How to Make Pickles

Cucumbers are treasures from the garden that can only be preserved by way of pickling. The information regarding how to make pickles has changed little throughout the years. The method used by your grandmother to preserve cucumbers is probably still very similar to the way you might pickle cucumbers today. With the exception of pressure-cooking, as opposed to using earthen crocks, the same brine solutions are used to create homemade pickles.

Pickling Solutions
Pickling solutions are made of vinegar, water, pickling salt, pickling spices and different herbs for different tastes. Dill is used for dill pickles, garlic for garlic pickles and if you are looking for a sweeter variety, such as bread and butter pickles, sugar is used instead of salt.

Selecting Cucumbers
Make sure you plant or purchase pickling cucumbers, as not all cucumbers are right for pickling. The pickling cucumber is smaller and light green, often covered with lighter spots. Pick cucumbers when they are small and no larger than four inches. Keep in mind that the smaller pickles often produce better flavor. Two to three inch pickles are ideal. Sort according to size and leave the larger cucumbers and those that are oddly shaped for relish.

Plan to can your pickles within 24 hours of picking the cucumbers, as spoilage has been linked to a time-lapse between harvesting and processing.

Once you have picked the cucumbers, wash them individually. As you wash the cucumbers, check for any that feel hollow. If you're unsure, place the cucumber in a bowl of water; hollow cucumbers will float. Separate the hollow cumbers from the whole and designate them for relish. If you'll be using fresh herbs from your garden or the market, wash those too and also set aside.

Canning Equipment
Wash and sterilize jars, rings and lids. Get your boiling water bath, lid and a large stainless steel kettle ready to heat the brine (despite being galvanized, copper, iron and brass all react badly with the vinegar brine and should not be used for heating, although you can use a a galvanized boiling water bath container to boil the jars after they've been filled).

Making Pickles
The mineral content of your water can influence your pickling process; the harder the water, the more influence those minerals will have. Sulfur, for example, results in softer pickles while water with high iron content can discolor the pickles. Soft water makes better pickles, so if your water doesn't stand up to the pickling process, use distilled water.

Your brine will be made up of water, pickling salt and vinegar. While most recipes call for distilled vinegar, any vinegar with an acid level of at least 5% will do. Don't use homemade vinegar for canning and pickling; there's no way to determine whether it's reached the 5% mark.

If your recipe requires the liquid to be boiled, or come to a full rolling boil, make sure you have at least three times the headspace in the kettle to allow for a full rolling boil. Fill the jars with the cucumbers, including pickling spices, dill or garlic as called for in the recipe, and then cover with the hot brine solution.

Leave about a half inch headspace and then cover with hot sterilized rings and lids. Process the jars in a boiling water bath, according to directions, to kill the enzymes that cause spoilage. Using vinegar as your acid eliminates the need to pressure cook your pickles (however, any jars that won't seal should be stored in the refrigerator and eaten relatively soon).

Carefully remove the jars from the hot water bath and let them cool for 24 hours. Once the jars are cooled and the seals have set, carefully wash the jars and store in a cool, dark place. Unlike other canned products, pickled items take about two weeks to reach their maximum flavor, so don't sample them too early.

Refrigerator Bread and Butter Pickles Recipe

Ingredients you will need:
3 cups sugar
3 cups vinegar
1/3 cup canning salt
2 tablespoons pickling spices
1 tablespoon turmeric
Cucumbers (sliced thin)
Onions (sliced thin)

Wash cucumbers, slice thin and layer with sliced onion in clean, sterilized jars. Combine ingredients and heat to melt the sugar. Cool and pour into jars. Cover and let stand at least 24 hours before taste testing.

A jar of opened pickles will keep in the refrigerator for weeks without spoiling. Be aware that pickles do spoil from time to time, and any time a food substance looks different-darker or lighter than it should be, the water is cloudy, mold is apparent on the top or any other inconsistencies appear- it should be discarded.

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