Pickling at Home

Where have all the home picklers gone? To the supermarket, to specialty food stores, the farmers markets, and to wait on long lines outside traditional New York pickle haunts, like Guss's, in the Lower East Side. Americans eat 20 billion pickles annually, that's about ten pounds of pickles, per person, per year. Why don't we take time out to make pickles ourselves since we have such a proven taste for them? Our response is often: Why bother, with all these great pickles available?
The answer: Why not bother? The variety possible in home pickling is impossible for commercial manufacturers. Making your own, you can change the flavor to meet your individual tastes, recycle brine by putting fresh vegetables in your favorite storeboughts, use organic produce, control ingredients, experiment with spices, add color and give them away. People pickle in New York for a multitude of reasons: because it's easy and inexpensive, because it's a fun activity with friends, because their parents used to pickle, because their home-country pickles aren't widely available here, because they want to preserve the fruits of their garden, and on, and on, and on.
If you're interested in home pickling, visit the NY Food Museum table to sign up for a pickling bee, or read up. Here are some books we recommend on the subject:

Zeidrich, Linda:
The Joy of Pickling
"200 Flavor-Packed Recipes for All Kinds of Produce from Garden or Market"
Harvard Common Press, 1999.
Anderson, Jean:
Green Thumb Preserving Guide
Quill Books: New York. 1984.
Chesman, Andrea:
Pickles and Relishes
"150 Recipes from Apples to Zucchinis"
Story Books, 1991.
Ciletti, Barbara:
Creative Pickling
Lark Books, 2000.

Open-kettle Method: Cooked in an uncovered pot and poured into jars while it's still boiling. The jars are immediately sealed.
Cold or Raw Packed: Sterilized jars are filled with raw fruit or vegetables, and covered completely with liquid water, brine, sauce, or syrup. The jars are immediately sealed.
Hot Packed: Vegetables are cooked for a short time, and then poured into jars with the hot cooking liquid. This method is used for all vegetables (except tomatoes).
Water Bath Processing: Filled jars are "processed" at 212º F in a boiling water bath to kill any bacteria that could prove harmful. The jars are lowered into the kettle when the water is hot, but not yet boiling - otherwise, they may break - and Covered with one or two inches of water. The water is brought to a boil, and when time is up, the jars are removed to cool on a wire rack. As the jars cool, the vacuum seal activates, the center of each lid sounds a pop, and shows an impression. The jar is not properly sealed if the lid is not dented in. (See pickle timeline for its invention.)
Low-temperature Pasteurization: This method is popular with both fermented and fresh cucumber pickles that would commonly turn soft after exposure to high temperatures. The same procedure for water bath processing is followed, however, the temperature in not allowed to rise above 185º F.
Steam-Pressure Processing: This method cooks the food at a very high temperature for a very short time. Higher temperatures kill bacteria that can withstand a boiling water bath.


1. Equipment: You can make pickles with a jar, some salt and vegetables, especially if you refrigerate them. If you want to "can" for extended storage, you'll need some extra tools. All your equipment should be non-reactive; Stainless steel, aluminum, glass and enamelware will not react with acids or salts, but copper, galvanized steel, and iron will.
MASON JARS: Named after John Landis Mason, who developed and patented the shoulder-seal jar and screw cap in 1858, nowadays, these jars often bear the name of the two largest companies, Ball and Kerr. Both companies, along with the Canadian jar maker, Bernardin, joined forces in 1993 under the name Alltrista. You can buy jars at local hardware stores, or at Alltrista's website, www.alltrista.com. A mason jar comes with a two-piece cap. The flat lid is made to be used one time only for long term food storage, while the rim, so long as it's not rusty, is re-useable.

Kettle or Water BathProcessor: Any large pot will work fine, however, aluminum kettles with wire racks for raising and lowering the jars, are made for this purpose.
Jar Lifter: Special tongs for lifting jars
Canning Funnel: For pouring in the brine.
Plastic Knife: For popping any air bubbles in the jar.
Wire Rack: For cooling the jars.
Candy Thermometer: For testing water temperature.





2. Storage: Make sure you have adequate space in a cool, dark, and dry place to house your pickles. Light can discolor your pickles, and warmth will affect the flavor.
3. Selecting Fruit and Ingredients: Look for firm, young fruit, and tender vegetables. Wash in cold water, making sure to clean off any dirt, which may be harboring bacteria.
Use coarse salt. Iodized salt will darken vegetables and fruit, and anti-caking salt will cloud the brine.
4. Sterilizing Jars and Equipment: If you're making pickles that will not be processed in a water bath or a steam-pressure processor, you must first sterilize your jars by filling a large kettle two-thirds full of water, placing jars filled with water, and bringing to a boil for twenty minutes. If you don't have a rack with handles, you must at least have a rack on the bottom, preventing the jars from touching the base of the pot.
All equipment should be sterilized this way. Your lids only have to boil for five minutes but keep them in the water until they are needed.
5. Filling the Jars: Fill up to 1/8 of an inch from the top of the jar. Make sure all air bubbles are out of the jar by using a plastic knife.

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Copyright NYFM 2003, Dana Terebelski and Nancy Ralph.