 4 to 6 inch cucumbers
6 T canning salt
5 C water
4 1/2 C vinegar
8 heads fresh dill (green)
16 cloves of peeled garlic
4 Tsp mixed pickling spice
Wash cucumbers and drain. Cut cucumbers into lengthwise slices; discarding blossom ends. Combine salt, water, and vinegar in a large sauce pot; bring to a boil. Pack cucumbers and garlic cloves into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Add 2 heads of dill and 1 tsp of pickling spice to each jar. Ladle hot liquid into jars over the cucumbers, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Remove air bubbles. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 15 minutes in a boiling water canner.