The very first time ever canning anything, I was bound and determined to make one of my favorite snacks, dill pickles. This was an entirely new concept to me, so it had to be done right. The brine was ready. The pickle chips were sliced and loaded into the jars. Let’s go! Bring on the water bath. It’s time to do some canning.
The first batch was done and placed on a towel on the table. Time to let the rest of the magic happen on its own. Twenty minutes later, that ear pleasing metallic “PING” filled the air one jar at a time. It’s the sound that tells you the airtight seal process is done. Who knew you could get so excited to hear that sound? It was music to my ears!
Anxiously, I waited as each day passed. An unopened jar was placed in the refrigerator to make the pickles nice and cold. A few hours later, it was time to taste the finished product… The anticipation up to this point led to utter disappointment. The flavor was there, but the pickles were mushy. What went wrong? The chips were too thin. But why? There weren’t any issues like that when I made them as refrigerator dills. Well, heat is why. The major change was the water bath. The cooking process reduced them down beyond any texture they could provide. Okay… so let’s cut them thicker. They were originally ⅛” thick. Using ¼” thick slices, it was back at it the following weekend. The same process was followed. The only difference was the chips were sliced twice as thick as the first failed batch. Success! I now had delicious, crisp and crunchy pickles.
Now that I’m getting ready to graduate from culinary school, my approach to this subject of pickling and canning has changed. Research has become more of a focus rather than experimenting. After researching pickling and canning processes, it turned up other tips to keep the pickles crisper during and after the canning process. The main reason for doing more research than experimenting is for food safety reasons.
Clostridium botulinum is a form of bacteria that can live and grow in low oxygen environments. Also known as C. botulinum, this bacteria is responsible for a disease known as botulism. This is why food safety is so important. When the well being of our customers or dinner guests is at stake, it doesn’t matter if you are a food professional or a home cook. It’s for your own good as well.
“You do not need to know the pH of a food, but you must use a tested canning recipe based on the pH value of a food and other factors.”
Source quoted from: https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/canning-foods-the-ph-factor/
Since the importance of food safety has been stressed, let’s start thinking about making some pickles. Because it is important to always try new things, let’s start with bread and butter pickles. Growing up, all I ever had as a reference to bread and butter pickles was something in a jar sold at the grocery store. I hated bread and butter pickles back then. It wasn’t until I was introduced to homemade bread and butter pickles that my opinion changed for the better. Now it’s time to make them for the first time.
Bread and butter pickles found their name in the early 1920’s when Omar and Cora Fanning used pickles from their farm to barter with grocery stores for staple items such as bread and butter.
Since making bread and butter pickles is new to me, I need to follow a trusted recipe. The internet turned up tons of recipes. Which one is right? Most recipes online are pretty good, so read the reviews. One recipe that stood out was from www.simplyrecipes.com. This one particular took the time to describe how to make a nice pickling spice by measuring it out in the ingredients list. The only change that was made to the recipe was the use of sea salt in place of canning/pickling salt. The sea salt used listed sea salt as the only ingredient. There were no anti-caking agents in the salt. Here is the link to the recipe I followed: https://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/bread_and_butter_pickles/
Next on the docket is a Chicago favorite that has roots in Italy. It’s a pickled mix of carrots, celery, bell peppers, hot peppers, cauliflower, and onion called giardiniera. It’s pronounced “jar-din-air-ah.” There are many variations of this recipe. Some call for the use of olives and olive oil and others don’t.
“Though impossible to know the exact date, giardiniera undoubtedly appeared in Chicago along with the wave of Italian immigration that came to the city in the late 19th century.”(Kindelsperger, 2017)
This delicious condiment has long been a favorite of mine. There’s something to the tangy and spicy pickle on the vegetables that make a delicious topping on many dishes from an Italian beef sandwich to pizza. My favorite thing to do is eat it straight out of the jar. You may wonder how a Michigan guy like me came across giardiniera. It comes from the influx of Chicago area residents who have cottages on or near Lake Michigan. This area of West Michigan is special. There’s a divide on which sports teams you should follow. Many of the native Chicago residents have influenced the area into following Chicago sports teams, but many of the locals are still die hard Detroit sports fans. The beauty of living in West Michigan is having that influence of food from two major cities as well.
For this giardiniera recipe, I will be sharing my own. It is a simple one that I developed years ago. This is something near and dear to my heart, so I worked hard to get this one to be delicious. My hopes are that you will find the same. Keep in mind, this is the mild recipe. Additional peppers can be added to increase the heat level.
For the brine:
2 cups white distilled vinegar
2 cups water
1 TBSP salt (you can use canning/pickling salt or salt with no anti-caking agents)
1 TBSP sugar
(Optional addition: add 2 additional cloves smashed garlic and a small amount of the jalapeno slices from the vegetable mix to induce more flavor and heat.)
1.5 cups celery cut into ¼” slices
1.5 cups carrots cut oblique
1.5 cups cauliflower florets
1 cup sliced red bell pepper
1 cup sliced green bell pepper
4 small onions quartered
4 cloves garlic peeled and smashed
1 jalapeno pepper sliced thin
Optional tip for making the vegetables crisper: place all vegetables in a pan and soak overnight in salted water. This recipe doesn’t call for that, as the vegetables come out rather crisp anyway.
To make the brine, combine the vinegar, water, salt and sugar into a pan and bring to a boil. If following the optional addition, add to the mix before boiling. After the brine is brought to a boil, reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the garlic and jalapeno slices at this time.
Mix all the vegetables in a bowl. If you followed the optional tip of soaking the vegetables in salted water, drain the water and rinse the vegetables off.
First things first, get your canning pot and water on the stove. To do the canning process, first sterilize 4 one quart jars. Place the vegetable mix in each jar, making sure to even out the distribution of each vegetable in the mix and do not pack too tight. Each jar should get one clove of garlic and equal amounts of jalapeno slices to ensure flavor consistency. After filling the sterilized jars with the vegetables, it’s time to add the brine. Fill each jar up far enough to leave a ½” gap to the top of the jar. Using your bubble remover, gouge down through the mix and force out any bubbles. Wipe off the top of the jar and place a sterilized lid and ring on top. Screw down the ring tight, but not too tight. We want air to escape in the water bath process. Place the jars in the water bath and bring to a boil for 10 minutes. Remove the jars with your canning tongs and set on the counter. The process is nearing completion. As soon as the vacuum seal is made, it is common to hear that metallic ping that I discussed at the beginning of this blog. The ping doesn’t always occur, however. To confirm the vacuum seal has been made, make sure the center of the jar is pushed in and doesn’t bounce back. If the jars do not seal, store immediately in the refrigerator. As always, date and label each jar. The mix should last approximately 3 months.
Article written by Nick Kindelsperger. Published in the Chicago Tribune on May 19, 2017