Choose Your Own Adventure Pickles

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From: Daniel Larkin
To: Jamey Bennett

Are you doing a garden in Florida? I hope so, because you’ve got the weather for it. Fall is right around the corner in Tennessee, and this is the first year I’ve actively tried to harvest as much as I could from my garden before the cold sets in and it all just withers and rots on the vine. (Pesto email coming soon)

The biggest producer we had this year was our lone banana pepper plant, which I’m sure is trying its hardest to keep growing in the chill night air as I type this. Yesterday I collected everything could from the plant, and added it to a bag of peppers I had collected about two weeks ago. The bounty was too much to waste, so I decided to pickle them with the last of my cucumbers and all the dill that hadn’t gone to flower. I also ran to the store and bought some jalapeños and garlic for good measure.

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If you haven’t made pickles before, shame on you. Pickles are one of those wonderful items that are not only cheaper to make on your own, but are way better tasting than store-bought. And the effort is nearly nil. I don’t own a canner, a pressure cooker, or any other fancy equipment. In fact, the only “canning equipment” I use are Ball jars and a jar grabber.

The caveat here, though, is that I make small batches that I know won’t last longer than a month or two. Canning can get sketchy as a long-term investment, so what I’m suggesting here is a small batch arrangement for short term use.

With any canning, cleanliness is key, so sterilize your jars and lids by boiling them in a large stock pot filled with enough water to cover the jars halfway. Fill the jars, cover with a lid, and boil for 10 minutes. Then set the aside on a towel to cool.

(Good practice here dictates that I say that most people recommend putting your filled jars back pot of into the pot and boiling the contents for another 10 minutes. I don’t do that, but again, I eat my pickles pretty fresh, I’m not squirreling them away for Armageddon. Plus, not boiling the filled jars also keeps the pickles crisp!)

So that’s the cleanliness aspect, but what about the ingredients?  The first question people ask when talking about pickles isn’t, “What vegetables do you pickle?”  It’s, “What do you soak them in?” Now what I’m about to unload on you isn’t a recipe, but an easy to remember formula. Making pickles is like making beer, just learn the formula, and then go balls deep into the great unknown. The only ingredients you need to know are these:

  • 1-cup water to 1-cup white vinegar, add one tablespoon of pickling salt. (Just remember one-to-one-to-one) Mix as much of this solution as you need, and bring it to a boil.

That’s it. The veggies and spices are all yours to mix. Take your cooled, sanitized jars, stuff them to the gills with whatever veggies (or fruits) and herbs you want, and top it off with the boiling water/vinegar mix. Seal the jars, set them in the fridge for two weeks, and you’re done. It takes me less than an hour, start to finish, to make a half dozen jars, but I sometimes like to make them one or two jars at a time, just to have around.  It’s that easy.

There is no limit to what awesome pickles you can make. Spicy pickles with squash and jalapeño, curry pickles with carrots, lemon and rosemary pickles (I learned the hard way to go easy on the rosemary). You can seriously get Bubba Gump Shrimp about it. I personally like the spicy pickles with a loaf of homemade sourdough baguette and a slice of Camembert cheese. Great goofily moogily.

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