Pickling foods has long been a staple of homemaking. Even in today’s modern times, many families still pride themselves on their pickled creations, proudly storing their canning jars and gifting them to friends. Going back as far as 2030 BC, pickling has been a concept for preserving fresh foods. It is the simple cucumber which appears to have the longest history. Pickled cucumbers, more commonly known as just pickles, has been talked about in the Bible, Shakespearian plays, and has even been said to be a beauty secret by none other than Cleopatra herself.
The word ‘pickle’ originates from the German word ‘pokel’ which means brine or salt – two key ingredients in the process of pickling. This process was developed and relied on heavily to preserve foods before refrigerators were commonplace. Cucumbers were one of the firstfoods to be preserved in this fashion. They came from India’s Tigris Valley.
The process of pickling foods involves settling fresh vegetables and fruits in a saltwater brine or acidic mixture and allowing them to soak until they are no longer raw and subject to spoiling. The process encourages microbial organisms to be born. These organisms turn the sugars occurring naturally in foods into lactic acid. The acidic environment prevents bad bacteria to take over and spoil the food.
Throughout history, a variety of pickles have been created including sweet pickles, dill pickles, and Kosher dills, a staple of Jewish households in cold-weather countries around the world. Additional foods were found to be ideal for pickling including shredded cabbage (sauerkraut), cauliflower, onions, and beets. Eventually meat products were pickled to expand diets like pig feet.
Key Developments in Canning
Canning practices became standard in the mid-1800’s. The two most important inventions in the canning world include the creation of paraffin wax by James Young, a Scottish chemist. This wax helped create an air-tight seal to keep jarred food well preserved. A few years after the wax was developed, Jon Mason patented the first of his canning jars, more commonly known as the Mason jar. This jar was made of a heavyweight glass perfect for canning because of their ability to withstand the high temperatures used in the canning process. Canning is still a practice used in many cultures and households around the world. It helps families save money on groceries, allowing them to grow fresh vegetables in the garden during the summer and safely preserve them for the winter. Modern advances have improved canning technology from what it once was but the process of canning is still basically the same as it was when first invented.
In order to preserve your foods properly, you need to start with the proper equipment. This equipment includes:
- Canning Jars with Lids
There are a variety of canning jars on the market in all shapes and sizes. Choose a high quality, economical jar for your home canning needs and consider a more decorative canning jar when giving preserved foods as gifts. Canning lids need to seal properly to protect foods. There are one and two-piece lid options to consider. Many experts recommend using lids only once to ensure the sealing capabilities are strong. All jars and lids will need to be sanitized and sterilized before use to keep them free of bacteria and other debris which can spoil food quickly.
- Canning Utensils
A canning funnel is recommended to pour foods into your jars without the mess. Messing pours can result in poorly- sealed jars. You will also need a ladle, a pair of tongs, and a canning jar lifter.
- Canning Pot/Cooker
You can utilize a large pot for your canning but there are also special canners and cookers available just for the occasion. Water bath canners are the least expensive choice and are good practice for those just starting. There are also pressure canners available for experienced canners.
- Clean Towels
While canning, you’ll need a handful of clean towels available. The towels will be used to wipe down jars and as a resting place for hot jars.
- Canning Recipes
To ensure you are using the correct process and processing times for different foods, invest in a quality canning book for recipes you can follow. You may also want to ask relatives for their own recipes passed down through your family’s history.
Things to Know Before Canning
It is important to know a few canning basics before venturing into the endeavor for the first time. These details include:
- Quantity Calculations – Not all foods can stay spoilage-free for an unlimited amount of time. Most foods will need to be consumed within the year and all foods need to be properly canned and sealed to ensure their safety. Experts recommend gauging the amount of food you can actually consume within a year so you’ll know exactly how much to preserve. Of course, there is no harm in sharing your creations if you make too much.
- Biology Lessons – The process of canning and pickling involves understand the basics of yeasts, bacteria, and mold and its link to food preservation. You will learn through trial and error as you begin to can different foods but a few lessons in how it all works would serve you well in the canning process. Be sure all foods are washed and sorted carefully. Use only ripe foods and throw away anything not up to par. Wash thoroughly to remove dirt and other debris which encourages the growth of hard-to-kill bacteria.
- Time Matters – When working through the steps of canning, it is important to work efficiently and quickly to protect your food.
- Stay Up to Date – the United States Department of Agriculture provides updated canning recommendations annually to ensure homing canning is safe. Follow all steps through properly. Don’t cut corners to save time or money.
- Proper Storing – after canning your foods, be sure to store everything properly to protect your jars. Canned foods do best in a dark, dry, and cool location with temperatures never exceeding 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep foods away from direct sunlight which can reduce the quality of your canned foods.
Easy Refrigerator Pickle Recipe
To try your hand at making a batch of pickles for the first time, here’s an easy starter recipe from Almanac.com.
- 6-cups water
- 2-cups distilled vinegar
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/3-cup canning salt
- 1/2-cup (packed) fresh dill
- 3-white onions, peeled and chopped
- 3-cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thin
- 4 pounds small pickling cucumbers, washed thoroughly, sliced or whole
- 1-tsp mustard seed
- 1-gallon glass jar with lid
- Long wooden skewer
- Start by sterilizing glass jar and lid boiling them in water for 10 minutes. Remove jar and lid from pot and let cool on a towel.
- In a large saucepan, combine water, vinegar, sugar, and canning salt. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low. Simmer mixture while preparing the rest of the recipe.
- Put 1/3 of the dill in the bottom of the jar. Place a 1/3 of garlic and onion on top of dill.
- Place cucumbers in the jar, starting with the smallest. Arrange them horizontally over the dill. The next layer should be added cross-wise over the other layer.
- Add another 1/3 of the dill, garlic, and onion halfway through the layers. When all cucumbers are added to the jar, add the remaining dill, onion, and garlic on top.
- In a large basin, place the glass jar and pour in the hot vinegar mixture, filling the jar completely. Use the skewer to move pickles around and remove air bubbles trapped between the layers. Add remaining brine as room allows.
- Let the brine set for 5 minutes then add mustard seed to the top.
- If you are using a metal canning lid, use a piece of wax paper to cover the top of the jar before you add the lid.
- Pickles should be allowed to cool to room temperature then remove the jar from the basin and wipe it dry.
- Place pickles in the refrigerator and let sit for at least a week before eating. Pickles can be kept refrigerated for up to one year.
Expert Tips for Pickling Success
- Ideally you should only use the freshest produce when pickling and canning foods. Produce purchased from the grocery store likely contain a waxed covering which can affect your foods negatively during the canning process.
- Make sure to use the exact measurements when following a recipe. If you do not weigh out the ingredients properly, you can ruin the flavor of your canned foods.
- Using recipes which require the use of salt means you need to use specific canning salt and not table salt. There is a big difference. Table salt has additives which can make the brine change colors and cause sediment to build up at the bottom of your jars.
- When making a crisp pickle, slat the whole cucumber in bowl first and allow it to set overnight in a cool place. The salt application will take the moisture out of the cucumbers so you end up with a crisper, tastier pickle.
- Choose the right kind of vinegar. White distilled and cider vinegars with 5% acidity are the best choices. Use white vinegars when the foods are light in color.
Strange Things You Can Pickle
Most people are familiar with the common foods being preserved in pickling jars but there are also some weirder concoctions which actually taste amazing when pickled! Once you get the hang of the canning process, you can try experimenting with other foods like:
- Eggplant – pickled eggplant makes a great side dish when combined with feta cheese and olive oil. Serve it on fresh bread for your next dinner party.
- Celery – pickled celery sticks make a delicious snack and you won’t even need dipping sauce.
- Brussel Sprouts – ditch the boring old dill pickles and try dill pickled Brussel sprouts instead.
- Watermelon Rinds – pickled watermelon rinds are used as a sweet condiment to meals, especially pan-seared pork chops.
- Pineapple – pickled pineapple pieces make the perfect addition to your favorite healthy stir-fry.
- Figs – next time you grill your favorite steaks, top them with pickled figs for a new twist.
- Pears – pickled pears are enjoyed as a tasty snack on their own and in salads.
- Green Chilies – pickle green chili peppers fresh from the garden to add to your favorite meals throughout the winter to spice things up a bit.
Creativity can increase your options and expand your meal plans. There are plenty of recipes available for simple canning ideas for your favorite garden staples and beyond. As long as you follow canning instructions carefully and make sure every jar is properly sealed, you can enjoy your creations all year around.
BottleStore.com offers a great selection of quality glass canning jars and lids to preserve your own garden’s harvest. Find affordable and decorative glass jars for your canning and gift giving needs. Whether you are a first-timer trying to make your first batch of pickles or an experienced canner with family traditions to follow, Oberk.com has the canning jar options you need.