Saturday, September 14, 2013

Zounds! Pickles!

These were favors at a rehearsal dinner we went to last summer.  They're delicious, and easy.  And shelf-stable.  (And airplane baggage-compartment-stable, apparently!)  And sweet.  And spicy.  And as canning recipes go, incredibly forgiving because nothing has to reduce or thicken and there's no question about the acidity.  And it's cucumber season, right now  Go make them.

Some canning notes:  You can put these in any size mason/ball jars, so long as you have a pot that those jars can stand up in and still have 1" of space above.  You need 2-part lids: rings and flat seals.  Seals are one-time use.  Check your local hardware store for canning supplies: jars, lids, large funneljar tongs, etc.  These CAN (ha!) be made without jar tongs, but full jars are very heavy and unwieldy and glass and full of boiling liquid...and jar tongs are cheaper than a replacement foot after you drop a jar on it.  :-)

Sweet & Zippity Pickles
(source: Carter's Aunt Sara, original source unknown to me)
Supposed yield: 3 pints of pickles, actual yield ~4 pints
(9-22-13 Note: I just made a batch without onions (oops) and fit them into just 3 pint jars.  Don't be afraid to really cram 'em in there.)

2 pounds small cucumbers, in 1/8 to 1/4 inch rounds (don't use waxed cukes from the grocery store)
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 cups ice
2 Tablespoons salt
Mix these 4 ingredients in a large colander, set it over a bowl, and refrigerate.  Let chill for a couple hours, stirring occasionally.

When your hours are almost up, prep jars:
Wash well all of the jars you think you'll need, plus one.  Lay out a clean dishtowel on the counter for your jars to sit on for filling and cooling.  Fill a large pot (fitting the size requirement in the note above) 3/4 full with water and bring to a boil with the jars and lid RINGS in it.  With a lid on the water will boil more quickly, but not very quickly.

When your hours are up, add to a medium-large saucepan:
3 cups vinegar (apple cider is good, or 2 cups cider vinegar, 1 cup white)
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon whole brown mustard seeds
3/4 teaspoon celery seed
3/4 teaspoon whole peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon tumeric
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes or 3 dried hot peppers (not optional, or you're just making Sweet & Boring Pickles)
Bring to a boil.

While brine heats, rinse cucumbers/onions once and place back into colander.  (Pick out any remaining ice cubes, pickled ice just doesn't work for some reason!)

Once brine boils, add cucumbers/onions.  Stir, and bring to a boil again.

Meanwhile, turn large pot off and add lid SEALS (they need to get hot but not boil).  Pull out jars and lid RINGS, let drain on dishtowel, then stand jars up.

Your pickles have come to a boil, so turn them off.  Ladle pickles into jars, prioritizing cucumbers/onions first, then brine to fit in the spaces.  Mash them down gently with a clean spoon, really pack them in there.  Leave 1/2 inch of space empty at the top of the jar.  If you have more pickles than jar space, leave the extra in the pickle-pot for now.  Wipe jar rims with a clean damp towel.  Fish lid SEALS out of the large pot, set one on top of each jar, and screw down ring until secure-- "finger-tight".  Carefully place lidded jars into large pot.  Add more water as needed so jars are covered by 1 inch.  Cover pot, turn burner back on HIGH.  When water comes to a boil, set a timer for 10 minutes and adjust burner so it stays at a steady boil.

If you had pickles that didn't fit in the jars, put them in a glass container (jar, pyrex tupperware, whatever) with a lid and place in the fridge.  Eat these within a couple weeks.

When the timer goes off, turn burner off.  Carefully pull jars out and set on the dishtowel.  Gently dry off lids.  Listen and watch for the pleasant snap of the lids as they seal and the center sucks down.  Often some jars do this almost immediately, but they're allowed to straggle.  

Let the water in your large pot cool for a couple hours and then use to water plants and trees, they'll love you for it.  Also ladle some still-hot water into the pickle pot to help rinse down the sticky brine-residue.

Check seals after 8-12 hours-- any jars which didn't suck down should go in the fridge and be eaten within a couple weeks.  Fully sealed jars should be stored out of direct sunlight for "up to a year" or "indefinitely" depending on who you ask.

Though good right out of the pickle-pot, these are better after they sit for a couple days.  Enjoy!