Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Fair Share Farm Pickling Primer

Now that the pickle packs are here the orders have been flowing in. Some have been from those of you with a background in the craft. Others are ready to try your hand at it and see “the pack” as an opportunity to become a pickler.
For those of you new to pickling here are a few pointers, and then some recipes.
We sort pickles into three sizes:
Small: cucumbers/pickles this size are often called cornichons or gherkins. They are generally less than 2 inches long, and ½ inch fat. As you can imagine, picking your cucumbers so small requires a lot of plants and a lot of picking, so they are a bit of a delicacy.
Medium: We sort the next size up so that they are small enough to easily fit whole into a wide-mouth canning jar. They make for a beautiful pickle. Depending on your hand, they are generally “finger-sized.”

Large/Slicer/Chunker: Cucumbers that start getting too fat or large to fit many into a jar are still good for pickling and have many uses. Bread and butter pickles, lime pickles and dill pickle spears are all examples of pickles you can make from large ones.
There are a few general things about pickling that are good to know before you get started:
1.      Only use pickling cucumber varieties when pickling. They are a firmer cucumber than slicers and have the ability to stay crunchy.

2.      Scrape or cut the blossom end (the “bottom” of the cucumber) off your cucumber as there are enzymes in the remains of the flower blossom that can soften your pickle in storage.

3.      To help keep pickles crunchy people have for years added grape leaves to their jars of pickles. The tannins in the leaves are supposed to help keep them crisp. You can also use oak leaves, currant leaves, sour cherry leaves or horseradish shavings. (This isn’t necessary for lime pickles.)

4.      Do NOT use table salt for any pickling recipes, it contains non-caking agents which can discolor your product. Use pickling salt or sea salt.

5.      Canning is not a necessary step for making pickles. For many pickle recipes you can simply put the jars in your fridge, give them a week to pickle, and have a great batch of “refrigerator pickle” They are a good way to begin learning pickling and test out the flavors and tastes you like best.

6.      To learn how to process you pickles so that you can bring them out for your Thanksgiving or Xmas nosh, come to the pickling class that Emily Akins and I are teaching at the Bad Seed in July. Go to their website for more information. Note that the date may change based on this year’s pickling cucumber harvest dates.
A general source for canned pickle recipes (tested for safety) is the MU Extension. You should read this link (Pickling Basics) and the associated Quality for Keeps: Steps to Success in Home Canning . The first document has recipes for sweet gherkin pickles, dill pickles, bread and butter pickles and pickle relish.

You can also buy pickling lime at the grocery store and make lime pickles. The recipe on the Mrs. Wages bag is for sweet pickle chips that are crunchy every time. Just follow the instructions and be sure you rinse the cukes well.
The makings of pickle chunks

For a great refrigerator recipe go to our newsletter of July 5th, 2006. I make it in a gallon pickle jar, though smaller jars work too. You can use any of the pickle pack's aromatics. Simply clean the ingredients and add to the jar. Pre-boiling the cucumbers is something that I do not do anymore and the pickles are fine. You can omit that step and will find that this is a very simple recipe, and the cukes are a real treat.
Refrigerator pickles
If you want to make pickles the really old fashioned way, with salt brine, check out the progress of making a batch in last year's blog, bere and here. The recipe is in the MU Extension pickeling publication.

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