I waded into the canning waters last year, when a volunteer cucumber vine left me with multiple grocery bags full of "Straight 8s". I was sick of eating cucumbers in salads or peeled and with salt. I went so far as to try and bake them--by a recipe I found in my Masterin the Art of French Cooking. Leave it to the French and Julia Child to come up with creative ways to serve just about any vegetable. But, baked cucumbers weren't that good. It was a texture thing. So, I did what anyone with a glut of cucumbers would do: made pickles. My mom, who's a veteran canner, helped me, and we made both bread and butter (sweet) and dill pickles. She has a fancy vegetable cutter that works like a meat grinder with a crank that makes the crinkle cuts. These bread and butters were fancy, I'm telling ya.
So, fast forward to this year. I've got one quart left in the larder and knew that I would can more this year, notwithstanding the Can Jam. When I found out what it was going to be, I decided I would just make this easy on myself and use these as my entry for July. Especially, since it's just starting to get high canning season here, and I've got blackberries and peaches coming out my ears that I'm going to be canning as jam this week, too.
I should also mention that I went to a canning class on July 9th taught by the West Virginia University Extension Service. I was so excited when I saw the class advertised in the newspaper. I felt like the geek who sits in the front row of class on the edge of her seat! I got a few tips and tricks that even my mom, who went with me, didn't know about, and she's been canning for years. It was also good to get a refresher on canning safety--something we all can brush up on from time to time.
So, here's the goods (along with some of the tips and advice presented at the canning class):
Don't forget to wash your jars thoroughly and check the rims for nicks. A step I often overlook, as I run them through the dishwasher after I use them. But I store them on a shelft against the wall in my garage, and they could easily (and probably do) get dusty. Also, a chipped jar won't seal propely, so don't use those at all.
Fill up your hot water bath canner and get it on the stove to get the water hot. When I made pickles, this step took the longest. In the canning class, I learned that those funny looking handles of the jar rack are made that way so you can rest the rack half-way out of the water, which makes it easier to load and unload the jars... Hmm. I always wondered why the handles had that funny "crook" in them. I can't believe that never occured to me.
I confess, I didn't make the spice mix from scratch. I bought Ball Bread and Butter Pickle Mix and followed the directions on the back of the package. I also cut the batch in half because I only had enough cucumbers for half. This is nothing like last year when I was overrun with cucumbers.
Ball Bread and Butter Pickles - yields 4 pints
3 lb. cucumbers, scrubbed and cut into 1/2 inch slices
2 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups vinegar
1 half a pouch of bread and butter pickle mix
Pack cucumbers tightly in 4 prepared pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. When you think you've packed them as tight as you can, pack a little more in. The pickles will shrink when you process them. Bring sugar, pickle mix, and vinegar to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Ladle into jars over cucumber slices, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and wipe rims of jars well (the pickling juice is sticky, so this step is VERY important). Place two-piece lids on jars and process 15 minutes in a hot water bath canner.
Three tips from my canning class:
1) I can't stress how important it is to wipe the rims clean. The lids won't seal if there's sticky pickling juices on them.
2) We all know that when we can, we put the lids and rims in a saucepan of hot water. Well, I always brought it to a boil before I used them. The lids and rims should be kept at a bare simmer. Boiling them can damage the rubber seals and cause them not to seal properly. I always thought they needed to be boiled to sterilize them, but that's not the case, as hot-water bath canning is done for high acid foods, so sterilization isn't as big a concern. But the lids need to be hot to help the sealing process.
3) Do you have a glass-top electric stove? Well, it's not recommended to can on those. My hot water canner had a little disclaimer on the papers that came with it, that is should not be used on those types of stoves. I have been canning on mine since last summer. I asked about it at the canning class, and the instructor didn't recommend on doing it, but said definitely DO NOT use a pressure canner on a glass-top stove. They simply get too hot, and the stove top will crack. I guess the advice here is hot-water bath can on a glass-top stove at your own risk.
Cut the cucumbers into 1/2 inch slices. No fancy crinkle cut pickles for me this year.
The finished deliciousness.