Not everyone wants to spend all summer canning, but if you are starting to see the bounty of your garden, you may want to try your hand at making a few jars of pickles.
Bread and butter pickles - those thin, coin-shaped slices of of cucumbers - are always a good addition to a summer barbecue. They are easy enough to can for those who have some pickling experience. If you haven't done it in a while, brush up your skills at the Home Canning Web site at www.homecanning.com.
If you're not comfortable canning your own foods, there are some good recipes for making refrigerator versions of pickles and preserves. These recipes call for a certain amount of time for the product to age in the refrigerator, and then you'll have to eat them up before too long, but that shouldn't be a problem.
Traditional preserves, if sealed properly, easily can be kept a year or so in a cool storage spot.
Canning is no more difficult than anything else you do in the kitchen, however the risks are greater, so you need to be very diligent about handling the food and equipment.
Illness from consuming home-canned products is rare - not because the foods never spoil, but because the spoiled food most often looks spoiled: Moldy, leaky, smelly or bubbly foods should be tossed. Lids that are pushed up and rounded out on top means the product is spoiled.
Botulism is rare, but the botulinum grow without the benefit of oxygen, so it does just fine inside a sealed jar. To combat this, canning uses heat, salt, sugar or acid to preserve food. Pickles are made with vinegar - that's an acid. Jam is made with sugar, and pickled meats are made with salt. Do not reduce the amounts of any ingredients called for in the recipe.
Use a current recipe. Canning has been around since Napoleon Bonaparte looked for a way to preserve food for his troops. Older recipes tend to assume that the person reading the recipe has a good hands-on feel for doing it the right way, but nowadays, there aren't so many youngsters learning the process in the home from their mother or grandmother.
For those starting out, "Putting Food By" is a good preserving book with lots of basic recipes. The university extension offices also offer free bulletins and inexpensive classes.
A few other caveats:
Do not substitute table salt for the pickling and canning salt, which is additive free. Table salt generally contains an anti-caking agent, such as calcium silicate, and potassium iodide and dextrose.
Do not reuse the lids if you are canning because the seal may be broken. You can use them for the refrigerater pickle recipes because you are not sealing those jars. You can reuse the screw tops.
Keep reading for recipes.
Bread & butter pickles
Makes 4 - 5 pints
3 lbs. 3- to 4-inch pickling cucumbers
4 medium onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup canning and pickling salt
6 cups water
3 cups cider vinegar, 5 percent acidity
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
2 Tbsps. mustard seed
1 tsp. celery seed
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. turmeric
Sanitize the jars and closures. Wash cucumbers and remove 1/16-inch from blossom end. Cut into half-inch slices and measure out 10 cups.
Combine cucumber slices, onion slices, salt and water in a large bowl. Mix well. Cover and let stand for 2 hours.
In a 6- to 8-quart saucepot, combine vinegar and remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Drain vegetables; rinse; drain again. Add vegetables to vinegar mixture and return to a boil.
Pack hot pickles and liquid into hot jars, leaving half-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles with a nonmetallic spatula. Wipe jar rim clean. Place lid on jar with sealing compound next to glass. Screw band down evenly and firmly just until the point of resistance - fingertip tight.
Easy refrigerator pickles
6 cups cucumbers, thinly sliced
2 cups onions, thinly sliced
1-1/2 cups white vinegar
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. mustard seed
1/2 tsp. celery seed
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
Place half of the cucumber slices in a large glass bowl, and top with half of onion. Repeat. Combine vinegar and remaining ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil, boiling 1 minute. Pour over cucumber mixture; let cool. Cover and marinate in refrigerator 4 days before eating. Store in refrigerator.