Home canning has enough rules to fill a peck of pickled peppers, which is probably why:
- Most canning seems to be done by people who learned it from their elders.
- Most canners break the rules.
I arrived at those conclusions after years of interviewing home cooks, including some who canned. They included individuals who:
- Never processed their jams, jellies, preserves or pickles in a boiling-water bath.
- Used paraffin to seal their jellies.
- Always saved jars and lids from commercial salsas, pickles and so forth and used them for their canning.
- Never added citric acid to their canned tomatoes.
- Added unauthorized items to their jars. Peach pits come to mind.
Each of these practices is strictly forbidden by the canning authorities, notably the USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning and any ag extension agent you might want to ask. (If you like your guidance and recipes in book form, it’s also available from Amazon.)
If I understand correctly, the first three banned practices above might result in food spoilage, which would be a shame but not something to panic about. The fourth item, the citric acid in the tomatoes, has the potential to allow botulism poisoning, which is big deal, although it’s worth noting that only 19 cases of food-borne botulism occurred in the most recent report, for 2006, I could find at the CDC. (The botulin toxin can develop in low-acid foods, and many of today’s tomatoes aren’t as acidic as old-time tomatoes.) Of those 19 cases, only two resulted from home canning. Oh, and nobody died. I’ve ranted about this before.
I mention all this as prelude to my new adventure in pickling. I came into more free food the other day, in this case cucumbers from my neophyte gardening baby sister who is overrun with cucumbers. I offered to take some off her hands and attempt to pickle them, inspired as I was by Jennifer the Baklava Queen and Ed “Mr. Pickle” Bruske at The Slow Cook.
This decision plunged me into pickle research and then back to my conclusions that most people who do these things learned it from their elders and break the rules. I decided I could break rules, too. Maybe if I’d gone and bought or borrowed the highly recommended by all Ball Blue Book I wouldn’t have been as frustrated. I didn’t, though, so I muddled through using the USDA guide’s recipes, sort of, so that I’d do it right, mostly, this first time I really canned. (I’m not sure last fall’s two half-pints of unprocessed pickled okra count.)
Rules I broke
In an upcoming post, I’ll get into the pickling process, but for the moment, here are rules I broke:
- Use pickling salt. I don’t have pickling salt, but I do have kosher salt and sea salt and both, contrary to the rules, contain an anticaking agent, although a different one (yellow prussiate of soda) than in my table salt (calcium silicate). I used the sea salt, and so far, the pickle juice hasn’t turned cloudy.
- Match jar and lid brands. Oops. I can’t remember why I have jars or lids, but one is Kerr and the other is Ball. They sealed anyway.
- Use lids that are less than a year old. Oops again. I don’t know how long I’ve had those lids, but it’s a lot longer than a year. They looked fine. The seal compound wasn’t cracked or otherwise bad-looking. Again, they sealed anyway.
- Process correctly. Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. The official way is to put your jars in warm water about halfway up the sides of the jars, then add hot water to cover by an inch and quickly bring to a boil and boil 10 minutes. I guess I did. Sort of. It took more water than I anticipated. It took longer for the water to boil than anticipated. I didn’t use a ruler to measure the 1 inch. I think they boiled for 10 minutes. Hope that works.
- Use unblemished produce. Yea. Sure. Not.
- Use Kirby or pickling cucumbers. I have no idea what kind of cucumbers these were. Guess I’ll find out whether it matters.
So, there’s my list, at least as far as I can recall it. Stay tuned for Part 2 of Adventures in Pickling.