Sunday, August 9, 2009


A couple of weekends ago I picked cucumbers and ended up with about 3/4 of a 5 gallon bucket. Only one thing can be done when you end up with that much....start pickling! I claimed a whole day to be "The Great Pickle Day" and planned to spend all day working on it. My mother had sent me a bread & butter pickle recipe and I couldn't wait to use it. Here's a basic run down of how it went...
First of course, I washed all of the cucumbers & set them out on a rack to dry. The recipe calls for about 6 pounds of cucumbers.

When the cucumbers were dry, I sliced them up. (The recipe was called "cross-cut pickle slices" so I went with that. And I've only ever eaten bread & butter pickles in slices so I wanted to go with something I knew.) But you could slice them however you wanted, or I'm sure if they were very tiny you could pickle them whole.

Next I sliced up enough onions to make 1 1/2 cups and peeled 2 large garlic cloves. Those went into the pot with the sliced cucumbers.

Then I added 1/3 cup of pickling salt & mixed it all together to coat all of the cucumbers. The recipe then calls for covering this mixture with approximately 2 trays of cubed or crushed ice and letting it sit for 3 hours. When the 3 hours was over, I removed the remaining ice, drained the pot and took out the 2 garlic cloves.

Before I started with the next step of preparing the pickles, I wanted to start heating my pint jars. This can be done in a water bath, but since I already had a lot of stuff happening on top of my stove, I went with a recommendation I got from our local extension office. I put the jars on a cookie sheet and heated them in a 180 degree oven. I had already sanitized the jars & lids in the dishwasher so this was an acceptable way to get the jars heated without getting them wet again and taking up more space on top of my stove. DON'T leave out this step though, however you decide to do it!! If the jars are not heated before you put the hot pickle mixture in, they can crack or shatter.

So then I got back to my was time to add the flavor! I combined 4 1/2 cups of sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons of Turmeric, 1 1/2 teaspoons of celery seed, 2 tablespoons of mustard seed and 3 cups of white vinegar. This was heated just to boiling and then I added the cucumber slices & onion to the pot and heated for about 5 minutes.

This hot pickle mixture was then ladled into the hot pint jars, one at at time, keeping the other jars in the oven until I was ready to use the next one to ensure they were kept hot. I loosely packed the hot pickles into the jars, leaving 1/2 inch of room on top. (Again, a very important step. Headspace must be left at the top of each jar--and each type of recipe has it's own measurement--to make sure it will seal properly in the end.) After wiping the tops to remove any liquid and removing air bubbles (oops, another important step--remove the air bubbles!! DO IT!!), put a lid and ring on each jar and seal tightly.

Next, each jar was set into the hot water bath for 5 minutes. (The time is not started until the water starts boiling again after all jars are in the water.) Here's another important part--the jars must have 1 - 2 inches of water above them for them to process properly and get a good seal.

When the jars are done processing, wipe them down to remove any residue and remove the jars to a cooling rack.

This was where my paranoia set in...I tightened any loose rings and stood there staring at my jars, wondering if they were processed right. What if I didn't do it right and anyone who eats them gets terribly sick? How do I know if they processed properly?
I was in the middle of processing my 7th jar of pickles (my canning pot only holds 6) when I heard it. A soft little metallic-like "pop" from the direction of my pickle jars. I quickly turned my head, like I thought I would catch something actually happening. No, nothing going on over there. I went back to processing that last jar when I heard it again..."pop"....This time I decided to investigate a little further and went to check out my jars. What if they were cracking or something? That's when I noticed two of the lids were just slightly different in appearance than the others. (Yes, "One of these things is not like the other" from Sesame Street actually sang it's way through my head for a moment.)
I went to my computer, logging in to the wealth of information on the internet, searching for a hint of what was going on. Aha! Remember that "headspace" I mentioned earlier? This was the reason for it! When the pickles start to cool, it forms a vacuum seal which causes the lid to pull down & flatten, hence the "pop" I was hearing. I was so excited to know I had done it right and wasn't going to kill my family with botulism.

After your jars have cooled for about 24 hours, you can test the seal. (The canning book I have doesn't recommend testing a seal until at least 24 hours after just to be safe but I've heard other say they test them sooner.)
"The best method for testing a seal is to press the center of the lid to determine if it is concave; then remove the band and gently try to life the lid off with your fingertips. If the center does not flex up and down and you cannot lift the lid off, the lid has a good vacuum seal."

That was over a week ago and this weekend I opened one of the jars and tried some bread and butter pickles. Wow, they're really good! My son tried them and agreed, which really means something since teenagers are some of the pickiest eaters on the planet...


Sarah Smith said...

Hi Jane - so glad to have discovered this article! I made dill pickles for the first time last week, and the recipe that I followed did not have the boiling water bath component at the end! Just add the boiling brine, and quickly cap them with lid and ring. Your post gave me some very important information I think would be crucial to any other first-time pickler: First, leave head space in jars, and not to test lids for 24 hours! I think we messed up on both of these. However, of the 12 quarts I made, 6 of them seem to have sealed; that is, they do not have the pop-top movement that indicates no seal. I brought the 6 "popping" jars back up from the beasement today, intending on giving them a boiling water bath to try to seal them. I didn't know the bath had to cover the jar by 1-2 inches! I discovered this important fact while my jar was boiling on the stove, half-submerged in the boiling water. Ten minutes into this process I heard a "pop", like the one you mention above. However, it was the sound not of the lid getting sucked down, but of the lid popping UP. Yikes. I removed the boiling pot from the heat and am planning to let it cool fully before I handle any of it. Thanks for the great info and spectacular photos as well!

Jane said...

Thanks for commenting Sarah! I'm glad to hear that my post helped someone out. I'm still learning a lot myself and love the wealth of information that's out there on the internet. Incidentally, I also made some dill pickles the same day I made the bread & butter pickles from a recipe I found on the internet. They were awful! WAY too salty and they had a weird bitter aftertaste. I'm searching for a new recipe and will try it & cross my fingers.
Good luck with your canning!! :)