Tis the season to be pickling as evidenced by a run on canning jars, mustard seed and cider vinegar. (Let me know if there are pint sized jars for sale around the Storrs area! Haven’t made salsa yet). With such a flux of new vegetable gardeners this year, all are looking for ways to put up the harvest and demand seems to be outstripping canning supplies.

One of my early memories while visiting my grandparents was going down to Grandma’s food storage shelter under the basement stairs. It smelled like – abundance. Bins were overflowing with savory onions, potatoes and squash; jars were filled with peaches and plums; there were all kinds of pickles, Grandpa’s hot chili sauce, and my favorite, homemade pineapple preserves. Most of the produce was obtained at the large farmers’ market on Broadway.

Tomatoes canned

Canned tomatoes for winter use. Photo by dmp 2020.

My mother carried on the canning tradition to a minor extent ever trying to satisfy the cravings of 7 active, hungry children. Mostly she made ‘quick’ pickles which were consumed by us kids almost as fast at they were made, especially the sweet bread and butter ones.

It wasn’t until I started gardening in earnest back in the 80s that I tried my hand at preserving the harvest. Freezing vegetables was, by far, the quickest, easiest, and coolest (temperature-wise) method but I found it was easy to run out of freezer space.

frozen veg

Frozen veggies are great but take up freezer space. Photo by dmp, 2020.

Canning was next on the agenda. At first, just some bread and butter pickles from my Mom’s tried and true recipe, but soon I expanded to dill pickles. Fermented dill pickles sounded interesting and delicious.

The first year I tried making them in a crock and they were superb. The whole premise of immersing vegetables or fruits into salted water, or brine, dates back over 4000 years. Preserving food to get through times when it wasn’t readily available has always been critical to human survival. If the food is palatable, so much the better!

Pickles can be made by immersing fruits or vegetables in either a salt water brine or an acid solution until no longer considered vulnerable to spoilage. Most home gardeners I know defer to the second ‘quick’ method of pickling.

The salt water brine method encourages lacto-fermentation. All vegetables or fruits are covered with benign bacteria, mostly in the lactobacillus family. In the brine, populations of these bacteria increase thus suppressing the populations of harmful bacteria species that could cause spoilage. They do this by metabolizing the sugar in the produce and also by producing lactic acid and other antibacterial substances. The lactic acid preserves the fruits or vegetables but leaves most of their nutritional value intact. Quite a number of vegetables can be pickled this way with the salt content dependent on which ones you are using. Various herbs and spices, such as garlic, dill, chiles and mustard seeds, are added for flavor.

Despite my best attempts to mimic my first successful fermentation attempt, the next couple of batches of fermented pickles came out poorly and I attributed that to the temperatures being just too high during the summer in my un-airconditioned house so I switched to quick pickling using an acidic vinegar solution and a hot water bath.

pickles dill 2

Dill pickle supplies. Photo by dmp, 2020.

There are so many wonderfully delicious recipes out there, I urge anyone with a penchant for pickles to try one or two, or more. A first for me this year was pickled onions with peppercorns. I grew a batch of ‘Blush’ red onions that I purchased from Territorial. We had so much rain last April and May that I thought the plants would rot but they all pulled through and since red onions are not the greatest storers, some got turned into pickles. Perfect on that barbequed burger.

pickled onions 2

Pickled Blush red onions turn a nice pink color. Photo by dmp, 2020.

Zucchini and peppers also had record yields and together with some onions were made into a delectable, sweet zucchini relish. The hardest part of this recipe is cutting up 10 cups of finely diced zucchini. I find it is easier if I do the chopping one night and then prepare the relish and use the hot water bath the next day.

Zucchini relish

Colorful zucchini relish. Photo by dmp, 2020.

The cucumbers were also prolific this year. Often, they get hit by bacterial wilt or powdery mildew or meet some other demise and there are only enough for one batch of pickles. Not only did I have enough for an early batch of refrigerator dills (thanks to Mrs. Wages’s pickling mix) but there were plenty left over for canned dill pickles, bread and butter pickles and golden glow pickles (great for the oversized ones).   

pickles 2

Golden glow, dill and bread and butter pickles. Photo by dmp, 2020.

A few things to consider if new to pickling: Make sure you have all your supplies on hand before starting. Follow the recipes exactly although you can cut them in half. Use fresh, undamaged produce. Purchase pickling or canning salt as iodized table salt often makes the pickling solution cloudy. Wine vinegar should not be substituted for white or cider vinegar. If you don’t have a dish washer, clean jars can be placed in the water bath for 10 to 15 minutes before they are filled.

Let this be the year that you give pickling a try. It’s a delicious past time and you’ll appreciate your savory delicacies long after the gardening season comes to a close. Check out this UConn resource for food preservation information.  

Dawn P.    

It’s that time of year. The weather has been hot and the garden is producing vegetables faster than we can consume them. The squash, zucchini and cucumbers are coming in fast and furious. A batch of ratatouille has already been processed and this past weekend it was time to put up some pickles.

Ratatouille

There are several varieties of cucumbers in our garden including the smaller pickling cukes, the long English cucumbers (it doesn’t seem proper to call them ‘cukes’), and a fun variety known as the lemon cucumber. All of the cucumbers are grown on trellises which enables us to grown vining plants in a smaller space. By going up instead of out, air circulation around the plants is increased, the fruit can grow straighter, and it is easier to harvest.

Pickling cucumbers

English cucumbers

Lemon Cucumbers

The lemon cucumber variety has been around since 1894 and a package of the seeds were offered in the 1901 James Vick & Sons catalog for 10¢. The description was as follows: “The flesh is exceedingly tender and crisp, with a sweet flavor surpassing all other cucumbers. They have none of the bitter or acid taste so generally found in cucumbers”. I confess that when I was first attracted to it a few years ago I planted it as more of a novelty than anything else. I was surprised to find that it is a vigorous plant that sends out yards of growth. It is andromonoecious, with male and female elements in the same blossom, results in more natural self-pollination than that of monoecious cucumbers which have the sexes in separate flowers on the same plant or gynoecious which has only female flowers. Seed companies will generally include 10% of a monoecious variety to ensure pollination for gynoecious varieties. Why choose a gynoecious or andromonoecious variety? They will generally out-produce monoecious varieties since all of their flowers are capable of becoming fruit. How can you tell a male flower from a female flower? The female flower (the image on the left) will have an immature fruit at the base of the blossom while a male flower (the image on the right) will only have a petiole connecting it to the stem.

       Female flower 2 Male flower

The fruit of the lemon cucumber is as its name suggests,  the size, shape, and color of a large lemon and when cut is has the appearance of a lemon wedge.

Lemon cucumber

I enjoy pickling them as much for their taste as for the beautiful and unique way that they look in a jar. The following text and images are a quick overview of the boiling water canning bath process but full details can be found at the USDA Complete Guide to Home  Canning. After the cucumbers have been washed and the ends trimmed I then cut them into wedges. They are placed in a large bowl, sprinkled with coarse salt and covered with crushed ice. After 2-4 hours of refrigeration they are ready to be drained and rinsed. While the cukes are in their ice bath I prepare the pickling syrup of sugar, vinegar and pickling spices. I also add powdered turmeric to add flavor and a tint of yellow to the finished product.

Cucumber wedges

Ice bath

Cucumbers in pickling syrup

The hot cucumber wedges and the pickling syrup are ladled into sterilized glass canning jars, sealed and put into a hot water bath. Due to the high acidic content of most pickled food they do not need to be pressure canned and can be processed by being submerged in boiling water for the USDA recommended amount of time.

Ladled into jars

Once cooled, the jars can be stored in a clean, cool, dark, dry place ready to be enjoyed all winter long.

Finished product

Susan Pelton