|Making Your own pickles is a great way to put all those extra vegetables to use|
There are actually a large number of ways to make pickles. The more advanced options involve a large amount of time, and a carefully balanced pickling mix, and a carefully monitored and controlled fermentation. I didn't even bother researching fermented pickles- while they may be the best- it's just too much to take on, and probably more involved than a beginner should be willing to take on. Fermentation is a difficult thing, and can easily be done wrong, spoiling a batch of cucumbers, and wasting a lot of time. You may also risk food poisoning if you do it wrong.
So, I went with a method known as "quick process" pickling - it is simple to set up, and involves very little specialty equipment. It is also fast enough that you won't feel intimidated, and a beginner can sample the results relatively quickly. The more advanced version of this method involves actual canning- which is a little tricky, but not overly so. The canning process involves sealing then heating the finished jars in boiling water to sterilize them and make them shelf stable with no refrigeration. It is not quite as hard as it sounds, and if you plan on making a large amount of pickles, is worth the effort. However, if you only want to do a jar or two, and don't mind keeping them refrigerated (or eating them right away!), then you can forgo the canning part, and just keep them cold using the same basic process. These pickles will keep for around two months as long as they are refrigerated- you can't keep them on the shelf, or you'll have a bad science experiment on your hands. These are called "Refrigerator pickles" for obvious reasons.
You'll need to make sure you have at least one mason jar with a lid. The lids you want are the two part lids- a flat top with the rubber seal, and a separate threaded ring to hold the lid on. This is critical if you plan on canning, but still a good idea if you're just making refrigerator pickles. For our refrigerator pickles, you could just make them in a plastic container- but the lack of a sealed container means that they will not last as long as a properly sealed jar. If you want to actually go through the canning process, I suggest starting with a new set of jars (you can get a dozen for about $20). If you are re-using jars (like I am) you will want to use brand new lids if you are canning, or a well cleaned lid if you are just going to refrigerate.
So once you have your cucumbers cut into spears, and a nice sterilized jar ready, pack your cucumber spears in. The cucumbers will shrink a little as they pickle, so don't worry if it seems like you are squeezing them in too tightly. Pack them in, and make sure there is a little space at the top so you can make sure your pickling liquid will cover them completely.
If you are canning, this is the point where you would need a large pot of boiling water- you'd put your jar(s) in the boiling water for about ten minutes, then let them cool. This process helps create a firm seal, and sterilizes the contents of the jar- making pickles you can store on a shelf without refrigerating.
The pickles will shrink slightly, so you'll be able to extract them from the jar easily, even if you packed them in tightly. After waiting your one day minimum, your pickles will be ready to sample- and longer waits will just make them better. I couldn't wait much longer so I sampled mine as soon as the clock hit 24 hours...
|The finished pickles - not very pretty, but very tasty!|
From a flavor perspective, they had everything I would expect from a dill pickle - that unique blend of tart and spicy that can only be described as "pickle-like". The dill flavor and aroma was up-front and obvious- right where it belongs- but maybe a little on the strong side. As you can see from the photos, there was a lot of excess dill clinging to the pickles that tasted good, but was a little off-putting visually. I think there was more than enough dill flavor to cut back the dill by at least 1/3 on my next attempt.
An added bonus to this pickle recipe is the onions. The bits and strands of pickled onions floating around in the pickle juice were as good as, or possibly even better than the pickles themselves. Another experiment I may try is a jar of pickled onions... that idea, I think, has a lot of potential- if I can ever finish all these cucumbers that my garden seems to be producing every few days!