In a Pickle, Again!

Once again I am staring down an August without any zucchini. My plants got nibbled on by something or another and just never quite recovered. (Mr. Food It Yourself is in the process of rigging up a wildlife camera so we can see who the culprit is.) I am not totally sad, though. My cucumbers are growing and fruiting like crazy!

With my first cucumber harvest of two pounds, I made a big jar of refrigerator pickles. I also had enough string beans that day to pickle. Already, that is leaps and bounds above last year’s harvest.

Today, I harvested an additional 4 pounds of cukes. Thankfully, I was totally prepared for the occasion. I had the tools, the spices, and the vinegar all ready to go. With them I was able to put up seven beautiful pints of bread and butter pickles. Preserved pickles are not any harder to make than refrigerator pickles, but the preparation does take a bit more time. When you consider that a preserved pickle can last 18 months in storage, it is absolutely worth it, though. As with all long-term food preservation methods care must be taken to keep the pickles both safe and pleasant to eat. I took extra care to make sure my pickles would have maximum crunch; nobody wants a mushy pickle.

The work actually started yesterday. I made a whole bunch of ice cubes, you will see why in a bit. I made sure I had enough pint jars, new lids, and usable rings. Finally, I looked up a bunch of bread and butter pickle recipes. Why?

The crispiest pickles come from the freshest cucumbers. That means you pickle right after you pick. You never know how much those cukes will weigh until after pick, so you need multiple recipes ready to go.

You probably also noticed that all the recipes are from reliable recipe sites, not random, silly, blogs like this one. You need to use a tested recipe to ensure safety during long term food storage.

I ended up using the Ball recipe, since I had 4 lbs of cucumbers, and I wanted to try using calcium chloride in my pickles. Calcium chloride makes pickles extra crispy by precipitating excess pectin from the cucumbers, keeping them firm on a cellular level.

First, the cucumbers need picking and then a thorough but gentle scrub. My slicing skills are less than stellar, so I busted out the mandolin to ensure evenly thick cucumbers and onions. Bonus, this little gizmo makes the slicing go super fast.

I tossed the sliced vegetables with the prescribed amount of salt. The salt will draw out water and thus firm up the cukes. Salt gives the pickles flavor, also. Then, I topped the vegetables off with a thick layer of ice to chill the cucumbers into an easy, painless death. That’s why I made extra ice cubes.

Yes, the cucumbers were still alive, sort of. Just-picked vegetables are still full of enzymatic activity. That can cause cucumbers to soften when processed into pickles. We certainly do not want that.

While the cucumbers died, I cleaned my jars, lids, and rings; then measured out the ingredients for the preserving liquid. Most importantly, I refilled the ice cube trays. If you use all the ice you are responsible for refilling the ice cube trays.

Please note: I boiled the pint jars for ten minutes to sanitize them but I did not boil the lids and rings. This is the way things need to be done now. The new plastic resin used on the sealing surface of the lids will thin out too much if over-heated, causing seal failure. Just clean them and let them sit in hot water until you are ready to lid.

I did not manage to get pictures of cooking the pickles in the preserving liquid or filling the jars because I needed two hands for that process. I added an eighth teaspoon of calcium chloride to each filled jar, as the recipe instructed. I used the same brand the recipe called for, but if you use another brand follow that manufacturers instructions. After a 10-minute boiling water bath I had seven successfully sealed jars.

Now the hardest part. I have to wait two weeks to try my pickles! It will take that long for the flavors of the cucumbers, spices, vinegar, sugar, and salt to blend and mellow. Stay tuned for updates to this blog post; I will definitely let you know how my sweet B&B’s turn out.

In the mean time, I will keep harvesting my cucumbers as they ripen. We are a few weeks from tomatoes, but there are plenty of them on the vines. My sweetcorn is looking pretty amazing, too. Overall, this is shaping up to be a decent year for the Food It Yourself garden. How has your garden harvest been so far this season? Have you done any canning, pickling, smoking, drying, freezing, or other modes of preserving? Share in the comments.