As you know, I’m getting settled into My Old House. One of the things I’m re-learning from my childhood, now that I’m a homeowner, is how to tend a garden. While I can hardly take credit for any of the design or flourishing my landscaping is currently displaying (thank you lawn guy and previous owner), I CAN take credit for noticing that my “squash” plants were actually cucumber plants – and harvesting these beauties:

cukes tAB - In a Pickle (39)

Ya. It’s a little obscene. Folks, that’s what 15lbs of fresh garden cukes looks like!

One of my best friends is the kind of friend everyone should have. Kinome knows how to roast a whole chicken, make cheese, create her own cleaning liquids, and how to tend earthworms for compost. She’s like my personal version of The Pioneer Woman, and you’d better believe it’s her house I’d go to in case of a zombie apocalypse. So, it came as no real surprise to me, that when I told her about my backyard bounty, Kinome suggested we pickle. So, a-picklin’ we did go!

Having never pickled before, I had no idea what an ordeal the whole thing would be. But, after it was all over, I realized that not only was it a super productive three (ish) hours, but it was a LOT of fun! I’m sure that has a lot to do with our friendship, but it’s also gratifying to see the fruits (really, veggies) of our labor! I had a lot of blue Ball Heritage jars – and picked up a pack of green, to keep the pickles visually separate. I love the that these jars are new versions of the same vintage jars that have been used for canning for decades.

We started by sterilizing the lids, rings, and jars. Kinome took the reigns on this part of the job – a lot of boiling and timing went on. I learned that there are some things that you can make for the canning process, and this (below) little wonder ensured that our jars didn’t bounce along the bottom of the pot as they boiled. If if it’s noisy like a freight train while you’re sterilizing, you’re doing it right! Kinome tip: Keep a kettle of almost-boiling water available, as you’re going to splash and sploosh and will surely need a little extra water.

While Kinome was sterilizing, I was weighing and slicing the cukes for our two recipes. I wanted some pickles that we could eat immediately, and some that would require a pickling-pause before consumption. We made one batch of regular dill, to which we added garlic and a dried chili, and one batch of bread and butter. The dill recipe came from The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making (recipe attached; we halved it); the bread and butter from Country Living (here). The pile of resultant cucumber slices was impressive, and there were some adorable little cuke-snatchers lurking close-by. We did the soaking part of the bread and butter recipe while we made the batch of dill, and short-cut the 3 hour soaking.

Once the jars were sterilized, we took the cukes for the dill recipe and crammed as many slices as possible into the jars. We added the spices and vinegar concotion, leaving just the headroom listed in the recipe. Kinome used a magnet stick and put the lids and rings on the jars, tightening the rings to *just* where the stick, no tighter. The jars then went for another 10 min boiling bath to seal the lids. Kinome tip: Know your pot’s space limitations, and don’t cram the jars in for this second bath. I overheard her talking to the jars, “Let’s loosen you ladies up a bit!”

After the boil comes the “rest” (something Kinome and I could have used, but we soldiered on!). Kinome tip: Rejoice in the popping! When you hear the lids “tick” or “pop”, your seal is complete, and the ring becomes more of a secondary securement device. If your lid doesn’t pop (you’ll know because the lid isn’t dimpled inward, and you can push it down and it comes back up), then put those jars in the refrigerator (once cooled) and eat them first. There are things you can fool with in canning, but sealing isn’t one of them.

The bread and butter recipe called for the pickles to be brined in the boiling vinegar mix, unlike the dill. I made a sachet out of cheesecloth, per the recipe, and – if you could get past the overwhelming vinegar smell – the aroma of these spices brewing together was incredible! Kinome tip: Enjoy the facial you get from the steam, but don’t breathe it in. Vinegar, like curry, is a smell that sticks in your nosehairs for a few days.

The bread and butter went through the same boiling bath to finish things up — and (I’m leaving a whole lot out!) — voila! Pickles!

If you’re a newby pickler, my tip to you would be enjoy the process. Had I done this all on my own, there would not only be a giant mess, but my nerves would be frazzled from all the moving pieces. Do this with someone you enjoy doing projects with, and take the recipe one step at a time (after you read it all the way through and are sure you want to spend the time and effort, of course).

Happy Summer! And happy pickling!