Saturday, October 11, 2003

Yay! I got some brussels sprouts! Besides the fact that those two expressions are side by side for possibly the first time in human history, this development is momentous for another reason. Today, for the first time ever, I will post my pickle-making methods. If you like pickled veggies, this is for you. If you don't, then it might still be for you since it's a great recipe and you don't know what you're missing.

The first thing is to make sure you know what you're doing, canning-wise and that you have the basic equipment on hand. You'll need a canning kettle (preferably one that comes with the jar rack), a box of pint size jars with the two piece "dome" lids, some kind of funnel (a special canning funnel is nice, but not necessary) and a couple of saucepans and wooden spoons. Other than the sauce pans, you can get most of this at your neighborhood hardware store - not the big-box type of store, but the old-fashioned kind where things get kind of dusty and the workers know what they're talking about. You can buy a starters kit that contains most of this stuff, plus some more special items. If you think you'll like canning, then by all means make the investment. (By the way, yes I know that your great-grandma canned 800 quarts a year using nothing but old mayo jars and some parafin. Get the new-fangled stuff anyway. We know more about food-borne pathogens now and it's not all that terribly expensive and should pay you back in savings if you end up canning more than a few pints, depending upon what you can.)

Next, get thee online or to a library and read the basics of home canning. Most canning books will feature several "how to" pages about preparing jars and lids, processing time, etc. Each box of new jars has good basic instructions, too, and usually comes with a recipe or two. DISCLAIMER: Home canning has a small, but real, inherent risk. Make sure your kitchen and utensils are absolutely clean and that you follow directions well in order to reduce the risk as much as possible. Only high-acid food may be canned safely in a hot water bath (which is what I focus on) so don't go thinking you can make, say, turkey rice soup. You can't. And don't skimp on processing time or acidity recommendations or sealing directives. It's 100% your responsibility to make sure that you follow all the guidelines.

Now, let's pickle some brussels sprouts. Follow the recommendations for preparing the jars for canning. Place some sprigs of dill, a large clove of garlic and a whole, fresh jalapeno pepper in each pint jar. Fill jar to about 3/4 of an inch below the top with brussels sprouts. In a saucepan, bring to boil 2 cups of water and 2 cups of regular white 5% acidity vinegar (not the fancy-pants gourmet wine stuff) along with a half a cup of pickling or kosher salt. Stir the salt to dissolve. After the vinegar mixture comes to a boil bring it off the heat and pour into each jar using your funnel and a heat-resistant measuring cup, leaving a half inch of head space at the top of the liquid. You should have enough liquid for four pints. Clean off the rims of each jar using a CLEAN towel dipped in very hot water (I use the water in which the lids are boiling) and then seal by placing the flat part of the two piece lid on the rim of the jar and screwing the ring around it until it's nice and tight. Because you are an organized canner you've already started boiling the water in your canner (fill the canner up pretty high - the water should be at least two inches over the top of the jars when the rack is lowered) you shouldn't have to wait too long before it reaches a rolling boil and is ready to receive the prepared jars.

Place the jars onto the canning rack using either the special tong thingies made for this purpose or a thick oven mitt. Try to balance the jars on the rack so they're not all on one side and tip the rack over. Lower the rack into the canner and cover. Process the sprouts for ten minutes, starting the time count after the water in the canner has come back to a boil. At the end of processing time, remove the jars using your tong thingies or oven mitt and place on the counter on a folded dish towel. Do not mess with the jars or lids while they're cooling. As the jars cool, you'll hear little "pings" indicating that your seals are sealing and you've done a good job.

Let the pickles season for a couple weeks before you open them to the raves that are undoubtedly coming your way.

Let's refresh: If you've followed the basic canning instructions you've sought out as well as my recipe you've got heated jars, heated lids, heated pickling liquid, and the sprouts boiling in their jars in acid, as well as being heated by boiling water from outside the jars. This should cover the territory germ-wise, provided the jars seal. Any jars that don't seal can be reprocessed using new flat parts of the lids.

That's it. I made four pints of picked sprouts as I typed this in real time this morning. Not counting typing time, the four pints required about 20 minutes of preparation, 20 minutes of waiting for the canner to boil and 10 minutes of processing time. That's just a little more than 12 minutes per pint, which will pay you back many times over in the sheer joy of accomplishment and inspiring awe in people who think, quite wrongly as we've seen, that it's hard to can stuff yourself. Today pickles, tomorrow rhubard-ginger marmalade.


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