Mastering Food Preservation: Pickles & Relish

Canning pickles helps to free up precious refrigerator space, and preserves them for longer term storage. With some of my previous attempts resulting in less than satisfactory pickles, I was looking forward to picking up some tips for crispier pickles at this evening’s Master Food Preserver lab.

With a focus on pickles and relish, four kitchen stations were set up for making Pickled Corn Relish, Low-Sodium Dill Pickles, Sour Mustard Pickles, and Sauerkraut. Each recipe was chosen to introduce us to a different aspect of pickling, the preserving of low-acid vegetables, such as this evening’s corn, cucumbers and cabbage, through adding acid in the form of vinegar or, in the case of the cabbage, through fermentation.

Often canning recipes mention using canning salt. Unlike table salt, the one for pickling and preserving is free of iodine and anti-caking additives. Iodine can darken the pickles, while the anti-caking additives may cloud the pickling liquid or brine. Some recipes also call for the use of firming agents such as alum, picking lime, or the addition of grape leaves, none of which are necessary with current processing methods, and are generally not recommended.

Along with freezing, Pickled Corn Relish is a way of preserving corn without a pressure canner. With this recipe, there’s no need to brine or soak the corn overnight. It’s simply boiled on the cob for 5 minutes, then dipped in cold water to stop the corn from cooking further. There are many gadgets available to help strip corn from the cob; I find using a knife quick enough, and cut the kernels off with the cobs placed on their sides.

The photo above left shows the mustard and turmeric being stirred in, giving the finished relish some added color and spice. The jars are filled with the hot mixture, and processed for 15 minutes in a boiling-water canner.

The corn relish was put up in 1.5 pint-sized jars, the elongated shape showing off this festive mix of corn and diced red and green bell peppers to their best advantage.

We used pickling cucumbers for the Reduced-Sodium Sliced Dill Pickles. While pickling cucumbers can be used for both preserving and eating fresh, slicing cucumbers result in a much less crispy pickle. To further ensure crispiness, the cucumbers were kept as cold as possible in the refrigerator before being used, and the blossom end sliced off and discarded. Once they were cut up — a ruffled cutter would be nice to use here — the jars were raw-packed tightly.

Above, the low-sodium brine is heated up, and the bubbles released from the jars before capping. Here, we’re using a plastic wand made for this task; never use a metal knife to free the bubbles with, this risks nicking or chipping the inside of the glass jar. Low-sodium brines compensate by increasing the amount of sugar — in this case, 6 cups of sugar per 8 pints of pickles.

After 15 minutes of processing, the jars are removed from the boiling-water canner. This is an example of floating, a common occurrence when canning cold-packed vegetables or fruit. They’re still safe to eat and, once the jars have had some time in storage, this will lessen and the cucumbers become more evenly distributed in the liquid. In any case, pickles should sit for a couple of weeks before opening to let the flavors develop.

The third station made Quick Sour Pickles. Jars of these that Kathy Savoie, our teacher, brought in for us to sample quickly convinced us that a processed pickle could be crisp. She recommends refrigerating canned pickles before opening and serving them cold, both of which contributes to a crispy texture.

The brine for these pickles calls for cider vinegar. We made sure to use one that was at least 5% acid to ensure the right level of acidity for safe canning. As with the low-sodium dill slices, the jars were raw-packed and a hot brine poured over before canning.

Another tip for a crispy pickle is to not let your pickles linger any longer than necessary in the hot water bath.  The Quick Sour Pickles were processed for only 10 minutes, and removed from the boiling-water canner immediately after the time is up, and placed on a rack to cool. There’s some float, but not as noticeable as with the low-sodium dills.

A pile of 25 pounds of cabbage awaited the last station, which was assigned to make Sauerkraut. The fermented pickles combines shredded cabbage with salt and time to create an environment that’s inhospitable to bacteria that could spoil the sauerkraut.

This behemoth of a pickling crock is sized to fit this 25 pound batch. Knives at the ready, we finely shredded the cabbages, adding it to the crock as we went along.

Salt was added to each layer of cabbage, and mixed in by hand to start the fermentation process. After repeatedly shredding, salting and packing until all the cabbage was in the container, the mixture eventually became covered by it’s own frothy juices. A weighted 2-piece insert was set on top to keep the cabbage submerged in the liquid.

Once the weights were in place, the crock was then covered with its lid. The top is designed with a shallow well around the rim, and is then filled with water to create a seal. The crock was moved to a quite place at 70° to 75°F,  where it could sit undisturbed while it ferments for 3 to 4 weeks. At 60° to 65° F, fermentation may take 5 to 6 weeks; below 60°F and the kraut may not ferment, above 75° and the kraut may become soft.

The next generation of Master Food Preservers.

Recipes:
– Pickled Corn Relish
– Reduced-Sodium Sliced Dill Pickles
– Quick Sour Pickles (scroll down)
– Sauerkraut

Resources:
Preparing and Canning Fermented and Pickled Foods
Causes and Possible Solutions for Problems with Pickled Foods
Causes and Possible Solutions for Fermented Pickles

This is one in a series of posts following the Master Food Preserver Program offered through the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

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7 Responses to Mastering Food Preservation: Pickles & Relish

  1. Liz says:

    I’m really enjoying your preservation series. Corn relish is new to me and sounds really lovely – one to try this summer.

    • leduesorelle says:

      Hi Liz, I’m glad you enjoy reading these, I was afraid they might be boring to those less geeky than me… I found myself eating the corn relish by the spoonful straight out of the jar, it’s so good. Just make sure to let it sit long enough for the flavors to meld and the vinegar to mellow a little, about 4 to 6 weeks.

  2. Christina says:

    Your winter pantry will be stuffed with goodies!
    That is a cute little “supervisor” !!!

  3. Simona says:

    I am going to check the corn relish recipe. Thanks!

    • leduesorelle says:

      I had my reservations but it’s a nice way to preserve corn. Just make sure to let the jars age a bit, then, for a nice crunchy texture, refrigerate before serving.

  4. K. Crane says:

    what a cute little dumpling of a baby :) I’m going to try the corn relish too – thanks for sharing!

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