Cucumbers: Get pickling

2012-08-20T09:00:00Z Cucumbers: Get picklingBy Jan Roberts-Dominguez, Food for Thought Corvallis Gazette Times

It’s the time of year when you encounter bins of pickling cukes at the farmers market. They look so fresh and inviting. How lovely to make a batch of pickles, you say. But I caution you. Before you commit to pickling, think about the long-term pressure.

My Damn Good Garlic Dills, for example, have become a precious commodity amongst family and friends. In summers when I opt to go pickleless, disappointment abounds.

And so every August, even when there’s barely an ounce of oomph to spare, I have to make the pickles. Luckily, my style of pickling is relatively straightforward. If my leanings were toward fermented pickles, life would be a little more complicated because the tang you taste in this style of pickle is internally created, thanks to a carefully choreographed ballet that requires control over temperature, salt, water and sanitation. It’s not horribly complicated — and actually, it’s a fascinating process to observe — but being persnickety is a virtue.

My way, however, is a genuinely straightforward form of pickling. That treasured whang is created by the vinegar you add. It’s that simple. And even simpler! You see, with fresh pack pickles, if you don’t feel like processing them in a boiling water canner in order to store them at room temperature, you can simply store them in the refrigerator. In fact, your pickles will be crisper and zestier if you do.

So that’s the way I make my DGGD’s.

Up until just a few years ago I was still packing the cukes into little jars before refrigerating them; a step that takes up room and time when you consider just how many people expect a jar (or two!) of homemade pickles. So I streamlined my method. These days after scrubbing and trimming my pile of pickling cukes, I simply tumble them into large containers, throw in lots of sliced fresh garlic, fresh dill heads, and red pepper flakes, and pour on my spicy, salty, boiling-hot vinegar/water brine.

Then it’s into the refrigerator for several weeks of aging. It’s akin to having an old-fashioned pickle barrel on hand since I dip into my refrigerator cache to fill little gift jars for visiting relatives or friends’ birthdays throughout the year.

The other streamlining step I’ve taken is to make a large batch of brine ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator. Then, when I encounter some high-quality pickling cukes I can jump right into action.

So that’s it. I’m including my recipe for Jan’s Damn Good Garlic Dills as well as a sweet variation, more like a Bread and Butter pickle. In both recipes, I encourage you to spin off in your very own direction. After making up the brine for the Bread and Butter pickle, for example, give it a taste to determine if it needs a little more sugar. For my DGGD’s, consider more garlic, or a pinch more red pepper flakes. You can back off on the salt, it’s not a safety issue to do so, but keep in mind that it does provide an essential boost in flavor.

Make-Ahead Pickling Brine for Jan’s Damn Good Garlic Dills

Makes 1/2 gallon of brine (enough for 1 gallon of pickles!)

I make up a big batch of brine for my favorite pickle recipe so that when I encounter a good supply of high-quality pickling cukes I can jump right into action. Store the brine in the fridge — it will keep indefinitely — in a covered container, then simply re-heat as much of the chilled brine as needed to make a batch of pickles. Figure on a ratio of two parts pickling cukes to one part brine (i.e., for 2 quarts of pickling cukes, you’ll need 1 quart of brine). So, make up the brine now and keep it in your refrigerator. Then when you’ve got some pickling cukes to pickle, simply pack them into jars or plastic containers as described below and pour in enough of the pickling brine to cover the cukes. Screw on the lid and refrigerate or process in a boiling water canner as described below. Store any remaining brine in the refrigerator until you’re ready to pickle another batch of cukes.

    1     quart cider vinegar

    1     quart water

    1/4     cup pickling spices

    1/3     cup pickling salt 

    2     tablespoons sugar

    1/2     teaspoon ground turmeric

    1     cup chopped fresh dill heads (this is the umbelliferous seed head, which is usually sold in bundles, with each head still attached to its long stalk)

In a large nonaluminum pot, combine the vinegar, water, pickling spices, salt, sugar, turmeric and chopped dill heads. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. If readying a batch for the refrigerator, let the mixture cool, then strain off the seasonings and dill (be sure to press down on the strainer to extract as much flavor from the ingredients as possible before discarding them). Pour the brine into nonreactive containers, such as glass canning jars, or food-grade plastic tubs or jugs with tight-fitting lids. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Jan’s Damn Good Garlic Dills

Makes up to 1 gallon of pickles

    4     quarts pickling cucumbers rinsed well

    4     heads of fresh pickling dill, halved

    •    About 1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

    16     whole peeled garlic cloves, sliced

    1     batch of prepared brine (makes 1/2 gallon)

After rinsing the cucumbers and removing any dirt, rub or trim away the blossom end of each cuke (the blossom end is opposite the stem end). If the cucumbers are too large, you might want to cut them into chunks, slices or sticks. Otherwise, leave them whole. Pack the cucumbers into clean jars or food grade plastic containers, leaving 1/2-inch head space. Divide the sliced pieces of garlic and halved heads of fresh pickling dill among the containers. Add a pinch (about 1/4 of a teaspoon per quart) of the dried red pepper flakes to each container (another pinch of two should be used for those folks who enjoy more of a “bite” in their pickles).

If the brine has been refrigerated, then reheat in a nonaluminum pan. Ladle or pour the hot brine into the containers. Cover and let cool to room temperature, then store in the refrigerator.

The pickles are “becoming good” after 7 to 10 days of aging, but they won’t be “Damn Good” for at least a month. Even then, they will continue to improve and improve, and improve for months and months. I’ve kept batches for up to 24 months, and they’ve been fabulous down to the last pickle.

TO STORE YOUR PICKLES AT ROOM TEMPERATURE ...

If you really don’t have enough refrigerator space and need to store batches in your pantry at room temperature, then you’ll have to process the jars in a boiling water canner. Here’s how:

Wash pint or quart-size canning jars (such as Ball or Kerr). Keep hot until used. Pack the pickles into the jars, leaving 1/2-inch head space. Divide the garlic slices among the jars (figure on 4 cloves per quart). Pour the strained hot brine into 1 jar at a time, leaving 1/2-inch head space. Wipe jar rim with a clean, damp cloth. Place the metal disc of the two-piece lids on top of the jar opening, then screw on the metal screw band. Fill and close remaining jars.

Process the jars, using the LOW TEMPERATURE PASTEURIZATION TREATMENT (this method keeps the pickles from being subjected to boiling water, which will help them stay a little firmer): Place jars in canner filled half way with warm (120 to 140 degrees F) water. Then, add hot water to a level 1 inch above jars. Heat the water enough to maintain 180 to 185 degrees F water temperature for 30 minutes. Check with a candy or jelly thermometer to be certain that the water temperature is at least 180 degrees F during the entire 30 minutes. Temperatures higher than 185 degrees F could cause unnecessary softening of pickles.

Note: There is not a processing time for 2-quart jars, so if you are using this size, the jar(s) must be refrigerated.

Make-Ahead Pickling Brine for Bread and Butter Pickles

Makes 1/2 gallon of brine (enough for 1 gallon of pickles)

I make up a big batch of brine for my favorite pickle recipe so that when I encounter a good supply of high-quality pickling cukes I can jump right into action. Store the brine in the fridge — it will keep indefinitely — in a covered container, then simply re-heat as much of the chilled brine as needed to make a batch of pickles. Figure on a ratio of two parts pickling cukes to one part brine (i.e., for 2 quarts of pickling cukes, you’ll need 1 quart of brine). So, make up the brine now and keep it in your refrigerator. Then when you’ve got some pickling cukes to pickle, simply pack them into jars or plastic containers as described below and pour in enough of the pickling brine to cover the cukes. Screw on the lid and refrigerate or process in a boiling water canner as described below. Store any remaining brine in the refrigerator until you’re ready to pickle another batch of cukes.

    6     cups cider vinegar

    2     cups water

    12/3     cups granulated sugar

    1     cup fresh dillweed

    1     cinnamon stick (optional)

    2     tablespoons salt

    2     teaspoons ground turmeric

In a large nonaluminum pot, combine the vinegar, water, sugar, dillweed, cinnamon stick (if using), salt and turmeric. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. If readying a batch for the refrigerator, then let the mixture cool, then strain off the dill and cinnamon stick. Pour the brine into non-reactive containers, such as glass canning jars, or food-grade plastic tubs or jugs with tight-fitting lids. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Bread and Butter Pickles

 Makes up to 1 gallon of pickles

    4     quarts pickling cucumbers rinsed well, blossom ends rubbed off

    2     tablespoons yellow mustard seeds

    2     teaspoons celery seeds

    2     teaspoons red pepper flakes

    1     batch of prepared brine (makes 1/2 gallon)

Cut the prepared cukes into 1/4-inch thick slices. Pack the cucumbers into clean jars or food grade plastic containers, leaving 1/2-inch head space. Divide the mustard seeds, celery seeds, and pepper flakes among the containers.

If the brine has been refrigerated, then reheat in a nonaluminum pan. Ladle the hot brine into the containers, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Attach lids. Let cool to room temperature, then store in the refrigerator.

The pickles need at least 7 to 10 days of aging, but will improve even more as time goes by. Even then, they will continue to improve and improve, and improve for months and months. I’ve kept batches for up to 24 months and they’ve been fabulous down to the last pickle.

TO STORE YOUR PICKLES AT ROOM TEMPERATURE ...

If you really don’t have enough refrigerator space and need to store batches at room temperature, then you’ll have to process the jars in a canner. Here’s how:

Wash pint or quart-size canning jars (such as Ball or Kerr). Keep hot until used. Pack the pickles into the jars, leaving 1/2-inch head space. Pour the strained hot brine into 1 jar at a time, leaving 1/2-inch head space. Wipe jar rim with a clean, damp cloth. Place the metal disc of the two-piece lids on top of the jar opening, then screw on the metal screw band. Fill and close remaining jars.

Process the jars, using the LOW TEMPERATURE PASTEURIZATION TREATMENT (this method keeps the pickles from being subjected to boiling water, which will help them stay a little firmer): Place jars in canner filled half way with warm (120 to 140 degrees F) water. Then, add hot water to a level 1 inch above jars. Heat the water enough to maintain 180 to 185 degrees F water temperature for 30 minutes. Check with a candy or jelly thermometer to be certain that the water temperature is at least 180 degrees F during the entire 30 minutes. Temperatures higher than 185 degrees F could cause unnecessary softening of pickles.

Note: There is not a processing time for 2-quart jars, so if you are using this size, the jar(s) must be refrigerated.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, cookbook author and artist. Readers can contact her by e-mail at janrd@proaxis.com, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.

Copyright 2015 Corvallis Gazette Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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