Learning how to pickle your produce is a great idea. Of course, many people think that pickling is something that is only done with cucumbers. The truth is that you can pickle just about any type of vegetable you can grow.
As a child, growing up in Pennsylvania Dutch country, I remember eating the Chow Chow that my grandmother used to make. Chow Chow was one way that the Pennsylvania German’s in the area used up the odds and ends from their garden as summer drew to a close. They simply combined their produce and pickled it!
Pickling is fairly easy to do, but it does take some time. In order to pickle your produce in jars, you will need to get some supplies. You can purchase mason jars, lids, and bands to the jars at most big box retail stores or local hardware stores. You will also need a large stock pot or a water bath canner. If you are using a large stock pot, you will need a spacer or a rack so your jars don’t sit directly on the bottom of the pot. You will also need something to lift your jars out of the pot after they have been processed. I would recommend using jar tongs. Although initially your purchase might be a large investment, keep in mind that the pot, jar utensils, spacer, mason jars, and the bands can be re-used year after year. I would also recommend purchasing a canning guide or checking online for the LATEST guidelines. Recommendations can change quickly and for safety reasons, it is best to make sure you are doing things as they should be done.
The first step is to gather your supplies, including your pickling mix and vinegar. You can buy the mix most likely at the same place where you bought your mason jars. Each mix is slightly different as are the directions for processing. However, it is very important to follow the directions on the mix very carefully for safety reasons as well as for taste reasons. If you add too much vinegar, or too little vinegar, it could alter the taste of the food.
Of course, it is best to pickle top grade produce. However, the reality is that people have been pickling their less than great produce for generations. Yes, pickling is a great way to use your less than stellar veggies. I have to say that I have pickled cucumbers and other vegetables that were over-ripe and have had pretty good results. I’d rather pickle the over ripe produce than composting or throwing the produce away! I’ve also cut out the soft spots out of my cucumbers and pickled the rest of the vegetable too. My mother and grandmother also did this too and no one ever had any problems. However, if you feel uncomfortable canning less than perfect produce–don’t!
It is important to scrub your produce well before pickling. Make sure to get the dirt off the veggies and cut off the blossoms and stems if they are still present.
Pack the vegetables as closely as possible in the jar. Remember that produce will shrink as it becomes pickled. Follow the directions on the jars as far as leaving head room or space between the top of the produce and the rim of the jar.
Mix the pickling mix according to the directions and fill the jars with the mix. Wipe off the rim of the jar to make sure that you will get a good seal, especially if you have spilled the brine on the jar. Then, place the lids on the jars and screw the jar bands on tightly.
Place the jars in the stock pot or the canner. Fill the stock pot with enough water to cover the tops of the jars. Then add enough water so that the top of the water is about 1 to 2 inches above the jar tops. I measure this by putting my thumb on the top of a can and adding enough water until the water line is flush with the knuckle of my thumb. Then, bring the water to a boil and process for the amount of time in your canning guide. This step is VERY important! When the jars have been processed, remove them from the water with the jar tongs and allow them to cool.
If the jars have been processed correctly, you should hear a “popping” sound as the jar cools. You will notice that the lid of the jar is slightly indented too and that you can not press down on the lid. If you can press down on the lid, that means that the jar has not processed correctly. You can re-process the jar, or you can put the jar in the refrigerator and use as soon as possible.
After the jars have cooled, label with the processing date and the type of produce. Then, store the jars in a cool, dry place.
This might sound like a lot of work, and I suppose it is. However, once you get the hang of it, it goes very quickly. Remember too that you and your family will be enjoying the fruits of your labor all winter long! That makes the effort worthwhile.