Pickles, though traditionally cucumbers, can be made from almost anything. Or should I say that almost anything can be pickled. Zucchinis, carrots, asparagus, tomatoes (both red and green), peppers, cauliflower, beans, and so much more are all delicious and easily stored in pickling brine. I have even had the pleasure of tasting a friends pickled milkweed pods. Strange, slightly yes, but wow, are they delicious! Next summer I plan on trying my hand at pickling some young milkweed pods myself as alas, the season has already gone by here in Vermont. Right now, I am up to my eyeballs with cucumbers and have exhausted my family with cucumber salads. It is time to make pickles.
Out of all the possible canning that can be done, I believe that pickling is the easiest. Except for the slicing of the vegetables, it is not labor intensive and it takes few ingredients, most of which every kitchen has.
What is needed:
Large pots for water bath and a pot for your brine
Canning jars, lids, and rims
Pickling salt (though any salt that does not have iodine in it works fine)
4 pounds of cucumbers (or any vegetable)
I start by boiling two huge pots for the water bath. Then I wash all the jars and line them up on the table. Into each, I put my pickling spices. I like to make my own, which is a simply recipe using only a few ingredients (black peppercorns, mustard seeds, and a bay leaf). In each jar I drop five black peppercorns, a quarter teaspoon of minced garlic, a few mustard seeds, (optional is a few small pieces of a dried bay leaf) and a good bunch of fresh dill (I use more in the larger jars). I personally like using both the dill “leaves” and the dill flower heads in my pickles as I think they pack a lot of flavor as well as look nice in the jars.
The smaller cucumbers I cut into spears so they fit nicely in the 16 ounce pint jars. Larger cucumbers I do the same and put them in 32 ounce quart jars. For any of the odd shaped cucumbers or those that I needed to cut blemishes off of, I chunk them up so that I have a few jars of what I call “cocktail pickles.” Each designated jar is then crammed with cucumbers. As many as I can possibly fit.
On the stove I then start a pot boiling with water, pickling salt, and cider vinegar. The basic pickling brine recipe is below, but you can make the proportions larger or smaller as needed. This recipe can be used to pickle anything you desire. From milkweed pods to green tomatoes, it is a wonderful all purpose vinegar base brine.
2 ¾ cups of vinegar (apple cider works best, but white or rice would work fine too)
3 cups of water
Based on the above proportions, I judge what I think I need for the amount of jars I’m doing. Sometimes I have more than enough and other times I have to make another batch. That is the nice thing about pickling. You can always make more brine and the jars can sit there for a while. For this batch, I made just enough. After pouring the boiling brine into each jar – making sure to leave at least ¼-inch headroom, wipe the jar rims well with a damp cloth then place inner lids on before securing the screw lid down. Then put the jars in the water bath for twelve minutes. For the best crunchy results, make sure to use fresh, firm cucumbers. Wait at least three weeks before eating.