So, when I bought my cucumber seeds this year, they didn't have pickling cucumbers. I ended up having to buy some garden variety cucumbers instead. But, I remembered going to a friend's grandmother's house when I was younger and having pickled cucumbers. VERY different from pickles... they were very light, crisp, refreshing. They didn't have a heavily pickled taste or color about them. Try as I might to find a similar recipe, I couldn't. Instead, I decided to slice my regular cucumbers up and try a traditional pickle recipe from the book I mentioned in the previous post. The results were delicious tasting, but lacked crispness. When you add them to a burger or a sandwich, the sogginess goes virtually undetected. However, they aren't that great straight from the jar. They're pretty to look at, though...
I've heard about an additive called "Pickle Crisp" that can be thrown into the recipe to help retain the crispness. However, I can't find it in any of the stores around here. I'm planning on ordering some off the internet, and trying the recipe again. But, like I said... the pickles TASTE delicious! So, I'll share my spin on the recipe.
In the book, the recipe calls for quite a large quantity of cucumbers. My recession garden is small, folks. The cucumber plants are prolific, but not THAT prolific. I had 5 large cucumbers to work with, so here's how I broke the ingredient quantities down (approximately half the original recipe).
1 1/2 Tbs pickling spice (available at most grocery stores in the spice aisle)
2 C cider vinegar
2 C water
1/2 C, plus 2 Tbs granulated sugar
1/4 C pickling salt (available at WalMart with the canning supplies)
3 bay leaves
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
4 1/2 tsp dill seeds (available in grocery stores with WELL-STOCKED spice aisles)
5 lg cucumbers
3 pint-sized canning jars (wide-mouthed version if possible)
I thought it would make life a whole lot simpler if I bought a mandolin to slice the cukes quickly. You know that saying, "You get what you pay for?" Well, that holds totally true in the world of mandolins. I bought an Oneida one for $39.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond. Oneida is a fairly reliable brand. I didn't think I needed to invest in one of the spendier $89.99+ versions from Kitchen Aide. Wrong. DO NOT buy the Oneida version. Not unless vegetable mash is your desired result...
That thing was a total piece of junk. I ended up slicing my cucumbers by hand. So, away we go with the recipe...
Prepare jars and lids according to these instructions. You don't need to go so far as the sterilization part, though. Since these pickles will process longer than 10 minutes, it isn't necessary.
Cut the cucumbers into 1/4"-thick slices.
Tie pickling spice into a square of cheesecloth, creating a spice bag.
In a large saucepan (preferable stainless steel), combine vinegar, next 3 ingredients and the spice bag. Bring to a boil over med-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt. Reduce heat, and boil gently for 15 minutes.
Now, it's time to can. Place 1 bay leaf, 1 minced clove of garlic, and 1 1/2 tsp dill seeds into each jar. Pack cucumbers (and the DO mean PACK them in there... as many as you can cram... stuff them down the sides of the jar too) within 1/2" from the top of the jar. They mean from the very top edge of the jar... not just where the mouth starts to bottleneck. Place that funnel from the canning utensil kit in the previous post on top of each jar before ladling the hot pickling liquid in. Cover the cucumbers, but still leave that 1/2" space from the top of the jar. Remove the air bubbles (there's a tool for that in the canning kit too), and adjust headspace by adding more liquid if necessary. Wipe the rim of the jar. Center lid on the jar; screw band down until finger-tight.
Place jars in canner/pressure cooker (or large soup pot), ensuring they are completely covered by water over an inch from the tops of the jars. Put a lid on your pot. This is where a pressure cooker comes in really handy. I'm told it isn't good to keep removing the lid to check if the water is boiling. But, pressure cookers have devices that allow you to know exactly when boiling point has been reached. Anyhow, bring the water to a boil, and process for 15 minutes in the boiling water. Remove the pot from heat, remove the pot lid, and wait for the cans to cool for 5 minutes. Then, use those tongs (trust me, you'll want them) to remove the cans from the pot. Set them on a flat surface in your kitchen away from direct sunlight.
Here's something that was left out of the recipe, but that I later learned. It's best for the canned pickles to sit in one place for 24 hours. This allows the jars to seal properly. So, don't pick them up, shake them around, poke on the tops of the jars. Just don't. You could ruin all your work if those jars don't seal properly for safe food storage. After 24 hours, test the top of the jar. It should be slightly concave, and won't pop in when you apply pressure. If they aren't sealed properly (mine were all perfectly fine), you can reprocess them in the heat bath for 15 minutes. However, be aware that it WILL affect the quality.
Otherwise, pop the top and enjoy some delicious pickles! Be sure to refrigerate after opening, and store any jars you'll be saving for later in a cool, dark place.