First-time Picklers

When asked what my favorite food is, 98% of the time I will say pickles (the other 2% depends on what I’ve enjoyed most recently). I adore the crunch, the sour, the salty; it all makes my mouth water. And I love most things pickled, including cucumbers (naturally), daikon radish (called “takuan” in Japanese), beets, garlic scapes, green beans, watermelon rinds…. So I decided it would be a good thing to know how to do, and it’s a great and easy way to preserve summer’s abundant produce, especially when working on a research farm with tons of cucumbers. We actually had a huge cucumber trial where we compared around 70 different varieties of cucumbers for their yield and susceptibility to pests and diseases this summer so cucumbers were definitely in abundance. I snagged a couple bags of especially tasty-looking pickling cucumbers and decided to give it a go.

The whole thing requires basically four simple steps:

1. Prepare your jars – wash them with soap and water, heat/sterilize them for about 10 minutes in boiling water (not the lids!!), let the lids sit in hot (but not boiling water; see photo) for a few minutes to soften the seal.

2. Prepare the brine – According to the Ball Blue Book of Preserving (highly recommend it!), you should have about a 1:1 ratio of water to vinegar and about a tablespoon of pickling salt (different from table salt). Boil this in a sauce pot and you’ve got yourself a brine.

3. Throw it all in a jar – or several. We skinned some of the cucumbers – I don’t suggest that. Just cut them into slices or quarters or whatever you want, put them into your hot jars, and drench them in brine leaving a quarter inch or so at the top. Remember to get the air bubbles out by pushing a flat utensil (knife, fork, whatever you’ve got) down the sides of the jar. Throw those lids on there too.

4. Boil – Boil the full jars in a large pot so that they are covered for 10 minutes. To ensure that all of the sides are exposed to the water, either use one of those fancy inserts that fit into the pot and stand the jars up making sure that they are still covered with boiling water, or put a towel in the water under them. After 10 minutes, pull them out with jar holders and set on a towel to cool and seal. You should hear them pop (meaning they’ve sealed) in the next five to ten minutes but it could take up to 24 hours.

We threw in some sliced carrots, a clove of garlic, a dried hot chili pepper, some pepper corns, and a head of dill to each jar. As you can see below there are some garlic scapes that we did as well, in similar fashion. Make sure to process the produce when it’s still fresh – the garlic scapes came out a little tough because they were a little past.

Last note – don’t let the pickle juice go to waste! One great way to use it is for picklebacks – the best way to drink bad whiskey.

How to do a pickleback:

1. Take shot of whiskey.

2. Follow with shot of pickle juice.

3. Feel the warmth without the cringe! Delicious.

Happy pickling!

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