Sunday, August 17, 2014

Easy, homemade pickles

Homemade pickles
Sunday, August 17, 2014

Homemade pickles are soooooo easy!  Anything acidic does not require a pressure canner.  This includes anything pickled (vinegar is a healthy acid), made with sugar (also very acidic, but not necessarily healthy), or made with tomatoes.

I enjoy making pickles.  I slice up my extra cucumbers to just the length and width my husband likes them for his burgers and use my homemade pickling herbs and spices with organic apple cider vinegar.

The trick to pickles is to pick the cucumbers when they are young.  The larger they get, the more seeds they have.  Seeds are packed with nutrition, but don’t have the same crispness as cucumber flesh.  Either slicer or pickler cucumber plants make great pickles.  Picklers have been bred to be smaller and have smaller seeds, but both have the same fresh cucumber taste. 

Since all plants are in the business of keeping the species going, regular picking encourages the plant to produce more cucumbers.  I have noticed that my vines will only have one mature cucumber on each vine.  As soon as I pick the big pickle, another baby pickle starts growing like crazy.

Two cucumber plants (vine or bush) give me all the cucumbers I need for using in salads that I like and putting away as pickles as he likes.  To keep your cucumbers in peak production, harvest when the cukes are 6-7 inches in length.  I use scissors to cut the cuke from the vine.  If you are not going to use them immediately, store in a freezer bag in the crisper.  You can perk up the cuke by soaking in cool water, making them crunchy again.

I typically can 1 jar at a time using 2-3 cucumbers.  These will fit nicely into a quart canning jar.  Make sure the jar and lid have been sterilized.  I slice them lengthwise to the size that will fit on a bun; make sure you remove the ends of the cucumber as the ends are bitter. 

Here is my recipe for one jar of pickles:
2-3 flowering dill heads, 4-5 sprigs of salad burnet or tarragon, 2 cloves, 4-5 garlic cloves, 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar, 1/4 teas of caraway seeds, 1/4 teas of peppercorns, one cardamon seed pod, 3 tablespoons of salt, a bay leave, fill the rest of the jar with water (about 2 cups is all that is needed).  If you like 'em spicy, throw in a pepper or two with stem removed.  Slice the pepper in half to get the spicy from the seeds.

A trick to keeping your pickles crispy is to add a grape leaf in each jar.

Get creative and add the spices and herbs you enjoy or that are handy in your garden.  

You can substitute other veggies for the cucumbers.  Pickled peppers and garlic are two other favorites.  It is a great way to preserve garlic that may not last in winter storage.

Keep the water to vinegar and salt ratio exact.  Always follow a canning recipe closely to insure that you have the right level of acidity to keep the food safe.

Sliced cucumber with herbs from the garden for seasoning

You can get a good jar seal by heating the water and seasonings on the stove to a boil, let cool, add the vinegar, then pour over the sliced cucumbers in the jar, and put the lid on.  Or you can do it the old fashioned way and not heat the liquid, letting the pickles naturally ferment.  It is critical that you have at least the amount of salt and vinegar recommended or the pickles will go bad.  I shake the jar a couple of times a day until the salt is completely dissolved. You let them ferment at room temperature in a cool, dark place 1-4 weeks and they are ready to eat!

For more on fermentation for food preservation, a good book is "Wild Fermentation" by Sandor Ellix Katz.

Unopened pickle jars will keep for a year or longer.  Once opened, keep refrigerated and eat within a couple of months.

Cucumbers love organic matter and moisture.  They are easiest to harvest when given a trellis to climb.  I use a liquid fertilizer like fish emulsion, bat guano or seaweed to add other needed nutrients.  Monthly side dressings of compost works well, too.  For minerals, I also use a “Growers Mineral Solution” to get the minerals plants need.  This also means the fruits you eat will be rich in minerals.  Your plants are what you feed them.  

Do not let the plant get dry.  This is what causes bitter fruits.  When I grow cucumbers in pots or in the ground, I use mulch to help retain moisture for the plant.  If growing in a pot, you may need to water daily during heat waves.

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