The art of preserving food by soaking it in brine, often with preservative spices such as garlic added.

While it is possible to pickle many things (e.g. three bean salad), the most common pickled item is the cucumber. I node the process from vague recollections of my mother's doing it many, many years ago:

  1. Make a brine by adding a cup of salt to each quart of water (or 250 ml for each liter). Soak the cucumbers in it overnight.
  2. Drain off the brine, but don't throw the cucumbers away. If you want to cut them into spears, do it now.
  3. Start to boil a big pot of water. The pot should be big enough to hold your canning rack.
  4. Make another brine. Add your spices (garlic, some dill, peppercorns, and a bay leaf or two).
  5. Decant the brine into open mason jars. Fill only about halfway to leave room for the cucumbers. Make sure each jar gets some of the spices!
  6. Pack cucumbers into each jar.
  7. Put a lid on each jar, and the ring that holds the lid on.
  8. Put the jars in the canning rack. Lower the rack into the pot of boiling water.
  9. The boiling water will expand the ring, allowing some of the air to escape. When you remove the rack, this will create a vacuum inside each jar as it cools.
  10. Wait a month, open a jar and enjoy a pickle with lunch!
Home pickling is also called "home canning" and is fairly simple and foolproof. Pickling refers to not only making traditional cucumber pickles, but preserving many kinds of vegetables in an acid/salt brine. The following describes pickling using the "boiling water" or "high-acid" method.

The equipment
Pickling requires just a few pieces of equipment:
  • Mason jars
  • A large pot, big enough to hold sufficient water to cover the upright jars when placed inside.
  • A SNAP lid and collar for each jar.
  • A jar rack for holding the jars in the pot and keeping them off the bottom and upright.
That's really all the must haves but you might also want to pick up a home canning kit that includes things like a large funnel, non-metallic stirring spatula and a jar lifter for handling hot jars.

Only use Mason jars, which are designed for repeated heating and cooling. Other types of jars might crack or shatter.

What's a SNAP lid?
A SNAP lid comes in 2 pieces. First there's a flat lid with a thin rubber collar on one side. This rubber collar seals the lid against the glass of the mason jar.

The second part is a collar that's only used to hold the flat lid against the jar while "processing" (see below) the jar. It should only ever be finger-tip tight and can be removed once the jar has been sealed and allowed to sit for 24-hours.

How high acid canning works
The boiling water method, also called high acid canning, is used to preserve food with a pH of 4.6 or lower. Some recipes using low acid foods require higher temperatures than are possible with just a pot of boiling water to preserve the food and therefore need a pressure cooker. But that's a different node.

If the food has a pH higher than 4.6 then additional acid is added in the form of a brine to lower the pH.

The boiling water method uses boiling water (duh) to heat the contents of a mason jar and sterilize the jar and it's contents. While the mixture in the jar heats, the small amount of air remaining in the jar expands and is forced out, under the SNAP lid. When the jar cools, the contents contracts and forms a hermetic seal between the lid and jar.

Once the jar is cool, the SNAP lid collar can be removed but should not be tightened. Tightening the collar may break the seal on the jar.

Home canned food usually takes 4-8 weeks to fully develop in flavour and can be stored for up to a year.

Prepare the vegetables to be canned. Sometimes this is as simple as washing and cutting vegetables, however recipes like fermented pickles or sauerkraut may require preparations that can take days or hours.

Wash the jars and SNAP lids.

Set a large pot of water on the stove and place the number of required mason jars into the water. There should be enough water in the pot to fill and cover the jars while they're standing upright.

Bring the water to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Keep the jars hot to prevent heat shock when adding the boiling brine to the jar.

Set aside the collars of the SNAP lids.

Place the flat lids in a pot or bowl of hot, but not boiling, water.

Create the brine
Pickles and pickled vegetables usually call for a "brine" or "pickling liquid" to be prepared and kept hot prior to actually canning the food. This brine usually contains a significant amount of vinegar or some other high-acid liquid and salt, which will keep bacteria from growing once the food is sealed into the jars.

In general, a brine is mixed and brought to a boil for 1-5 minutes to ensure that all ingredients are well combined and any existing bacteria is killed.

The pickling process
Take a hot jar from the pot, empty out the water and fill it with the vegetables. Pack in as much as you can as the vegetables will usually shrink a bit when processed in the boiling water.

Fill the jar with hot brine leaving about a 1/2 inch or 1 cm headspace between the top of the brine and rim of the jar.

Tap the filled jar on the counter or use a non-metallic spatula to remove all the air bubbles from the jar.

Wipe the rim of the jar and ensure no brine or vegetable is left on the rim, which might prevent a good seal.

Place a flat lid and collar on the jar. Tighten the collar to finger-tip tight only. If it's too tight, the gas won't escape when the jar is processed. If the lid is too loose, some of the contents of the jar might escape and get caught between the lid and jar, preventing a good seal.

Put the full jar back into the pot and fill the rest of the jars in the same way.

Each pickling recipe will call for a different "processing" time. This is the amount of time that each jar must be boiled in order to preserve the contents. Turn up the heat on the pot of water and start timing once the water reaches a rolling boil. Cover for the duration.

After processing, carefully remove each jar from the water without tipping it. Leave the jars to cool for 24 hours without disturbing them. Within about 30 minutes of cooling you should hear the lids snap and buckle down, indicating a good seal.

After 24 hours you can remove the collars from the lids or leave them on, but remember not to tighten them. If any of the lids have popped back up, use the contents immediately or place the jar in the 'fridge and use it over the next couple of days. You might also try reprocessing it, but if it didn't work the first time...

The finished product
Store the jars in a cool, dark place where they won't get knocked around.

Some vegetables, like asparagus and cauliflower, might turn a bit pink when pickled. This is normal. You can still eat them.

If some of the vegetables stick up out of the brine, over time that portion may darken or soften a bit. It's still safe to eat, since the processing of the jar killed any bacteria and the brine prevents new bacteria from forming. Next time, use more brine.

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