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pickles

A late planting of lettuce and dill are all that remain viable in my home kitchen garden after two frosts. This bouqet of dill contributed to my first batch of pickled vegetables.

If you’re in hardiness zone 5, 6, or 7, your home kitchen garden is running out of time. Mine, in hardiness zone 5b (or 6a or b depending on whose map you consult), has seen two nights of frost nearly two weeks apart. It hasn’t been enough to kill of the cool weather plants, but their days are numbered.

The most dramatic crop left in my home kitchen garden is a two-foot row of dill weed that I planted from seed in August; it’s now more than knee high, and is as beautifully wispy green as anything I’ve ever grown.

My wife has always wanted fresh dill to make potato salad, but for five years my home kitchen garden hasn’t obliged (see box: Dill Weed Wonder). Finally, I have a gorgeous profusion of the stuff, and she’s no longer in charge of the kitchen; I’m the resident cook, and I don’t use dill in my potato salad.

So, given this awesome patch of fresh dill standing stalwart against the frost, what was I going to do? Make pickles!

Home Kitchen Garden Pickle Planning

I’ve never made pickles, but I’m pretty confident when it comes to cooking and food-preservation. I can a lot of jams, jellies, and tomato sauce, and have canned pears, peaches, and fruit salad. Oh, and I’ve made and canned ketchup and chili sauce (mom had a recipe for chili sauce that I **need** when I make meatloaf). So, while I’ve never made pickles, I figured I could handle the job if I tried.

I Googled pickle recipes. Not surprisingly, the words pickle and recipes appear together on more than 300,000 web pages. I must have speed-read three dozen of those pages, and it became clear: there’s no right way to make pickles.

Dill Weed Wonder

Dill has been the problem child of my home kitchen garden. I planted some years ago at my wife’s request, and only one or two plants grew–not enough to hold my attention. The next year, I planted dill from commercial seeds and got similar results. This time, I ignored the few plants and let them do their thing. Apparently, their thing was seeding because the next year I had a couple of volunteer dill weed plants in my garden.

Still, there wasn’t enough dill to be useful, so I ignored it again. This season, I had a few more volunteer plants in my garden–never enough for my wife’s potato salad, but always enough to make seeds for the next season’s volunteers. The dill plants matured by late spring and went to seed. In August, I harvested two large hands full of seeds, stored some in an envelope on my desk, and planted a two foot row in my garden with the others. Mother load!

It seems that every seed in the August planting sprouted and is maturing. I have a thick, low hedge of dill; enough to make many gallons of dill pickles and potato salad to last the winter.

I don’t know whether packaging and shipping dill seeds somehow weakens them, or I just got unlucky for a few years planting commercial seeds. But given my drothers, I’ll always start my dill planting from home-grown seeds.

The most bizarre page I read offered instructions for Pickling Cukes in a Jiffy. Step 1 of the procedure was to soak cucumbers in salt water for 12 hours. Had all other pickling recipes demanded 48 hours of soaking, 12 hours would have been a jiffy. But many recipes simply instructed me to put pickles in jars, cover them with brine, and can them in a boiling water bath.

Between seasonalchef.com, Strub Pickles, Cooking Cache, The Self Sufficient Urbanite, and others, I “made up” a recipe; a kind of average of what so many of them instructed.

How I Made Pickles

I had a giant head of cauliflower, a more modest head of broccoli, a pile of carrots, a few cucumbers, a quart of small hot peppers, and a very large onion that I wanted to pickle. I buy such a mix of pickled vegetables about once a month when I make sweet-and-sour meatballs; I get the sweet from canned pineapple, and the sour from the pickled vegetables. By pickling the vegetables myself, I figured to reduce the cost of making sweet-and-sour meatballs.

Here’s the basic procedure:

I peeled three very large carrots as well as one very large onion. I cut the stems off the peppers, cut the peppers into thirds (making two rings and a thimble), and scraped as many seeds as I could from each section. Then I cut the carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumber, and onion into bite-sized pieces.

Broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, cucumbers, carrots, and onions cut into bite-sized pieces made up the mix of vegetables I pickled to use later when I make sweet-and-sour meatballs.

I heated five quart-sized canning jars and three pint-sized jars in a boiling-water-bath canning pot.

I mixed brine using the following proportions:

  • 1 unit of canning salt (salt without iodine apparently makes a clear brine)
  • 4 units of white vinegar
  • 8 units of water

Because I didn’t know how many jars I’d fill or how much brine each jar would require, I wanted a simple formula that would scale easily should I need to mix a second batch. The first pot of brine contained 1/2 cup of canning salt, 2 cups of white vinegar, and 4 cups of water. I heated the brine to boiling, then cut the heat but kept the cover on the pot.

I put a teaspoon of pickling spice in each jar, and then two sprigs of dill.

I filled each (hot) jar with mixed vegetables to about ¾ inch of the top… fitting chunks closely to fill as much of the space as I could.

A jar of freshly pickled vegetables catches the morning sun on my dining room table.

I poured enough (hot) brine into each jar to cover the vegetables—to about ½ inch of the top of the jar. I ran out of brine before I ran out of vegetables, so I mixed and heated a second batch; the same amount as the first batch.

I covered each jar with a canning lid and band, and boiled the jars—20 minutes for the quarts, and 15 minutes for the pints.

The Pickle Verdict

Some pickling instructions say to wait four or more weeks before opening a jar. Some say the pickles are ready when the jars are cool. I’m not always patient, so I opened a jar after it cooled.

I’m pleased. The pickles are a little saltier than I’d like, but that’ll work OK when I cook them in the sweet-and-sour sauce. Also, the pickling spice imparted a delightful flavor that I associate more with sweet pickles than with dills… but it’s a nice touch and if it holds up in the sweet-and-sour sauce it should complement the other flavors there.

Economy of my Home Kitchen Garden

I added up my costs of pickling vegetables using prices from my grocery store and the local farmers’ market:

  • Carrots $0.80
  • Broccoli $1.50
  • Cauliflower $2.00
  • Onion $0.33
  • Peppers $2.00
  • Vinegar $1.30
  • Salt $1.12 (but after I bought pickling salt, I found it at another store for half the cost)
  • Spice $1.18 (very low price at a local whole foods store)
  • Canning lids $1.79
  • Fresh dill (didn’t price it, sorry)

I already had canning jars, but if you have to buy them, you’ll pay about $10. They’ll come with lids, so for the cost analysis, we’ll say they cost $8.

The grand total, then, was just over $20. For that, I canned 16 pints of pickled vegetables. The same pickles would cost at least $76 at the farmers’ market (I’m pretty sure it’s more; I’m always taken aback when the pickle dude tells me how much he charges). So, making my own year’s supply of pickles has saved close to $56, and it has provided a fine adventure to share.

I’ll prepare a more detailed, illustrated, step-by-step guide to making pickled vegetables for an upcoming post. In the meantime, if you’d like to read more, please consider the following articles:

  • Pickle Recipes – Last week Meadowlark asked for some recipes in this post. I’m not feeling up to writing up a whole ton of recipes so I cut and pasted some pickle recipes I sent to Erikka in August. Fresh-Pack Dill Pickles 17ish pounds Cucumbers …

  • Spicy Pickle Recipe – Carrot Pickle Recipe – Carrot pickle recipe ingredients:. 2 kilograms carrots, shredded; 100 grams chili peppers, chopped; 1 big garlic bulb, cleaned and minced; 400 ml oil; 2 tablespoons salt; 1 tablespoon sugar; 2 tablespoons parsley leaves, chopped …

  • Pickle recipes :: Indian Pickle recipes – Amla Pickle Beetroot Pickle Cabbage Pickle Capsicum Pickle Carrot Pickle Cauliflower Pickle Garlic Pickle Lemon Pickle Lime Pickle Mango Pickle Tindora Pickle.

  • CSA Newsletter: Week 21- October 6, 2008 – Both of these pickle recipes are delicious with plain while rice. Dried Dill. Divide your bunch into 2 or 3 smaller bunches and hang inside of a small paper bag. Use a rubber band to cinch the dill stems at the opening of the paper bag. …

  • Pickling How-To – These days, almost all store bought pickles and contemporary pickle recipes are vinegar-based. Lacto-fermented pickles contain no vinegar at all. In lacto-fermentation, salt is added to vegetables, either by covering them in salty water …

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