One of the most popular ways to extend food life is to pickle it. Pickling is the process of preserving food through fermentation in a brine. Many vegetables get pickled or made into relish including cucumbers, okra, peppers, summer squash, unripe cantaloupe, watermelon rind, tomatoes, eggs, onions, garlic, etc, etc. Pickling lowers the PH to less than 4.6, which is sufficient to kill most bacteria and is somewhat easier to do than canning in that the vegetables do not have to be completely sterile to pickle.
You will need to buy some equipment up front but after your initial investment, you should not need anything but a few ingredients to pickle your food. You will need a large pot that is big enough to boil water and mostly submerge the jars in order to seal them. You can seal the jars one at a time or get something big enough to do several at once. Buy as many 1 QT canning/mason jars as you think you will need (I buy them by the case), just make sure they have rings to seal the lids. Though the process is not too difficult, it makes sense to make as many jars as possible at one time, given you have enough vegetables.
Now that you have your equipment, and hopefully picked some fresh veggies from your organic garden, you are ready to pickle. There are thousands of recipes for pickling, and different nuances according to the different vegetables. It would be impossible to cover everything, but there are numerous detailed books about pickling available to give you ideas and guidance. My favorites are a combination of multiple recipes that I have tried over the years. What follows is a very basic recipe that will work for just about vegetable, but it should be considered a pickle recipe:
– 7 wide mouth quart jars, lids & rings
– fresh dill (keep the heads on the stems)
– cucumbers (washed/scrubbed). I use pickling cucumbers, about the size of the average pickle.
– garlic cloves (jalepenos, small peppers and onion can also be added)
– 8 ½ cups of water
– 2 ¼ cups white vinegar
– ½ cup pickling salt
Do all of this before filling your jars –
1. Wash the jars in hot, soapy water. Rinse and fill with hot water. Set aside
2. Fill canning kettle half full with hot tap water. Set on burner over high heat
3. In a medium sauce pan, fit lids and rings together, cover with water, bring to a simmer (you are make them sterile).
4. In a large pan, bring the brine (water, vinegar and salt) to a boil. After it boils, turn off the heat.
5. Fill jars – place a layer of dill at the bottom of every jar, along with a clove or two of garlic (if you are using it). Tightly load cukes from your fresh organic garden into the jar to the neck of the jar. You may need 2 layers to achieve this. Put a few more sprigs of dill & garlic to the top.
6. Pour in brine, leaving about a half inch from the top.
7. Screw on lid w/ ring gasket, making sure it is tightly sealed.
8. Place jars in a pan (or canner) with water just to the neck of the jars
9. Bring water almost to a boil (should be about 15 minutes, depending)
10. Remove jars, set on a dish towel and cover with dish towel & let cool.
11. Check for seal (indented lid). If they are not sealed, you can try re-sealing them in the near boiling water.
12. Label the jars/lids with content, date, recipe (so you will know which ones you like better).
13. Store in a cool, dark place
Your cucumbers will be ready to eat after 2 weeks and will keep for months. You will find that there is some variance in texture and taste as they age, so you may wind up preferring to age them longer. If you were not able to get any of the jars to seal, you will want to refrigerate them immediately and you can eat the contents after a couple days. Unsealed jars will not keep well for very long.