In a Pickle: Planning for Pickle Season
Though it's entirely possible to can and pickle all year round, the summer months are prime time for squirreling away a bounty of pickled cucumbers, beans, peas and eggplant. Investing a little time in preserving during the summer months means you get to eat garlic scapes in January and bright, garden-ripened tomatoes right around Valentine's Day.
If you're planning tackling a few pickling recipes this summer for your pantry shelves, it's a good idea to do a little bit of planning now. A little strategic thinking means that you won't find yourself up to your elbows in hot pepper and then realize you're out of jars, lids or the necessary vinegar.
If it's been a year since you canned, give all your equipment a once-over. Scrub your processing pot and make sure you can put your hands on your canning rack.
Find your jar lifter, wide mouth funnel, and lid wand. Put them in the same place, so that you don't have to rummage for them every time you do a pickling project.
Check your utensils. Wooden tools should be clean and free of any cracks or mildew. Plastic and silicon tools need to be in good shape and without rips or holes. If you use silicon spatulas where the heads remove from a wooden handle, pull them apart and make sure there's isn't any black mold growing under the head.
Inventory your kitchen towels. Make sure you have a generous stack ready to use when you start to can. They're great for wiping rims, mopping up splashes from the canning pot, and placing under cooling jars.
Sharpen your knives. A well-honed blade makes for much easier work. Pull out your mandoline and see how its edge is doing (they don't last forever). Check your peelers and make sure they are free from rust and ready serve your for another year.
Take stock of your jars. If you're using older jars, check the rims to ensure they don't have any chips or dings. Head for a grocery or hardware store to get new lids and a few more cases of jars if you think it will be necessary.
Vinegars: Stock up on several varieties of vinegar. I like to have a gallon of apple cider, white distilled, and red wine on hand at all times. When shopping, make sure that they're 5% acidity vinegars; that's the formulation that nearly all pickling recipes are based on.
Salt: Most pickles require the inclusion of salt in the brine. It's best to use pickling salt or a finely milled sea salt as they don't include any chemicals that can discolor your pickles and measure the same.
Spices: If you use a pre-blended pickling spice (no shame in that!) make sure you have enough to get you through the season. Also check on levels of dill seed, black peppercorns, red chili flakes, cinnamon sticks, bay leave and star anise.
A hour or so taking inventory and a good shopping list will do wonders in making this year's high pickle season a successful one in your kitchen!
About the author: Marisa McClellan is a food writer, canning teacher, and dedicated pickler who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her jams, pickles and preserves (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first book, also called Food in Jars, is now available.