In other words, I’ve learned to pickle.
I’m pretty new to the whole canning/pickling world. I’ve made about a dozen half-pints of strawberry jam over the last year, but that’s about it. So when my husband kept bringing home grocery bag after grocery bag of cucumbers from a co-worker with an apparently huge green thumb, I knew it was time to learn to pickle.
I already had some of the basics on hand — mason jars, metal jar bands, kosher salt, vinegar and of course, vegetables. You can combine your own herbs and spices for a pickling blend, or buy ready-made blends in different flavors.
There are two basic ways to pickle — the hot-pack method or cold-pack method. Hot-pack pickles have been processed in boiling water before they are jarred. Cold-pack pickles are created by filling jars with raw food and pouring hot preserving liquid over them. Both methods can then be either processed in a boiling water bath to seal the jars and make them shelf stable for months, or they can be cooled and stored for several weeks in the refrigerator.
The cold-pack refrigerator method is the simpler of the two, and therefore the easiest for beginners to tackle. It also makes for a crispier pickle, more like the Claussen brand pickles found in the cooler section of the grocery store.
I used plain old cucumbers, not pickling cukes, which worked fine, though they were big enough that it was easiest to pack them in quart jars. I also pickled some okra, because we love pickled okra, but I hate paying upward of $5 a quart for it.
The downside to canning and pickling is that I used up half my supply of drinking glasses in the process. But more generosity, this time from a former canner who hadn’t touched her collection in years, restocked my collection of drinking glasses … ahem, mason jars ... adding an enamel water bath canner and canning rack as well.
Once I had a couple rounds of pickles under my belt, I moved on to my next bounty — peaches. Local farmers markets are overflowing with peaches right now, and I had to capture some of that fresh flavor. For the peaches I used a pressure canner that I borrowed from a friend who had inherited it with her house from her grandmother-in-law.
Pressure canners have a reputation for being dangerous, and they can be if used improperly. But if done right, you can cut down on cooking time in the jar significantly — peaches take 25 minutes in a normal water bath, 10 in a pressure canner.
If you come across an old pressure canner, check to make sure there are no missing or deteriorating parts, and the pressure dial gauge may need to be recalibrated to ensure accuracy. The Extension Office in the Calhoun County Administration Building in Anniston will test pressure canners for you and calibrate the dials.
Between canning, freezing and dehydration, I’ve got my food-preservation bases covered. Next I’ll be canning some tomatoes, and my neighbors down the street should consider this fair warning: I have my eye on your fig tree, so expect a knock from me soon — and some fig preserves later.
Features Editor Deirdre Long: 256-294-4152. On Twitter @star_features.