This article outlines a dozen or so Simple Guidelines for Pickling Success. From Pickling Spice, to jars, and water bath canners, and a dozen little tricks and tips I have collected over the ages.
Simple Guidelines for Pickling Success
- Make your own batch of Pickling spice for each different kind of pickle and pickling combination.
- Whether you are canning or pickling food, use soft or distilled water. Minerals, particularly iron, will cause the discoloration. I love my Britta water filer for this.
- Its best to use wide-mouth pint jars for most pickles processed with the hot-water canner. Otherwise, you need to increase the canning time, which can result in overly processed, dull, rather tasteless food. Also if it calls for blanching, then do it, but always remember to ice your pickling cucumbers for 10-15 minutes before you start working on them. This icing process helps keep them crisp.
- Check jars for cracks along the rim, and check the seal for any cuts or cracks in the rubber. These inconsistencies tend to be the chief cause of improperly sealed food and subsequent spoilage.
- Sterilize all utensils, especially the jars and lids, before use. This will continue the war on harmful bacteria. Running them through the dishwasher and then leaving them in there still hot is a great way to get them ready.
- Always wipe the rims with a clean, lint-free cloth before and after placing food in the jars. Any particles of food or liquid can interrupt a proper seal and create spoilage. You’ll know within 24 hours if your jar has failed to seal into an air-tight state: spoiled food has a distinct odor-and hiss.
- Loosely pack or ladle your food into hot jars, leaving about 1/2 inch of head room between the food and the top rim. This will leave enough room for expansion when the jar is in the hat-water bath.
- Use a sterile, flat plastic butter knife or a commercial bubble freer to run down the sides of filled jars. This releases any air bubbles without damaging the food. Cover the jar with the rim and cap, and screw or secure them firmly into place. Do not use a metal kife as it might scratch the inside of your jars.
- Fill your canner one-third of the way with water before bringing it to a boil. Place your jars in the canner and add just enough water to immerse them approximately 1 inch below the water’s surface. Bring the water back to a boil before staring the countdown on the processing time. I have my canner marked on the outside as to how full to fill it with water, before putting the jars in. I have it marked for quarts, pints, half-pints, and now recently double trayed half-pints. Also I find that it is also easir to have a smaller pot on the stove with water. It comes to a boil quicker and you can add it to the canner.
- Be sure to cover the canner with its lid once the jars area in place. Open-bath or kettle processing can be dangerous for everything but jams and jellies. Processing without the lid fails to ensure a constant temperature and adequate pressure for creating a seal. Add boiling water as necessary to keep the jars 1 inch below the surface of the water. I didn’t think I need to worry about the water-bath, but the wide kettle loses a lot of heat and steam that way. Keep the lid on, even though it is very lose fitting.
- Remove your processed pickles from the canner and place them top up on a towel in an area of your kitchen which is free from drafts. Let them cool slowly, so they don’t get shocked and break. I actually stay up at night waiting to hear the pop.
- You may hear your jars “pop” as they cool. The decrease in temperature seals the vacuum created by processing in boiling water. Allow the jars to sit for at least 12 hours before testing the seal. If you are using rim-and-lid jars, press the center of the lid. If it doesn’t pop back up, the jar is sealed. If the lid looks concave, or curved down toward the middle, your jar is sealed. If you are using jars with a separate rubber gasket, test the seal of the cooled jars by gently trying to lift the top. If it does not yield to your pressure, it is sealed.
- Even though the jars may contain hot liquid, don’t invert, or turn them upside down in order to seal them; the heat may be inadequate for a good seal. That is why you put the lids in a small pot of water on the stove and bring to a simmer, no less than 3-4 minutes, and no longer than 5-6, so the sealant has time to soften and prepare to seal with your jar.
- Store your processed pickles in a cool, dark pantry or fruit cellar in order to avoid the fluctuations in temperature which can, at times, cause a breakdown in the texture of your product. Too much heat can also cause the lid to pop, and this will break the seal, rendering spoiled food. The average shelf life for canned or pickled food extends from 6 to 12 months. In the old days, jar used to come in case boxes that actually had flapped lips, so sorting the jars in the box was perfect. Also mark on the jar lid what and when it was processed / canned.
- Generally, canning pickles of any variety simply calls for reliable and standardized canning equipment, attention to safety, and diligence when watching the clock. No mater how poor you are, you need to PAY Attention to what your doing.
I hope you learn to enjoy pickling and canning as much as I do.
I would love to hear your stories, good or bad about pickling. That how we learn, from each other.
Photo credit: Grongar on Flickr’s Creative Commons