Monday, August 3, 2009

It's a Recession!: Homemade Dill Pickles

"Canning is the new knitting," according Brock Kuhlman, the chef instructor at Hill's Kitchen in Eastern Market.

A few weeks ago, I took his class on pickling. It was sort of a strange class choice. For one thing, I don't love pickles. I mean I like some pickles, relish in particular. But when they ask me at the deli whether I need a dilled spear with my sandwich, I usually say no. However, I thought it would be cool and I didn't already know how to do it. In the past, I've found a lot of cooking classes to be very elementary (this one CCO and I took in the winter, the instructor spent about five minutes talking about the difference between an onion and a shallot.) This one, though, was pretty cool. He covered the science behind pickling, several different methods and about four recipes. At one point, I even got to be his Vanna White-like assistant to help with the Chow Chow.

Canning is not as hard as you think. I've done it for years with jam, but he still showed me a couple new tricks. Most important rule: when cutting the cucumbers, make sure the spears will fit in the jar. You're pretty much screwed if you're filling jars and then realize the spears are too long. I've also started always using his oven-sterilization method. So much easier than boiling the jars.

Buy very firm cucumbers.

Pickling salt is plain salt without the extra compounds they add in to prevent clumping. If you can't find pickling salt at the store, look for sea salt.

This recipe made me about 4 quarts (actually 3 1/2, but it could have been four). If you want fewer, you can cut the recipe in half, but it's very important you not change the ratio of water to vinegar. Otherwise you might mess up the chemical balance.

Eat Rating: These are pretty sour and very dill-y.
Difficulty: Medium. You need two pots. It's a good idea to have a funnel and a jar lifter on hand.

Adapted from Brock Kuhlman

4 pickling cucumbers
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup cider vinegar
4 cups water
2/3 cup pickling salt
16 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1/2 of a bunch of fresh dill, washed thoroughly
2 tbsp red pepper flakes
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
4 bay leaves, crumbled or torn into smaller pieces
2 tsp alum* (LN: Omitted)

Prepare the cucumbers. Wash them to remove any dirt, then cut off the ends. Cut into quarters, lengthwise to make spears. Place the spears in a bowl of ice water and soak for two hours.

About half an hour before your cucumbers will be ready, place 4 clean, quart-sized jars on a cookie sheet and set in the cold oven. Turn the temperature up to 250 degrees. When the oven reaches 250 degrees, turn it off and leave the jars inside.

Heat a small pot of water to boil, then reduce heat. Drop the rings and tops in. You will need these later.

In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the water, vinegar and spices to a boil. Drain the cucumbers and add to the vinegar mixture. Return to a boil and cook for about 1 minute.

With a clean kitchen towel, remove the jars from the oven. Using tongs, place several cucumber spears in the jar, along with a few garlic cloves and some dill, if possible. Once the jars are packed with cucumbers, set the funnel on top of a jar and fill with vinegar mixture, making sure that the cucumbers are completely covered by the liquid.

Remove a lid from the hot water and place on top of the jar. Take a ring and twist it onto the jar finger tight. Do this for all the jars, then let them sit for two minutes. Flip the jar over so they are standing on the lid. Let sit upside down for 10 minutes, then flip right-side up. This will pressurize the jar, creating an airtight seal with the lid. You can tell if it has sealed correctly because you won't be able to push down on the lid.

Allow the pickles to sit in a cool place for six to eight weeks before opening. Once opened, enjoy the pickles within a few weeks.

* Alum is a chemical used in canning to help maintain the crispness of the produce. If you buy firm produce and use the plumping method outlined at the beginning of the recipe, you don't really need alum.

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