Thursday, September 18, 2008

Kids Put Up Simple Dills

High on my list of priorities is finding a simple, satisfying recipe for vinegar-brined dill pickles that will store in the pantry for a long time. For purposes of my "food appreciation" classes, it would also help if the whole process--from cucumber to finished pickle jar--could be accomplished in less than an hour.

Well, this might be it. I've adapted somewhat the formula right off the back of a container of Mrs. Wages Canning & Pickling Salt. For you teachers out there, this is a great exercise in standard measures (how many cups in a quart, tablespoons in a cup?) as well as addition, multiplication and division. In fact, there were a couple of conversions that even had this teacher stumped.

Brining with vinegar is a bit simpler that fermenting pickles in a salt brine. (The kids have been eating the pickles we fermented earlier in the month and loving them.) Both processes have the same aim of creating an acidic environment that prevents the growth of harmful bacteria. It's an age-old method of preserving food for the winter. And don't we all like a good pickle with our corned beef sandwich?

This method does go fast and the kids get a good introduction to canning tools and the canning process, as well as practice on their vegetable cutting skills. With kids, it's important to show them how to slice a whole cucumber lengthwise in half, then lay the halves flat on the cutting surface to slice them into quarters or spears. Chasing vegetables around a cutting board only invites accidents.

To make 4 pints:

4 clean, hot pint-sized canning jars with new lids
2 pounds small pickling cucumbers (such as Kirby)
several sprigs dill weed
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
3 cups water
1 1/2 cups white vinegar
1/3 cup pickling salt (or additive-free sea salt)
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar

Cut the cucumbers lengthwise into quarters (spears). Place a small handful of dill leaves and a garlic clove at the bottom of each jar. Pack the jars (not too tightly) with cucumber spears.

Meanwhile, bring the water, vinegar, salt and sugar to a boil in a saucepan. Ladle the brine into the jars, leaving about 1/2 inch headroom. Screw on lids and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove jars. When cool, store in a cool, dark place at least three weeks before opening.

Note: It really helps to have some basic canning equipment, such as a jar lifter and wide canning funnel. Water kettles with a wire rack are standard equipment. I improvise, using my pasta pot with a drop-in strainer. That's to keep the bottom of the jars from making direct contact with the heat. The water should cover the jars to a depth of at least one inch.


Merry said...

I love the concept of a food appreciation class...I am going to make these pickles with my kids, who are way to young to actually participate, except in watching the jars for 3 weeks...

Ed Bruske said...

Merry, pickling with kids is easy, and the rewards are all edible. Most of the kids in my classes love pickles.