- Skill Level: Challenging
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Can be made ahead of time.
This is the pickle, the real thing. Two or three weeks may seem like a long time to tend to a crock of pickles, but the actual work involved is minimal, and the results are extraordinary. The mild, mellow tang from the lactic acid produced by fermentation is nothing like the sharp bite of vinegared pickles-it's a subtler and more complex flavor.
Choose perfectly fresh, firm, blemish-free pickling cucumbers-the small, nubby Kirby-type ones, not the kind you'd put in a salad. Cut open a couple cucumbers before you start the batch; if they're hollow on the inside, they're no good for fermented pickles, as bacteria can survive in the air pockets.
The grape or currant leaves are optional, but the tannins in the leaves will help keep the pickles crisp by deactivating the enzyme that causes softening.
As with all cucumber pickles, pasteurizing (heating the jars in water at 180°F for 30 minutes) rather than processing in boiling water for a shorter period will result in a slightly crisper pickle. However, I've given boiling-water processing instructions as well for those without a thermometer or who are short on time. Though really: You've spent weeks on these guys already ...
Cut off the blossom end of each cucumber. If you can't tell which end that is, cut off both ends.
Put half of the spices in the bottom of a clean 2- to 3-gallon crock or glass jar. Add half of the dill and half of the grape leaves, if using, then add the cucumbers, filling the jar no more than two thirds full. Top with the remaining spices, dill, and grape leaves and drop in the garlic.
In a large bowl, combine the vinegar, salt, and 1 gallon cold water. Pour over the cucumbers to just cover them (you may not use all of the liquid). Set a small plate on top of the cucumbers and place a weight on top to keep them submerged in the brine (a quart-size freezer bag filled with water or extra brine works well). Cover loosely and set aside in a cool spot in the house for 2 to 3 weeks, until the pickles are no longer white in the center when cut. After about 2 days, the mixture should start to ferment and bubble; skim the foam from the surface once every day or two.
Prepare for water-bath canning: Wash the jars and keep them hot in the canning pot, and put the flat lids in a heatproof bowl. (See Notes for details.)
Put a fine-mesh sieve over a large nonreactive pot and ladle in as much of the brine as you can. Bring to a simmer.
Ladle boiling water from the canning pot into the bowl with the lids. Using a jar lifter, remove the hot jars from the canning pot, carefully pouring the water from each one back into the pot, and place them upright on a folded towel. Drain the water off the jar lids.
Working quickly, pack the pickles in the jars as snugly as you can without damaging them. Put a garlic clove and some of the dill in each jar, along with a grape leaf, if desired. Ladle in the hot brine, leaving l/2 inch headspace at the top. Use a chopstick to remove the air bubbles around the inside of each jar. Use a damp paper towel to wipe the rims of the jars, then put a flat lid and ring on each jar, adjusting the ring so that it's just finger-tight. Return the jars to the water in the canning pot, making sure the water covers the jars by at least 1 inch. If pasteurizing, bring the water in the pot to 180°F, and keep it there, adjusting the burner as necessary, for 30 minutes. (Any time the water spends below 180°F must be added to the pasteurizing time so that the water is at 180°F for a total of 30 minutes.) If processing, bring to a full boil, and boil for 10 minutes. Remove the jars to a folded towel and do not disturb for 12 hours. After 1 hour, check that the lids have sealed by pressing down on the center of each; if it can be pushed down, it hasn't sealed, and the jar should be refrigerated immediately. Label the sealed jars and store.
Canning Step by Step:
1. Prepare for water-bath canning: It will probably take half an hour or so to bring the water in your canning pot to a boil, so fill it up and put it on the heat well in advance (when the recipe says "Prepare for water-bath canning" is a good time). Wash the jars well, then submerge them in the water as it heats up. If the recipe says to sterilize the jars, make sure the water covering the jars has been at a full boil for at least 10 minutes before pulling them out and filling them. If the filled jars will be processed for 10 minutes or longer, there's no need to sterilize them first, as they'll be sterilized during processing.
Clear off some counter or table space by the stovetop and set two folded towels nearby: one to put hot empty jars on for filling, and one to put the filled jars on when they come out of the canning pot (the latter should be in an out-of-the-way spot, if possible, where the jars can remain undisturbed for 12 hours). The towels will absorb heat from the jars and protect the counter surfaces. I also put a hot pan near the stovetop to put the preserving pan on when I'm ladling preserves or hot vinegar brine into the jars.
Gather everything you'll need:
* a jar lifter or tongs with rubber bands wrapped around the ends
* a small heatproof bowl or saucepan (put new, clean flat jar lids in it, and pile the clean metal jar rings next to it)
* a ladle or 1-cup measure for ladling preserves or brine into the jars
* a wide-mouth funnel for filling the jars (this is optional, but it helps prevent mishaps)
* a wooden or plastic chopstick or small, thin plastic spatula for removing air bubbles around the inside of each jar
* a clean paper towel for wiping the jar rims after filling
2. Make the preserve or pickle as described in the recipe.
3. Fill the jars: When the preserve is ready or the pickle brine has come to a boil, remove it from the heat.
Use the jar lifter to lift the hot jars out of the boiling or simmering water, empty the water back into the pot, and set the jars upright on one of the folded towels. Ladle hot water from the canning pot into the bowl with the jar lids. (I usually just pour in the hot water from the first jar I remove from the canning pot.) This will soften the rubberized ring of sealing compound around the underside of each lid so that it adheres to the jars and seals properly. Make sure that the lids aren't stacked tightly together, which can prevent water from coming into contact with the seal. You don't have to actually simmer the lids on the stovetop, and you shouldn't boil them (this could damage the sealing compound); as long as the water is about at a simmer when you ladle it in, they'll be fine.
If filling with fruit preserves, put the funnel in the first hot jar and ladle in the hot preserves, keeping the ladle as low and close to the funnel as possible to prevent too many bubbles from forming in the jar. Fill to ¼ inch from the top. Repeat with the remaining jars, then put the lids on and process as below.
If filling with uncooked room-temperature vegetables or fruit (what's known as "raw pack"), just pack them in the jars, not too tightly unless the recipe says to pack tightly. There should be enough space between the solids for the brine or syrup to flow around them to heat them up evenly as they're processed. Put the funnel in the mouth of the first jar and ladle in the syrup or brine. Repeat with the remaining jars, then put the lids on and process as below.
If filling with hot cooked solid fruit or vegetables, use a slotted spoon to transfer them from the cooking liquid to the jars, then ladle in the hot cooking liquid. Put the lids on and process as below.
4. Put the lids on and process the jars: Run the chopstick around the inside of each jar to pop any largeish bubbles (tiny ones are okay). Dip the paper towel in hot water and use it to wipe the rims and outside threads of the jars clean of any dripped preserves, syrup, or brine-these can prevent a seal from forming between the sealing compound and the jar. Put the flat lids on the jars, white side down, then put the rings on, tightening them just finger-tight-don't force them at all. (I hold the flat lid down gently with one finger and screw on the rings with the fingertips of my other hand.) You don't want the rings to be screwed too tight, because the air in the jar needs to escape as the contents are heated in the canning pot. When all the lids and rings are on, use the jar lifter to carefully return the jars to the hot water in the canning pot, making sure they're standing upright on the rack and not touching one another or the sides of the pot and that the water covers them by at least 1 inch. Turn up the heat, cover the pot, and bring the water in the canning pot to a full boil. Boil for the time indicated in the recipe plus additional time if you live more than 1,000 feet above sea level (see right). Remove the jars to the second, out-of-the-way towel on the countertop to cool. It's most important that jellies be allowed to cool for 12 hours before the jars are disturbed at all-moving them could break the gel.
5. Turn off the burner and pop open a cold beer, 'cause you're done. Well, almost. Remember to check, after the jars have cooled for about an hour, that the lids have sealed properly. This is easy to do: Press down in the center of the flat lid. If it doesn't move, the jar has sealed. If it pops down and then up again, it has not sealed; refrigerate the jar immediately and use the contents. Another way to check that a lid has sealed is to remove the ring, grip the lid with your thumb and middle finger, and slowly lift it straight up. If the lid comes off, obviously it hasn't sealed. Label the cooled jars and store them in a cool dark spot. Then, for goodness sake, use them!
Adjusting For Altitude:
Because of lower atmospheric pressure at higher elevations, water boils at lower temperatures, and this means it will take longer to kill off spoilers. So find your approximate elevation:
* To sterilize jars, boil for 10 minutes, plus 1 minute for every 1,000 feet above sea level you live.
* If the recipe specifies processing in boiling water for 20 minutes or less, increase the processing time by 1 minute for every 1.000 feet above sea level you live.
* If the recipe specifies processing in boiling water for more than 40 minutes increase the processing time by 2 minutes for every 1,000 feet above sea level you live.
Nutritional information is based on 40 servings, but does not include Pickling Spice. For nutritional information on Pickling Spice, please follow the link above.
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