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Monday, July 12, 2010

Birthday Pickles

What does a girl like me do on her birthday? I live in one of the hottest cities on Earth. Too hot for a B-Day party at our unairconditioned home, that's for sure. This hot valley of ours grows stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. Even when it's unusually cool, say 96 instead of 106, lots of stuff grows. So, a girl like me cans. I had a couple of loving friends call me and ask what I was doing. They were all happy that I was doing just what I wanted, all declined to join me. Why do people object to a hot kitchen?

My dear hubby and I went to breakfast and went to the farmer's market. I took 4 or 5 recipes with me and hoped we would find the right things for at least one of them. I found a lot of good things, but it is still too soon for lots of tomatoes. Soon my friends, soon.

These are sweet pickles for Dwayne. We've taste tested these already, and they are pretty good, but they are a bit sour. I used the brine that I usually use for sweet pickled onions, but added more sugar. Most of the recipes I saw for sweet pickles called for a multiple day process of brining, but I wanted the same crunchy texture I got with the dill pickle recipe from a few weeks ago, so I used the method from that, but changed the brine.

These are my favorite onion pickles. Sweet and sour and a little spicy. These are great on any kind of sausage. One of my favorite ways to eat these is on an avocado and salmon sandwich. Yum!

I had extra sweet brine from the sweet pickles, so I did two jars of pickled carrots. I was dubious about carrots staying crunchy after boiling in the water bath for 15 minutes, but they are crunchy as can be! I will certainly be making garlic dill carrots!

With my score of giant zucchini, I made sweet and spicy zucchini relish. I've had this on turkey dogs already, and I'm happy with the results. Next time I may use a bit less sugar. This is from my Grandma Betty's recipe, but I added some chopped jalapenos and red pepper flakes.

I think I've found a basic cold-pack pickle methodology that I like and will reuse again and again with different veggies and different brines. Food safety dictates that I follow USDA guidelines and watch the acidity, but the rest of the ingredients can be very flexible.

Basic Cold Pack Pickles

About 1/2 lb. of raw veggies for each pint
Brine of your choice, following USDA guidelines or reputable recipes
Spices of your liking

Clean and trim the veggies. Make them pretty and uniform. Remember to cut away the blossom ends of cucumbers. For cucumbers, soak in ice water 2 hours or up to over night. (I did not soak the carrots in ice water and will report on other veggies as I get to them.)

Clean and sterilize jars and place clean lids and jar rings in hot water. Keep jars and lids hot until use. Bring your water bath up to a boil.

Carefully pack the clean, hot jars with the veggies. Pack them tight as they will likely shrink during processing. Leave 1/2 inch head space. For cut veggies, place uniform pieces around the jar for appearance and stuff any bits and pieces down the middle. Put spices, herbs or other flavoring in each jar. Some brines are made with the spices boiled in the brine, either loose or in a sachet. Another method is to measure the spices into each jar and then pour the boiling brine over everything. The advantage of the second method is even distribution of flavor.

Prepare the brine you have chosen and bring to a boil. (Make a lot of brine. It's cheap and any leftovers can be used for refrigerator pickles.) Pour the boiling brine over the veggies in the jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Use a chop stick to poke down into the veggies and release any air bubbles. Wipe the rims. This is especially important for brines with sugar. Sticky! Place the lids and rings on the jars and tighten just enough to hold everything together. Place in boiling water bath and process 15 minutes for pints. (Smaller veggies, or veggies that have been precooked, such as for relish will have shorter processing times - about 10 minutes for pints. I have not done quarts yet, but I think it would be safer to process these for 20 minutes.) Carefully remove from boiling water bath and allow to cool, undisturbed for 12 to 24 hours. Check seals and label. Pickles will increase in flavor as they brine.

For the sweet cucumber pickles and the carrots I used this method and the following brine:

2 cups apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. mustard seed
1 tsp. celery seed
1/2 tsp. red chili flakes (optional - I did not use this for these, but wish I had for the carrots)

The sweet onion pickles are from Food In Jars, my favorite canning blog. These have truly become a household staple.

I'll post the updated version of Grandma Betty's Zucchini relish on another post.

Happy Pickling!

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