Making pickles is a great way to use up your surplus cucumbers and green tomatoes. (You never had a pickled tomato? Well, this is your time to try it.). Here’s what you need to get started (in addition to cucumbers and tomatoes).
— 2 quarts of water
—1 quart of vinegar
—1 cup of coarse salt (aka “Kosher” salt)
— 2 peeled garlic cloves per jar
— Optional: if you like things spicy, 2-3 dried red chili peppers per jar
— Ball Jars (for the quantity of cucumbers/tomatoes shown below, you’ll need three quart-size jars)
— 4 quart size pot for the brine
— A soup ladle
— Oven mitts
1. Make the Brine: Put the water, vinegar and kosher salt into your four-quart pot. Bring it to a roiling boil. While that’s coming to a boil…you can go on to the next steps.
2. Wash the Vegetables: Thoroughly clean the vegetables using a dilute solution of water and vinegar. Rinse them off in cold water. Remove any little spikes (prickles on the pickles) that may be on your cucumbers. I do it simply by rubbing my hands on the outside of the cucumber until I’ve removed the spikes and can feel only the bumps.
3. Peel the Garlic: You need two large garlic cloves per jar. If you want a little bit of spice, put in two or three dried red chili peppers along with the garlic cloves. Put these ingredients in the jar before putting in your cucumbers and/or tomatoes.
4. Cut ‘Em and Stuff ‘Em: Here is where creativity pays off. When you have odd-shaped cucumbers such as the one shown below, you’ll want to cut it into spears. Tomatoes, if you decide to pickle them, should be left whole. I usually put in whole cucumbers (I may cut off both ends of the cucumber to get it to fit into the jar) followed by spears to fill in the spaces and then some tomatoes on top.
5. Adding the “Secret Sauce”: Bring the jars near the pot of brine. Keep the brine boiling. Ladle in enough brine to come near the top. You want to leave about a half-inch of space on top so the air has someplace to go. You will do this step and the next step one jar at a time. That is, you add the brine to one jar, you seal it, then go onto the next jar.
The video below shows the process of adding the “secret sauce.”
6. Seal ‘Em and Store ‘Em, Danno: The tops of Ball Mason Jars have two parts to them – a top lid (the round disk) and the band (the part you twist on). After you have a filled a jar with brine, place a lid on top of the jar and gently screw on one of the bands making it fingertip tight. This requires a gentle touch. You want to keep the lid on, you don’t want it to move around, but it should be tight enough that the jar can seal itself. Put the jar to the side (use your oven mitts if you find it to be too hot to touch) so it can cool down.
Botulism and the Pop
The first time I pickled tomatoes and cucumbers I was terrified of the outcome. I was worried about botulism. However the acidity of the brine, the acidity of an adult’s stomach and the sealing process eliminates the possibility of botulism.
The jars will seal themselves as they cool down. This may take an hour or two. You see the beginnings of the process once you’ve filled the jar with brine (don’t forget that space on top!). The air bubbles will keep rising and, as they escape the jar, they will eventually form a vacuum. You will hear the lid make a popping sound. After two hours you can test the jars by pressing down on the middle of the lid with your thumb. If the lid flexes up and down, it has not sealed. Otherwise…it has sealed. You can then tighten up the band.
Once you have determined that the jar is sealed, place it in the refrigerator. This is where the pickling process really takes place.
If you pickled only cucumbers, you can eat the pickles after three days. Of course, the longer they pickle, the more they pick up the flavor of the garlic. I usually wait one week.
If you pickled only tomatoes, they need at least two weeks of pickling before eating. If you try one and they still taste like a tomato, give it an additional week.
If you pickled cucumbers AND tomatoes, you can eat the pickles (cucumbers) after several days or a week. Just ignore the tomatoes and let them sit in the jar for the two-week minimum.
If you added red chili peppers, wait at least one week before eating the pickles. The longer you wait, the spicier they get. I find that three weeks is about the right time.
If a jar doesn’t seal, you’ll need to reheat the brine. This time fill your four-quart pot with plain water, place the jar inside standing upright and bring the water to a boil. You’ll want the jar to sit in that boiling water for at least ten minutes. Use your oven mitts to take the jar out and let it cool again. Sometimes after it cools down you still don’t hear the pop. Push down on the center of the lid. Does it flex or does it stay down? If it stays down, consider it sealed and place in the refrigerator. As a general rule of thumb, if I can’t get it to seal by the third attempt I’ll discard the contents.
If your garlic cloves turn blue, that does not mean you are going to die. Garlic may turn blue or green when it is in an acid. That’s normal.