Monday, August 15, 2011

Better Pickles and a Special-tea Peach Preserves

I love pickles: dill cucumbers, bread and butter pickles, sweet pickles, mixed pickles, etc. The salty, spicy and vinegary flavored vegetables are indispensable accompaniment to my sandwiches and snacks. However, the quality of crunchiness was hard for me to accomplish in a home-canned pickle. I followed standard recipes from good sources, but they have resulted in a “cooked cucumber” texture, even after chilling them in the refrigerator.

I refer to my previous post about “Icicle Pickles”. These came out really nice, they were cucumber spears that became a little translucent upon processing, kind of like icicles. They tasted great but were limp and soft, not a desirable texture. I had to find a better way.

The change I made was in the canning process. I read about in the book, Blue Ribbon Preserves by Linda J. Amendt, published by HP Books.
The author describes a processing called Low Temperature Pasteurization, which is a variation on a water bath canning, on page 263. Lower temperature of the water, a few degrees under the boiling point, for a longer time period, usually 30 minutes, allows the pickles to remain crisp and retain their natural color, while still making them safe for storage.

I tried this method yesterday, with some of my home grown cucumbers and dill seed, and tasted them today.
Are they crunchy? YES!   Thank you Ms. Linda J. Arendt.

Here is the recipe. Makes 6 pints. For whole, half or quartered (spears) cucumber pickles, I recommend a wide mouth pint jar. Makes a nice looking product and is easy to pack the larger sizes. Regular pint jars work well too because the cucumbers rest just under the shoulder of the jar and stay in place without floating up.
Dill Pickles – quick fresh pack method
4 lbs cucumbers, sliced in half, about 4 inch long pieces.
1 quart white vinegar
1 quart water, use distilled water if your water is hard
½ cup pickling salt
¼ cup sugar
6 heads of dill seed, or 6 teaspoons dill seed
24 peppercorns

Scrub the cucumbers with a soft brush in running water, to remove the dirt and spines. Rinse well. Cut into halves or quarters of the right length to fit into the jar.
In a large pot, combine the water, vinegar, salt and sugar and bring to a boil, stirring until dissolved. Add the dill seed and 4 peppercorns into each jar, and pack the cucumbers snugly. Pour hot vinegar solution into the jars, covering the cucumbers and leaving a ½ “ head space. Insert a plastic knife into the jars to free bubbles of air. Wipe the rim clean and put on the lids and rings.
In a water bath canner, heat the water to 185 degrees. Set the jars into the rack and start the timer for 30 min. Use an instant read thermometer or an immersible probe, like Pampered Chef's. Keep the water temp between 180 and 185. Do not boil or let the temperature fall below 180 degrees. After the time as elapsed, remove the jars from the canner and set out to cool.

Why not try a really unique product? Like Peach Preserves in Earl Grey Tea syrup? Yes, let’s try it.

So my friend Maria brought over 5 lbs of peaches, earl grey tea bags, and I had the sugar, the lemon juice and the jars.  She peeled, pitted and sliced them into ½” sections and layered them with the sugar and lemon juice in the large stockpot and left it for 30 minutes to release some juices. Then I placed it on medium heat and while stirring to dissolve the sugar, added 4 teabags. The recipe directed to open one tea bag and stir the leaves into the fruit. As the mixture heated up, the tea began to color it light brown and it released a the mild floral fragrance of bergamot.. Brought the mixture to a full rolling boil, cooked for a couple of minutes, stirring fast of course. We added one pouch of liquid pectin and cooked for another one minute. Then we had a little bit of jell, but with a preserves you want a clear jelly like syrup, not stiff. The consistency improved as it cooled in the jars and the flavors needed some time to combine. You can see the tea leaves in the syrup. The leaves escaped the bags when the preserves was boiling. I don't think I am happy with that.

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