Perhaps this is a little misleading. I have no intention of discussing a motorcycle. But I will discuss at length, the process of making pickles. Pickles are delicious. They are often used as a barometer for a woman being pregnant…you know, if a woman craves pickles, she must be pregnant? Why is that? I love pickles – all the time – and I’m not pregnant. Truly though, pickles are delicious little bundles of salty, often garlic-infused goodness. And I’d like to talk about my adventures in pickle-making.
The story begins one very early Saturday morning at my aunt’s house. She has made pickles before…many times. Her homemade pickles are legendary and delicious. Truly, I would be learning from a master. At 7 AM, Ian and my aunt set off to the St. Jacob’s Farmers Market to purchase the needed supplies. I remained at her home and took care of my nephew, as my brother and sister-in-law who were visiting from Niagara were off in a different direction. An hour later and a bushel of pickling cucumbers heavier, they returned and we prepared for our day.
There are many steps involved in the creation of pickles. Perhaps not many, but they’re extremely labour intensive. And repetitive. And sometimes hot and steamy. But not in a good way. Onwards and upwards…
Step One: Clean the pickling cucumbers to prepare them for yummy deliciousness.
I’m going to say that the easiest method to do this is to soak all the pickles in a large Rubbermaid tote, filled about halfway with cool water. This usually helps to get much of the grime and dirt off of the cucumbers easier. Using any and all manner of soft-bristled brush, scrub the cucumbers lightly, ensuring that dirt particles are removed, but the skin is not. Bring friends. This is not a task for one person to complete. It’s possible, but you will surely go insane from repetition. This is the easiest method, as it is the only one I’ve ever done. Apparently you can wash cucumbers in a washing machine, but I don’t recommend it for two reasons: 1) the cucumbers can bruise easily, and 2) that’s the easy way out. I figure, if you’re going to make you’re own pickles, you may as well go all out. If not, hop on down to the local supermarket and grab some Vlasic’s or Bick’s…you lazy bugger.
Step Two: Sterilize mason jars, sealers and lids.
This is probably pretty important. Although I like to think that a little exposure to bacteria makes us all a bit stronger, I’m definitely pro-sterilizing stuff like this. After all, while I am a pickle fiend, I don’t harbour any ideas about eating 18 jars of pickles on my own. Likely some guests will also partake in our creations, and I’d prefer that they look to me as a culinary goddess…not some sort of mad scientist using biologically engineered pickle weapons as my method for world domination. However, now that I think of it…hmmm…
Right, but before that tangent goes any further, you can do this in many ways. Dishwashers can heat up the jars enough to sterilize them. Or simply boil some water in a big pot on the stove for the sealers, lids and jars if necessary.
Step Three: Load up mason jars with cucumbers and seasonings.
If you like crunchy pickles – and boy do I ever – you’ll want to make sure that you include some alum powder. About 1/8 of a teaspoon in each jar will do the trick and this can be added to the jar first. Interestingly enough, alum powder not only acts as a preservative for crispness, but can also assist in preventing infection in cuts, act as a remedy for canker sores, and increase fire resistance. That’s one super pickle compound.
Now comes the fun stuff…the seasonings. Obviously if you are making dill pickles, you need to add…uh…dill. We happen to have a mutant dill plant in our garden which is as tall as me, but the folks at the market also gave us some dill to use, so we were set. The head of the dill plant resembles Queen Anne’s Lace…I think so anyway, so it’s good to drop about one of those in there. A clove of garlic, and other seasonings should also be added to the bottom of the jar. I suppose you could add whatever you’d like, but we stuff to plain garlic dill, and for hot pickles, about a tablespoon of crushed chili peppers.
Placing the pickles in the jar is a bit like a game of Tetris…but with more physical exertion. Okay, maybe not…I’ve seen my mom get pretty animated back in the day when playing Tetris. Standing the cucumbers up on end is the best looking presentation I think, so that’s the way we did it. It’s a good idea to use pickling cucumbers of the same general size for the first layer. Once that layer is complete, add another clove of garlic and some more dill. Then fill up the jar to no more than half an inch from the rim. Oh, and one more clove of garlic at the top for good measure.
This isn’t an easy process, and it’s a good idea to keep the children far out of earshot. Plenty of F-bombs were dropped. Plenty.
Step Four: Fill the jars with brine.
You’ll want to make sure you have air conditioning. Or a really nice cool day where you can open your windows. Otherwise, your kitchen will become a sauna, and you will become cranky. At least, that’s what happened to me. But then, if you read this, you’ll know how much of a fan of heat I am. In any case, here’s what you need for the brine:
- 3 parts water
- 1 part vinegar
- 1 cup pickling salt
You’ll have to put all these in a big ol’ Dutch oven or stockpot. Boil ’em up, and away you go. Add brine to each jar up to about an eighth of an inch from the rim. If you’re a wimp like me, you’ll probably need to use oven mitts or a towel. Take a sterilized lid and sealer, make sure it’s free of moisture, place the sealer on the jar and tighten the lid. Don’t tighten it too much – you’ll need to remove it in a bit.
Step Five: Prepare the pickles for their hibernation
If you place the jars in a pot of boiling water to the level of the brine in the jar for about five minutes, this will help seal them. Eventually you’ll start to hear the lid seals pop in to indicate that they are secure. If you want to ensure that your lids don’t rust, it’s a good idea to remove the screw-top lid, wipe down the mouth of the jar and the lid – being careful not to remove the sealer, of course.
Step Six: Store your pickles
Cool, dark place. That’s basically how I store all my preserves. If you keep them out of sight, you’ll be less tempted to break into the jars too early. You’ll need to store them for about 6 weeks in order for the flavours to incorporate, and the crunch to develop. However, I have tried homemade pickles as early as two weeks out, and they were still fantastic. I suppose it all has to do with the size of the pickles – the smaller the cucumber, the quicker they’ll be pickles.
Step Seven: Enjoy!
Really? Do I need to explain?
Who knew making pickles could be such lively fun?