Let’s talk about home canning!
I grew up with my dad doing lots of canning. He would make jams during the summer and give them away as Christmas gifts. Such a wonderful treat for the holidays to receive preserved summer fruit! For years I’ve been making my own jams, canning tomatoes and marinara sauce, and pickles. Before I get into the pretty easy recipe, here are some home canning rules.
Hot Water Bath Canning vs. Pressure Canning
I use hot water bath canning. This method uses HEAT. Hot liquid goes into hot jars, which are then processed in boiling water for a specified amount of time. Processing simply refers to the jars spending time in boiling water to seal the jars. Before you start canning, you will either need a very large pot or a pressure canner. For hot water bath canning, you will need a pot large enough to cover your jars by at least one inch. The recipe you are using will give you a processing time for the amount of time that the jars need to be submerged in boiling water. Pressure canners use a specific temperature and a specific period of time as well. It’s important to note that hot water bath canning does not work for all vegetables. the hot water bath method can be used for jams and jellies, tomatoes, applesauce/apple butter, and pickles. Other vegetables (corn, green beans, asparagus, carrots, etc.) require a pressure canner. It’s not recommended to process low-acid vegetables using the hot water bath method because bacteria can survive that method and you contract food-borne botulism. Yikes. So please follow proper canning procedures!
Follow the Recipe
There are certain things you can tweak with a recipe. Do you want more dill in these pickles? Go ahead. Do you want to add some sliced jalapeños for extra heat? Be my guest. Do you feel like omitting vinegar from the brine? Don’t do that! Maintaining the correct acid balance is important to kill the bacteria that exists on fruits and vegetables and to ensure that the fruits/vegetables are safely preserved. Also, make sure you process for the correct amount of time. This will ensure you have a good seal and that your produce is preserved. Some of my favorite canning cookbooks are the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, The Joy of Pickling, and Canning for a New Generation. My recipe for pickles below uses 10 minutes of processing time, as recommended by the Ball cookbook.
What Do I Need?
Other than a large pot or pressure canner, you will need jars, bands, and lids. While you will not need a wide-mouth funnel for this recipe, it will be essential if you make jams, applesauce, marinara sauce, or salsa. Since everything needs to be sterilized in boiling water before you start canning, a magnetic wand is helpful for removing the jar lids from the boiling water. After the jars are done processing in boiling water, you will need a jar lifter to remove them. The jars and bands can be reused, but the lids can only be used once. You’ll notice at the store that in addition to buying jars with the bands and lids, you can also buy lids separately. That way when you are reusing a jar, you only need to purchase the lids! Most grocery stores carry canning supplies, and you can also get them from Walmart or plenty of online retailers.
Headspace refers to the amount of space between the liquid in the canning jar and the lid. The required amount of space is provided in the recipe and allows for a proper seal.
If you have a good seal on your jars, they can be stored for up to a year before they need to be consumed (although I doubt they will last that long!). If you’ve been storing the jars in your pantry and pull one out a few months later to enjoy and notice that the seal has been broken (the lid is popped), see any bubbles or foam on top, or smell anything funny when you open the jar, it’s not safe to eat. I’ve never had any issues as long as I’ve had a good seal on the jar, but it is something to be aware of.
Now that you have that information, let’s get started!
The first thing you need to do is sterilize your jars, bands, and lids. I usually run the jars through the dishwasher and remove them while it is on the heated dry setting since you want the jars to be hot when you are filling them. You can also wash them with hot soapy water and then boil them. It’s important to note that you should not remove the jars from the hot dishwasher or boiling water until right before you fill them.
While the jars are sterilizing, prep your other ingredients. The cucumbers need to be cleaned and have the ends removed. I fill the sink with water to let them soak and then scrub any visible dirt off. Each quart jar will use one heaping tablespoon of dill + 1-2 dill flowers, 3-4 cloves of garlic, one tablespoon of pickling spice mix, and one heaping teaspoon of black peppercorns. I like to remove the dill flowers from the stems and then remove the rest of the leaves from the stem and finely chop them. You’ll also need to make your brine. The amount you need depends on how many pickles you have, their size, etc. The ratio you’ll use is 1 cup water : 1 cup vinegar : 1 tablespoon sea salt. I usually start with 6 cups of water, 6 cups of vinegar, and 6 tablespoons of sea salt. Bring the brine ingredients to a boil and then reduce heat to low to keep the brine hot. I buy pickling spice mix pre-made, but you can certainly make your own. It’s generally a mix of mustard seed, red pepper, allspice, cloves, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, bay leaves, nutmeg, and coriander. That’s a lot of ingredients! I find it easier to buy it pre-mixed.
Once you have your ingredients ready, and your jars/lids/bands are sterilized, bring the large pot of water to a boil. This is the pot that you’ll be using to process the pickles.
After it starts boiling, assemble your jars! Fill them with cucumbers, one heaping tablespoon of dill + 1-2 dill flowers, 3-4 cloves of garlic, one tablespoon of pickling spice mix, and one heaping teaspoon of black peppercorns. You can cut your pickles into spears, chips, or leave them whole. I choose to leave them whole because I find that the hot water bath removes some of the crispness from the pickles. Leaving them whole keeps them crisper.
Once your have these ingredients in the jars, you’ll pour in the brine, leaving 1/2 an inch of headspace. Process the jars in boiling water for 10 minutes. Remember that there should be at least an inch of water over the jars.
After they are done processing, remove the jars from the hot water bath. You’ll need to allow them to cool completely to ensure they have a good seal. I usually leave them on the counter overnight and check the jars in the morning. The lids on top will be completely flat when there is a good seal. If it has “popped” out, there isn’t a good seal. That doesn’t mean you need to throw the pickles away, but it does mean they will need to be stored in the refrigerator and consumed in a few weeks. However, as I mentioned in the notes above, if you have a good seal and then months later notice the seal has broken, it is not safe to consume (so sad). If you check the jars while they are still hot and notice they haven’t all sealed, don’t fret! Sometimes the seal is made as the jars are cooling. Leave them on the counter, check them in the morning, and hopefully you have lots of jars of pickles to enjoy.
Home canning is not difficult! It does take some time and effort, but it’s relatively inexpensive since a lot of the items can be reused and they make great gifts. Every summer I make a large batch of pickles, can about 20 lbs. of whole peeled tomatoes using this recipe, and make lots of jam.
Below is the basic recipe, but how much you will depend on how many jars you plan to make. I was very adventurous this year and now have 19 quarts of pickles! Pickles canned with a good seal should be consumed within one year, and I recommend you wait at least 4 weeks before enjoying your first jar to maximize flavor.
- Pickling cucumbers
- Mixed pickling spice
- Coase sea salt
- White vinegar
- Black peppercorns
- Whole cloves of garlic
- Fresh dill
- Sterilize jars. Either run them through the dishwasher or wash them with hot soapy water and then boil in a large pot of water. Sterilize the bands and lids in a small pot of boiling water.
- Make the brine. The ratio you need is 1 cup water : 1 cup white vinegar : 1 tbsp. sea salt. Bring mixture to a boil then reduce to a simmer until ready to use.
- Wash the cucumbers and remove ends.
- Per jar, you will need 1 heaping tbsp. chopped fresh dill, 1 tbsp. mixed pickling spice, 1 heaping teaspoon black peppercorns, 2-3 cloves of garlic, and 1-2 dill flowers.
- Once your jars, lids, and bands are sterilized, assemble the pickle jars. Fill them with cucumbers, ensuring there is one inch of headspace. Add the dill, pickling spice, peppercorns, and garlic. Fill with the brine, ensuring one inch of headspace.
- Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.
- Remove from hot water bath and allow to cool overnight to ensure a good seal.
- Pickles are good for one year with a good seal, stored in a cool, dry place. Recommended to wait at least 4 weeks prior to enjoying to maximize flavor.