Making Pickles is fun and easy. Of all the canning projects, making pickles is the simplest. It's a high-acid process, so it is difficult to screw it up. Pickling is a fun project to do with kids over the age of five, as long as you keep them away from the hot water (let them fill the jars with veggies and spices, you do the canning part!).
This Instructable is to provide basic pickling instructions to people who like to play with flavor, as opposed to a pat recipe that must be adhered to.
Basic Pickling Recipe (These are the proportions, make it larger or smaller as needed!)
4 lbs any vegetables (harder ones work better)
2 3/4 C vinegar (preferably apple cider, but rice, white or red wine are fine too!)
3 C water
1/4 C sea salt (make sure it's not iodized, because that makes the pickle juice cloudy!)
Step 1: Safety First: Sterile and Clean
The essence of canning is to make sure that everything gets sterilized at the start of the process, and then keeps sterile throughout the process. So, use clean kitchen towels, rinse your utensils with boiling water, and boil your jars and lids for a few minutes before starting. Use thin foil to or lid to preserve heat.
Optional: You may blanch your vegetables to get the germs off, but his may make your pickle squishy, so pick your battles!
Step 2: Prep Time!
As you're waiting for the water to boil, wash, clean and chop your vegetables and sort them into clean bowls. Get out your spices and make them easily accessible.
Spices commonly used in pickling spice (see picture):
black pepper corns
dried red peppers
Prepare your work surface. Put a clean towel on your counter. Get your tongs or silicon gloves ready! When everything is set up and prepared, mix your pickle juice ingredients - salt, vinegar, water - and heat them up in a pot on the stove. Stir until salt dissolves.
Step 3: Some Like it Hot (and Sterile)!
Rather than using commercial pickling spice, play and blend the spices! Make it an art project! Put a fair amount of the spices at the bottom of the jars, but save some to top them off.
For sweet pickles, add sugar. For smoky pickles, add black cardamom, chipotles, etc. After you add the spice, pack the vegetables into the jars. Pour the hot pickle juice over the pickles, leaving 1/4-1/2" space at the top. Use the corner of your clean towel to wipe off the band mouth of the jar before you put the lid or the band on, so that there is no solids blocking the seal. Put the lid and the band on and tighten finger tight.
Caution! Make sure to load the hot jars on the clean towel, and to use hot pickle juice, because the heat differential between jars, the juice and the counter can cause the jars to explode!
Step 4: To Be Safe or to Be Crisp, that is the question!
Put the jars into a hot water bath. Make sure there is at least 1" of water covering the lids, and bring to a boil. Boil for 7-10 minutes (add 5 min for every 1000 feet above sea level you are). If boiled for less time, there is a greater risk that it won't seal or kill the bacteria, but your pickles will be crisper! Longer times will result in greater safety, but softer pickles. Again, pick your battles!
Step 5: Let 'em Cool, Baby! Let 'em Pop!
Pull the jars out and let them cool on your clean towel. Place jars at least 1" apart from each other to ensure they cool evenly. Listen for the sound of the tops "popping" as the jars cool down and air compresses. That is the sound for my ears!
Step 6: Optional: what is growing in your neighborhood?
For your next ambitious canning or baking adventure, check out what is growing in your neighborhood. You may use Neighborhood Fruit
to locate backyard fruit
or fruit on public land