Monday, November 2, 2009

Pickling Season

In a Pickle

Pickling season is here and the house will soon be filled with the heady mix of vinegar, sugar, and spices. Pickling is the term used for preserving a food with acid and salt. Sometimes pickles are produced by letting them ferment in a salt water solution. During this fermentation period, lactic acid is produced. Sauerkraut and some dill and sweet pickles are produced by this method. A more common method of making pickles at home is the quick-pack method, where vinegar/water/salt brine is added to cucumbers or other vegetables or fruits.

Quick-process pickles can be cured in a salt solution for several hours or directly combined with boiling hot vinegar, spices, and seasonings. They are easy to prepare and have a tart flavor. Acetic acid in vinegar lowers the pH of pickled vegetables below 4.0 and acts as a preservative. The acidity of vinegar, therefore, must be five percent to ensure making a safe and standardized pickle recipe. Do not vary the amount of vinegar called for in the recipe.

Quick Tips

Fruits and vegetables should be fresh, tender, crisp, and free of blemishes.

1. Use cucumbers that are a recommended pickling variety. Do not expect good quality pickles if immature or “slicing” variety pickles are used.
2. Use unwaxed cucumbers. The pickling liquid cannot penetrate waxed cukes.
3. Prepare fruits and veggies within 24 hours of picking.
4. Wash fruits and veggies thoroughly in cold water. Remove all blossoms from cucumbers, as the blossoms may be a source of enzymes responsible for soft pickles.
5. Do not use any produce that shows even the slightest evidence of mold.
6. Either white granulated sugar or brown sugar may be used. Brown sugar will add color and flavor to the pickles.
7. Pure granulated salt, sold as “pickling” or “canning” salt should be used. Kosher salt may also be used. These salts do not contain anti-caking agents. Iodized salt contains iodine and anti-caking materials that may interfere with fermentation and make the brine cloudy.
8. Use cider or white vinegar of 5 percent acidity.

Watermelon Pickles
These are yummy and go well as a side dish. Give them a try.

8 cups prepared watermelon rind
one-half cup pickling salt
4 cups cold water
4 teaspoons whole cloves
4 cups sugar
2 cups white vinegar
2 cups water

Choose thick rind. Trim from it all dark skin and remains of pink; cut in one inch cubes. Dissolve salt in cold water, pour over rind cubes to cover (add more water if needed); let stand 5 to 6 hours. Drain, rinse well. Cover with fresh water and cook until barely tender-no more than 10 minutes (err on the side of crispness); drain. Combine sugar, vinegar, and water, add cloves tied in a cloth bag, and bring to boiling; reduce hear and simmer 5 minutes. Pour over rind cubes, let stand overnight. In the morning, bring all to boiling and cook until rind is translucent but not mushy-about 10 minutes. Remove spice bag, pack cubes in hot sterilized pint jars; add boiling syrup, leaving one half inch headroom; adjust lids and process in a boiling water bath for five minutes to ensure seal. Remove jars. Makes about 4 pints.
(Recipe taken from Ruth Hertzberg’s 1973 edition of Putting Food By- an oldie but goodie.)

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~ I'm the author of Headwind: The Intrepid Adventures of OSS Agent Katrin Nissen. If you're a WWII buff, you'll like it here!