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Top-popping pickling process gives right signal

August 1st, 2008 · 6 Comments · Food preparation, recipes, Tools

This post is for the edification of wannabe canners and for the amusement of those of you who have been pickling, canning and generally “putting up” for years.

No, I am not a canner. I am, however, foolish. Despite my awareness of the endless rules that accompany canning, I nevertheless subconsciously bought into the many professions of “it’s easy!” that I’ve heard over the years. (And yes, Joanne, you’re one of the culprits.)

In the last pickle post, I mentioned many of the canning rules. Well, here are two canning truths, based on my pickle-packing experience:

  • It really isn’t hard. It’s just time-consuming and tricky. Oh, wait. Time-consuming and tricky operations are kind of hard, aren’t they, at least the first several times you do them?
  • You’d better like what you make, because you’re going to have a lot of it. There’s one canning book out there aimed at making small batches, although Amazon customers give it mixed reviews. Most recipes, however, assume you’re making many quarts. And even if you scale them back, as I did, you still have a lot.

Plunging in

After much deliberation I settled on two recipes: one for Quick Fresh-Pack Dill Pickles and the other for Bread-and-Butter Pickles. Both are in the USDA’s guide (1.3MB PDF). (Fresh-pack dills are, essentially, small raw cucumbers in jars with boiling hot vinegar and spices added. Most dill pickles, for one reason or another, are fermented cucumbers, and I didn’t want to fool with that, but Ed Bruske does it a lot. Some other time, perhaps.)

I chose those recipes because (a) baby sister demanded dills in exchange for her cucumbers and (b) several of the cucumbers were too big to want to make whole pickles or pickle spears, and the Bread-and-Butter Pickles call for the cukes to be sliced crosswise. Besides, I remember liking Grandma’s B&B pickles.

Trouble was, the B&B pickle recipe called for 6 pounds of cucumbers, and the dill pickle recipe called for 8 pounds of the things. Hmm. I had about 1 pound of little cukes and 2 1/4 pounds of the 5- to 6-inchers. So step 1 was cutting down the recipes. Here they are, reduced and adapted to smaller quantities. The USDA guide also provides options for low-temperature pasteurization, which I also didn’t want to fool with, and for firmer pickles (for the B&B pickles) using pickling lime-more complications that I jettisoned for this first outing.

Quick fresh-pack dill pickles

  • 1+ pound 3- to 5-inch pickling cucumbers (the ones I used are pickling cucumbers because I pickled them; I don’t know that they’re the “proper” variety, however)
  • 1 quart water
  • 2 tablespoons canning or pickling salt (divided) (I used sea salt with yellow prussiate of soda)
  • 6 ounces (3/4 cup) distilled vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 teaspoon (sort of) whole mixed pickling spices (see note)
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seed
  • 1 head fresh dill
  • 1/2 teaspoon dill seed

Yield: 1 pint

  1. Wash cucumbers. Cut 1/16-inch slice off blossom end (see note) and discard, but leave 1/4-inch of stem attached. Check.
  2. Dissolve 1 tablespoon salt in 1 quart water. Pour over cucumbers and let stand 12 hours. (Good thing I read the recipe the day before.) Drain.
  3. Combine vinegar, 1 tablespoon salt, sugar, and 1 cup water. Add mixed pickling spices (right, see note) tied in a clean white cloth. Heat to boiling.
  4. Fill jars with cucumbers. (Harder than it sounds.) Add mustard seed, fresh dill and dill seed. Cover with boiling pickling solution (discarding spice mixture bag), leaving 1/2-inch head space. (If you have any extra cukes, put them in another clean jar and cover with any extra brine, cap and stick in the fridge after they cool. Eat these first.)
  5. Adjust lids and process 10 minutes in boiling-water bath. (More on this in a minute. Just giving the recipe here.)

Notes: OK. The original recipe mysteriously listed 1 1/4 cups salt but used 1 cup of it. (They need an editor.) I assumed the 1/4 cup was, in fact, not needed. The original called for “vinegar (5%)” and I used distilled, which was 5% acidity. The blossom end evidently has some substance that messes up your pickling. As to the pickling spices, do a Google search on “pickling spice recipe” and you’ll find lots. The one I based mine on is as follows.

A pickling spice mixture

  • 1/2 teaspoon each: mustard seed, dill seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • Small bit of fresh bay leaf
  • 1/8 teaspoon celery seed
  • 6 black peppercorns
  • 1 whole clove
  • 1 tiny piece cinnamon stick

Note: Some recipes called for coriander seed, which I really like and would have added 1/2 teaspoon of it, too, if I’d had any. If I’d realized sooner that I was out, I would have bought some.

Bread-and-butter pickles

  • 2 1/4 pounds of 5-inch to 6-inch pickling (right) cucumbers
  • 2 cups thinly sliced onions
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons canning or pickling salt (or, in my case, sea salt)
  • 1 1/2 cups vinegar (5%) (I used apple cider vinegar)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons mustard seed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons celery seed
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric

Yield: About 3 pints

  1. Wash cucumbers. Cut 1/16-inch off blossom end and discard. Cut crosswise into 3/16-inch slices. (I used a Cuisinart 4 mm slicing blade.)
  2. Combine cucumbers and onions in a large bowl. Add salt. Cover with 2 inches crushed or cubed ice. Refrigerate 3 to 4 hours, adding more ice as needed. (Mine got refrigerated about 6 hours due to urgent need to walk dog, go to movie and process these at the same time as the dills.)
  3. Combine remaining ingredients in a large pot. Boil 10 minutes. Drain and add cucumbers and onions to the pot and slowly reheat to boiling. They will lose mass. (Should I have rinsed them? Who know? I didn’t, just in case the salt is needed for the preservation.) Pack pint jars with slices and cooking syrup, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. (If you have any extra cukes, put them in another clean jar and cover with any extra syrup, cap and stick in the fridge after they cool. Eat these first.)
  4. Adjust lids and process 10 minutes in boiling water bath.


OK, so I did basically everything in the recipes except as noted, but then the time came to process these babies. (Read the guide for the official and proper way to do this.) I don’t have and didn’t want to buy a canner, so I (again believing “it’s easy!”) placed a round rack in the bottom of my stock pot and added about 3 inches of water, which I heated but didn’t boil.

As aside: The direction say to fill the canner halfway with warm water, add your jars, then add hot or boiling water till it’s 1 inch over the tops of the jars. If I’d filled my pot halfway, the water would have been over the tops of the jars to begin with. Nevertheless, I should have added more water than I did because the jars didn’t displace as much water as I thought they would, which meant it took longer to bring the whole deal to a boil after I added hot water to cover. Sigh.

I placed the jars in the water, wound a tea amongst them to prevent their running into each other and breaking, added the hot water and set them to boil. I forgot to set the timer right off, but set it for 8 minutes after a couple of minutes had passed. More sighing.

Beep and ping

The timer beeped, and I lifted the jars out of the pot (with my cheap-o grocery store tongs, which worked remarkably well, although I slipped a big cooking spoon under each as I lifted it to reduce the odds of dropping and breaking it) and set them on a towel on the counter to wait for them to seal.

I jumped when the first lid popped, signaling a sealed jar. (A vacuum develops in the jars during processing and the lid “buttons” pop inward as the contents cool,) So soon! I thought it took a while, but within less than 5 minutes, all four lids had popped. Score!

A day later, following another rule, I checked again to make sure the lids were all sealed. They were. I also removed the rings. Although that’s not a strict rule, I liked it because it reduces the odds that the ring might corrode or get dinged, which means it increases the odds you can reuse the rings.


Now I’m waiting to actually eat these. I had less than a half-pint each of dills and bread-and-butter pickles left over, so they’re in the refrigerator soaking up flavor. I’ll let you know (later) how they taste.

Not sure I’ll do it again. To be honest, I’m not that big a fan of pickles, so the only reason to do it is to avoid waste, a worthy reason, but I’m not in charge of saving everybody’s garden excess, even if it does look like I’m trying to be. I don’t really eat much in the way of jams or jellies, so I probably wouldn’t do those, either. I’d probably appreciate chutneys more or salsas or canned tomatoes.

Sure seems like a lot of work. I’ll admit the processing would be easier with the proper equipment, but that doesn’t eliminate all the prep work. I wonder how many times I’d have to do it before it gets easy.

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6 Comments so far ↓

  • Meryl

    I’m interested to hear how these turn out. I tried to make some canned pickles a few years ago, but they didn’t taste very good a few months later when I opened them up. I’ve just done fridge pickles since, but if this recipe works out for you I might have to give canned pickles another try.

  • Janet Majure

    I’ll keep you posted. :)

  • Joanne

    One thing is that your recipes may have been a bit too complicated. I don’t keep my spices separate in muslin bags, don’t cut off the blossom end, and I cut up the cukes if I feel like it–whatever way I want! I also have never done the salt and ice routine. That doesn’t mean these won’t be good–I’m sure they will be. I can pickles (dill) in the cuke, okra or dilly bean variety. I do applesauce, salsa, plum sauce and chutneys, too, depending on the year. I make a ton of jams–most of which are given away as gifts. I don’t take off the rings–merely because as soon as the jar is opened, we’ll need that ring to close it again. All of this is to say we get into our own little canning rhythms, and what works for one person might not work for another. It takes me an hour and a half, start to finish, to make a jam recipe. Maybe 2 hours if I must wait to boil something down (a chutney) or cut a lot of stuff up. I love that after 2 hours? I have something tangible and complete for my labors…something filling. It’s not a lot like writing. Sometimes that’s a good thing–at least for this writer!

  • Janet Majure

    See there, Joanne. You’re one of those people who actually knows what she’s doing! I’m OK with nipping the blossom end, as it’s supposed to help with crispness, but I’m sure you’re right about things being more complicated than need be. And good point about the rings. I did keep them, though, so I’ll have them when opening time comes.

    Meanwhile, your point about having a tangible product at the end of your labors is not to be dismissed! That’s one of things I like about cooking in general. :)

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