Preparing the perfect pickle

Cynthia Stone
Published on September 15, 2012

Up until the last few years, this was pickle season at my mother’s house.

I am quite sure a great many of you younger readers have never tried pickling, and may have no desire, so I am equally sure it will be extinct some day. Shame.

If you find the notion daunting of devoting your kitchen to a royal mess for the day to produce a dozen jars of condiment, I understand, but you can scale the pickling party up or down easily. Start small and you may find you’re hooked.

There are also plenty of horror stories circulating about unsafe canning and bottling, but pickles are so acidic they resist going bad, and sterilizing bottles is not that difficult.

First, get organized. Use only bottles sold for this purpose and wash them, along with lids and screw tops, in the dishwasher or by hand in water as hot as you can stand it. Dry completely then place in the oven on a baking sheet for at least 20 minutes at 350 F. Put the lids in a pot of boiling water for the same 20 minutes.

It’s impossible to predict how many bottles you will need, but a good rule of thumb is to allow a pint jar for every pound of vegetables. An old pickler’s trick is to always sterilize more bottles than you expect you will need.

Place several layers of kitchen towels or other heat-proof covering on your kitchen counter or another surface that won’t be disturbed for the next few hours. I have several large wooden cutting boards that I like to use. Have clean oven mitts standing by.

Remove the sterilized jars from the oven only as fast as you can fill them — you want them blistering hot. Using a bottling funnel makes filling them much easier, although a small ladle works in a pinch.

Finally, when the jars are full to the top, wipe the threads with a clean cloth before putting on the lids, screwing them tight but only by hand — don’t tighten with a gadget. Place them upside down on the prepared surface and cool to room temperature. The lids should pull into a good seal — if any are sticking up you have a problem — refrigerate those and eat within a few days.

Mustard Pickles

Could anything go better with leftover Jigg’s dinner hash or corned beef sandwiches than homemade mustard pickles? These are tangy and sweet with lots of neon yellow sauce.

4 lbs. yellow onions, coarsely chopped

3 large cucumbers, peeled and coarsely chopped

2 medium heads cauliflower, cut into florets

1/4 cup salt

8 cups sugar

1 cup each white vinegar and cider vinegar

1 tsp. turmeric

2 tbsp. pickling spice, wrapped in a small piece of cheesecloth and tied with kitchen twine

1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes (or fresh chopped if you can find flavourful ones)

1 cup prepared mustard

2 tbsp. Dijon mustard

1/2 cup cold water

1/2 cup flour

Combine onions, cucumbers, cauliflower florets and salt in a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and refrigerate overnight. Wash thoroughly with cold water and drain well. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, combine sugar, white vinegar, cider vinegar and turmeric. Bring to a boil and add pickling spice. Cover and simmer together 5 minutes. Add onions, cucumber and cauliflower and simmer 20 minutes. Add tomatoes, prepared mustard and Dijon mustard and bring to a vigorous boil. Whisk together cold water and flour — be careful there are no lumps. Whisk flour mixture into boiling pickles. Simmer about 5 minutes, until mixture is thickened and creamy. Bottle as described above.

Green Tomato Chow Chow

These delicious pickles go with just about anything you can serve on your table, but I really like them with spicy Indian food, believe it or not.

10 lbs. green tomatoes

5 lbs. yellow onions

3 large cucumbers

3 each red and green bell peppers

1 large cauliflower, cut into florets

1 cup salt

6 cups white granulated sugar

2 cups firmly packed brown sugar

3 cups white vinegar

1 cup white wine vinegar

1 cup flour

4 tbsp. each turmeric and dry mustard

Chop all the vegetables into pickle-sized bites and place in a large bowl. Sprinkle on the salt and refrigerate overnight. I know this is a big addition to your fridge, so if it’s cold outside tape or tie the cover tightly to keep out any critters and leave it on the back deck.

Rinse thoroughly in cold water and drain well. Combine white sugar, brown sugar and white vinegar in a large, heavy-bottomed pot and bring to a boil.

Add drained vegetables and simmer, covered, 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Whisk together white wine vinegar, flour, turmeric and dry mustard — make sure there are no lumps. Stir briskly into boiling vegetables. Cook, stirring, until thickened and smooth. Bottle as above.

Brown Sugar Beets

This is a messy endeavour, so I wouldn’t even consider trying another recipe because this one — my mother’s — is without question the best. I’ve shared it with you in the past, but it is such a classic it bears repeating.

If you are fortunate enough to grow your own beets, you have a choice to make. You can mix up the larger beets, sliced, with the small rosebuds left whole. My mother would painstakingly separate them so she always ended up with at least two or three jars of pickled rosebuds, which would be saved for gifting or serving at special occasions. The effort put into peeling those little things was substantial, but what an impressive presentation they make.

20 lbs. beets, scrubbed clean

6 cups white vinegar

2 cups water

2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

2 whole cloves per pint bottle (4 to a quart)

Boil the beets, skins on, until tender — about 1 hour for medium to large. Plunge into cold water and as soon as you can handle them, rub off the skins. Slice beets as you would like to see them served — I prefer slices that will barely fit in the bottles. Bring vinegar, water and brown sugar to a boil and simmer together 10 minutes. Fill sterilized bottles with sliced beets. Fill to the brim with vinegar mixture and top with cloves. Bottle as above.

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.