So many cucumbers. Now I know why they call it produce … my garden PRODUCED.
So, as I stood staring at this mountain of cucumbers, the next obvious question was … what the heck do I do with them all?
I made pickles. (Okay, actually we made pickles. My husband was my pickle partner … that’s not a metaphor.) We looked at our abundance of beautiful cucumber babies, and actually did something with them other than giving them away, eating more at one time than either of us really wanted, or letting them rot in the fridge.
Unfortunately, I hate pickles.
But that’s beside the point. I needed to do something with them, and have plenty of people in my family who love the tart little suckers. So here I’ve provided the pickling process from the pupil’s perspective.
When I first googled “how to make pickles”, the process seemed a bit intimidating. There were all kinds of things about jarring with weights and scooping out scum and just … no, I’m not ready for that yet.
However, after a bit more digging, I realized that all that was not entirely necessary. For the moderate pickle consumer, the process can be quite simple. I took this initial recipe, and gleaned some wonderful advice from a lovely blog called Kitchn: Cooking Lessons from the Kitchen. There was even a video. I love it when there is a video. The author of the blog stated that these pickles can be made within 30 minutes. It took me longer … but I think it is safe to assume that any time you are figuring out a process, it is going to take you longer than the estimated time listed on a recipe. However, after a few times repeating this process, I can see it smoothing out into a cool half an hour endeavor.
I’m not going to pretend that I create the recipes and other experiments I write about here. I leave that to experts like Elizabeth Leonard and the author Kitchn. My job is to provide the beginner’s mind to explain the pitfalls that are obvious to the seasoned simplifier.
Beginning Pickling, Step 1: How the hell big is a mason jar?
A few months ago I bought two cases of mason jars (the big kind and the little kind) from a local grocer. I felt weirdly proud of myself for the purchase, like I had just joined some kind of hipster-farmers club. (Farmsters? No. Probably won’t catch on.) Since then they’ve been put to very good use … as water glasses. So I was immensely happy for the opportunity to use them for an endeavor more true to their purpose for being. But which one to use? The big ones or the little ones?
Here’s what I learned about Mason jars:
Mouth Size: There are regular mouth and wide mouth mason jars. Regular mouth mason jars seem to be slightly less useful unless you are filling them with liquids, or small solids within liquids such as pie fillings or salsa, that are not going to be frozen, as they are easier to pour. Regular mouth pint and quart mason jars are not freezer safe.
Wide mouth jars, the kind I luckily bought, are better for any larger filling such as fruits and vegetables (like pickles!) The pint jar is freezable. Here is the nice little chart provided by the Ball mason jar company.
I’m sure there’s more to know when you actually get into serious canning … I’m not there yet.
So my favorite water glass is actually a pint jar.
Beginning Pickling, Step 2: What the heck is brine?
Is this a word I should have heard before? I feel like this is a word I should have heard before. So it turns out that brine is your salt/water/vinegar mixture that is going to take your cucumbers and ruin… *cough cough* I mean transform them into pickles. The spices that you put into the jar that mix with the brine, are flexible. I went with the recipe as written, but to make different types of pickles, such as sweet pickles, the process is similar, just the spices are different. There are literally hundreds of blogs that suggest spice mixtures, ratios, and slight alterations to the preparation.
A note about salt: One thing I had to look up was the necessity of using pickling salt or kosher salt. The store I was at had neither of these. Would another type of salt work? It turns out that all you need is a type of salt with no additives. Average old Morton salt / table salt contains additives that may mess with your pickling process. So I went with pure sea salt, and it worked perfectly.
Beginning Pickling, Step 3: Follow a recipe, put it in a mason jar. Give it away to friends and family like a door prize just for visiting your house. Everybody likes you a little bit more than they did before. It’s seriously that simple.
It’s so simple. SO. SIMPLE. Maybe it’s dumb I’m even writing a blog about it – but that’s the point. You don’t know something is simple until you do it. Now this can safely be added to my “I know how to do that list.” Lesson learned. But it wasn’t the only lesson learned.
Beginning Pickling, Step ½: Grab somebody you generally consider fun to be around. Make some margaritas to share while you work. (Or just some milkshakes. I’ll let you choose the beverage.) Begin the pickling process together.
We’re backing up a few steps here. I started the process almost as tart as the pickles themselves that I was going to turn all my lovely cucumbers into something I’ll never eat. But it turns out that there is something so organically fun approaching a new task that is entirely surmountable – yet you still have to figure it out like a new puzzle. My husband and I had a blast. We learned something new. We divided the tasks to get it done, and we conquered.
If you are looking for an easy score in your road to homesteading, I encourage you to try pickling cucumbers. Even if you think they are disgusting. After all it’s about the process, not the pickles.