A Pickling Story

Reader Contribution by Ilene White Freedman and House In The Woods Farm
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Our farm guest, Olivia, is sitting at the kitchen table. As she peels garlic for the pickles we are making, she asks, “What is the process for pickling?” It’s simple, I reply. Boil the open empty jars to sterilize them, then fill them up with the hot cucumber mixture, put on lids and boil the filled jars.

It sounds simple enough. “We’re going to make a quadruple batch of Bread and Butter Pickles”, I say cheerfully, “since we picked a lot of cucumbers this morning.”

I am happy to get so many pickles canned in one day. It is easy enough to slice the cucumbers in the food processor, peel some onions, salt it all down and set it under ice for a few hours. I am easily deceived into a foolhardy plan. It will be an evening of canning, I tell Olivia. We might be up late.

With a few other obligations in the day, and then kids need dinner — we get a late start to the canning portion of our project. The ice has melted from the bowls of salted cucumbers. Time to gather jars and rings. Do I have boxes of new lids? Yes, excellent.

I am ready to roll, looking for the canning pot. It is not with my propane burner where I expect it. The pot is in the front yard, exactly where hubby and son plucked a couple chickens three months ago. They used the pot to collect feathers. Nice. Add an hour to clean the canning pot and boil water to sterilize it. Empty canning pot and add fresh water. Start over.

The first canning project of the season always takes longer, to gather supplies and discover what is missing. The first canning project of the season is never a good time for an afternoon quadruple batch.

How can “sterilize jars for 10 minutes” take so long? Account for the time bringing the water to boil. This is the one time in four years that I wish I had a dishwasher. For sterilizing 28 canning jars. It is dark now. I am starting Batch Two.

The moths are coming in through the doorway as I pop out to the deck where the canning pot is set up on the propane campstove. Our outdoor canning setup  is one of my better canning strategy ideas, unlike this quadruple batch.

How is it midnight and I’m barely half done this project? I sent Olivia to bed an hour ago.

Canning is a humbling production. I scribble a note onto my recipe page: Do not quadruple batch. It is easy to get overzealous, lured by the harvest and the jar count at the end of the day. I get excited about bounty and forget about endurance, every year.

I have been preserving the harvest in jars for over a decade, and I am still seeking a rhythm to it. Maybe this quadruple batch should have been a daytime job for the mega-canner. It’s a homemade canner made out of a half whiskey barrel. It boils nineteen jars at a time. I chuckle about the obsessed vision I must be in the eyes of a houseguest. All for a few jars of pickles.

I look at the second bin of sliced iced cucumbers, now limp and lukewarm. I could go to bed soon, if these disappeared. I heat up a pot of the pickle mixture, stuff it into a jar to refrigerate and use for the next few weeks, uncanned. That is an efficient idea, since my kids want to dive into a jar anyway.

It is 1 AM and the house is quiet, except for me clinking around the kitchen. One more glance at the clock, and a glare at the endless bin of limp cucumber slices. I set those on the deck to go to the pigs in the morning, and I go to bed, content with my fourteen jars of pickles.

My favorite Bread and Butter Pickle recipe is in The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest by Carol Costenbader.

Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are one of six 2013 MOTHER EARTH NEWS Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life on the farm’s Facebook Page. For more about House in the Woods Farm, go to the House in the Woods website, and read all of Ilene’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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