Monday, October 1, 2012

Put your pickle pants on!

So we had this incredible drought all year, and then the remnants of hurricane I..saac?  Isaac, right?  Well, hurricane whomever comes through and BAM--what comes back?  The gherkins!  Not only did they come back, but it was the comeback of a century.  Move over, everything else ever.  These things went from these shriveled, burnt, crispy looking plants into a gorgeous green carpet that was positively exploding with fruit! Seriously, we would pick about halfway up the row and then get tuckered out because there were just dozens and dozens of pounds on them.

You can probably guess where this is going.

Our CSA has been inundated with these little dudes the past month or so--although we've taken it easy on you lately, but no more!  This week, our canning shares received ten pounds each of the little spiky watermelons, and our normal CSA can expect a healthy dose as well!  And what to do with all the darn things?  Pickles, duh!

There are a ton of pickle recipes.  A ton.  Something for everyone!  I prefer dill, Farmer Brown prefers bread and butter, and I tried my hand at (what else) sweet gherkins this year, which smelled just AMAZING although they took a considerable amount of time.  You can legitimately can them or make refrigerator pickles.  They're so easy to can that you might as well commit to an afternoon of it and waterbath them to increase their storage time to up to a year.  What can beat a jar of crispy, delicious pickles to fight off the winter blahs in January?

Well, here are some of my favourite pickle recipes.  What are yours?

Classic Dill Pickles

3 lbs small pickling cucumbers
2 c white vinegar
2 c water
2 tbsp pickling salt (this is important; for crystal clear brine, use ONLY special pickling salt!)
1 tbsp granulated sugar
4 large heads of fresh dill or 2 tbsp dried--or a handful of fresh
4 small cloves garlic
2 tsp mustard seeds

Cut a thin slice from the ends of cucumbers--they ooze a chemical that can make bitter, soggy cukes.

Combine vinegar, water, salt and sugar in a large stainless steel or enamel saucepan (also important; you want non-reactive metal) and bring to a boil.

Remove hot jars from canner.  Place 1 head fresh dill (or dried, or fresh dill greens, or 1 1/2 tsp dill seed), 1 clove garlic, and 1/2 tsp of mustard seeds into each jar.  Pack cucumbers into jars and pour boiling brine over, filling to 1/2" of rim.  Process for 10 minutes for pint jars and 15 minutes for quarts.

Makes 4 pints.

Old-fashioned Bread and Butter Pickles

4 lb small pickling cucumbers
4 small onions, thinly sliced
1 sweet green pepper, thinly sliced into strips
1 sweet red pepper, thinly sliced into strips
2 tbsp pickling salt
4 c cider vinegar
3 c granulated sugar
2 tbsp mustard seeds
1 tsp celery seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp ground cloves

Cut a thin slice from the ends of cucumbers and cut into medium thick slices, about 1/4".   Place cucumbers, onions and peppers in a non-reactive container, sprinkle with salt and let sit for 3 hours; drain.  Rinse twice and drain thoroughly.

Combine vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds, celery seeds, turmeric and cloves in a large stainless steel or enamel saucepan.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Add vegetables and return to a boil for 30 seconds or until cukes are no longer bright green.

Remove hot jars from canner.  Remove vegetables from liquid with a slotted spoon and pack into jars.  Pour liquid over vegetables to within 1/2" of rim.  Process 10 minutes for pint jars or 15 for quarts.

Makes 6 pint jars.

Refrigerator Pickles--for any kind of pickle-able vegetable! 

 Wash and cut up your vegetables and pack them into a clean jar. Use whatever veg you’ll eat (or put into a martini): cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, carrots, onions, garlic, etc. Weight of your starting produce will vary depending on what you’re pickling. Eyeball it at the market, and if you end up with too little veg, just use a smaller jar (or make more brine to account for extra space in the jar).

Add spices, fresh or dried directly to the jar. For a quart jar, use anywhere between 1/4 and 1/2 tsp of whole dried spices like peppercorns, fennel, cumin, coriander, dill, cloves, or whatever sounds delicious to you.

Combine 1 c any kind of vinegar, 1 c filtered water and 1 tbsp pickling salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.

You can add sugar if you like a sweet pickle, but the above is a standard tart pickle recipe. Try starting with 1 tsp sugar; be sure to taste the brine to see if you like it.

Pour your just-boiled brine over the vegetables in the jar.  Wipe any vinegar spills from the rim with a clean towel or a paper towel and put on the lid. Any lid is fine here since you’re not shelf-sealing the jar, reuse your already used two-piece lids or recycle those single-piece screw lids that once capped salsa, tomato sauce or peanut butter.

Now for the hard part. Hide the jar in the back of the fridge for at least a week. Two weeks is better, and three weeks is best. Your pickles will only continue to become more deliciously infused. But if you break into them early, I won’t tell. They’ll keep what seems like forever, but if you have pickle experiments in there from more than 6 months back it’s probably time to do a fridge inventory.

This makes enough brine for one quart of pickles; increase accordingly.

Pickle away, kids.  Pickle away!

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