Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Who Doesn’t Love the Can-Can?

OK, just to be clear, this post will have absolutely nothing at all to do with dancing.

Mostly because we don’t dance, but that is another subject entirely. Envision Elaine and you’ll envision me dancing. It is not pretty, people.

And I suspect that you already knew that…but I like to be clear. Crystal clear.

This is about my foray into canning. Which I did with two of my dear friends from college. OK, one is from college; the other one is from Kindergarten. So yeah, we've known each other for a while. Like 35 years...which is amazing since I'm only 27, right?

And how would you, if given a whole week-end with friends you don't see often, kick-off the week-end? If you're anything like me, it's with a lesson on canning.

I know, I know...this post about my canning escipade is way-late in coming. 

And no one is more disappointed about it than me. For the love…we canned last Thursday. And today is Tuesday.

Don’t judge.

And I may still be tired from my week-end. Three consecutive days of “busy” is apparently more than this 40yo can handle.

Again…don’t judge.

So anyway…I had my first canning lesson. Courtesy of my friend CM…who cans. But not usually in the larger quantities and with a large pot of water with which we used.

I am not faulting her in any way but man! It took a while to heat that water…which is the hugest understatement I have ever made. Like 1.5 hours to get it to boil.

1.5 hours.

That’s 90 minutes, in case you are math-impaired.

And by then, we’d lost so much of it to steam that we had to add more water, which meant we had to wait for it to boil again.

But we did it. We canned some cucumbers.

Which means we made pickles and relish too, actually…lest you be confused.

Or if I say something about canning pickles, you know that the process began with cucumbers (or “cukes” as they may be referred to from here on out) and ended up with pickles…clear?)

But I have to wait 2-3 weeks before they will be “pickled”.

Argh...I am not a patient person. Have you heard that already?

So I won’t know for at least 2-3 weeks if I’m going to get botulism or not.

Just kidding…I know I won’t.

OK, at least I hope.

I might be eating the first bit from each jar with my fingers crossed. And a tiny bit of fear and trepidation.

Although one slight hope I have is that CM assured me that with all the vinegar in pickles, it is highly unlikely that botulism will be able to sustain itself and grow.

So that’s comforting.

Anyway…we began with 8 pounds of pickling cucumbers.

And yes, we washed them all.

Now I am going to list for you all the things I learned (and can remember…I am certain that there was WAY more than this) during our canning process; these are in no particular order (because I am certain you will not be trying to attempt any canning based on the information this one-time canner has to share…if you are, I may have to rethink our friendship b/c it wouldn’t be a bright move on your behalf):

  • You have to use the pickling ones b/c they don’t have a wax on the outside. These came from a farmer’s market, although CM said you can sometimes find them in a grocery store.
  • Also, please note that they (the original cukes) don’t have a long shelf life; you should buy them the day of or the day just prior to use. Otherwise you’ll have to cut out a lot of bad spots.
  • Once you can something it should last for about a year...but maybe more...I'm really not up on all that. Should I write the date on the top of my lids? I think perhaps I should...
  • And speaking of bad spots, you have to cut out any bad spots you see prior to canning…otherwise that bad spot will fester and rot out any other cucumber in the jar.

At least that was my understanding…I may be off. Either way…I tried to be diligent in my cutting out of the bad spots.

  • You may slice the cukes/want-to-be-pickles any way you choose; we (as you will see) opted for the longer sandwich slices.

  • When canning, you have to use a pot large enough to have an inch of water over the top of the jar once they are submerged (that seems like an awkwardly-worded sentence, but you all know what I mean, right?) And you have to keep them submerged for ten minutes.
  • You can make as large or small a batch as you want, and you can even use a smaller pot, so long as the water covers the jars by an inch.
  • When you remove the jars from the water, they should make a “pop”…that’s how you know that they are sealed. If they don’t pop within a few minutes, you can try it again. But twice is the most you should do, at least with that jar. It is possible/probable that there is a defect in the jar. We had such an incidence happen…one of the jars I bought at the Goodwill (for 25 cents apiece on Half-Price Saturday) had a tiny little chip out of the top. No worries…I can still use it for a craft (I know you were all concerned on my behalf and I appreciate that!) but we can’t can with it (see what I did there?)
  • After you fill a jar, you have to wipe the lip of it before you put the lid on top.

  • You can only use a lid one time; if it doesn’t seal, throw it away (or save it for a craft as I may or may not have done) and get a new one. You can reuse the jars and rings as much as possible.
  • You have to boil the jars for 10 minutes before using.
  • And there’s a really cool pair of tongs you can use to pull the piping hot jars from the molten-lava hot water. I know it’s this hot because I (in a moment of over-zealousness) stuck my whole hand in the boiling water to retrieve a jar. I mean, I had tongs in my hand, but I had a momentary brain-fade.

Don’t judge. The skin will eventually grow back.

I’m kidding…it was actually fine. My cat-like reflexes caused me to pull it back out of the water before I realized what I had done.

Thank you, God, for reflexes.

Musical Interlude (because I know you were already thinking it):

  • You put the cukes in the jar and then make the brine on the stove, letting it simmer for 10 minutes.  (Are you sensing a theme…a lot of this is “ten minutes”?) Then you pour the brine over the top.

Some of our brine-making ingredients
  • Don’t forget: We also made relish. Eight jars of relish. Two were dill and six were sweet. The relish you make the brine and let it simmer, then you add the diced cukes and let that simmer…then you dump the whole thing into a jar. Which is not as easy as it sounds, when the relish is hot. And this also meant (because one was sweet and one was dill) that this necessitated two separate brines.

We don’t make things easy around here, apparently.

You can use a food processor to cut up the cukes for relish. I don’t own a food processor (Gasp!) so we cut them by hand. Our dicing skills left a little something to be desired, so our relish is very, oh, how do you say? Chunky. It’s chunky relish. But I know it will be tasty. (Please see above photo for the diced cukes...)

In the end, I won’t even tell you how long this process took us.

Ok, twist my arm. It took is about 6 hours.

We may or may not have gotten wrapped up in chit chat. More than once.

And two of the three of us were rookie canners.

Don’t judge.

Now that I am a licensed professional (ok neither part of that is true…I am neither professional or licensed…I don’t think they license for canning, BTW, so please do not contact your local licensing agencies and try to become licensed in canning. And if you do decide to try, don’t mention my name, please), I am ready to try canning again.

Which is fortunate because Christine has some green beans she asked me to help her can TOMORROW. Can (see what I did there…oh, canning humor is so uncanny.) the timing BE any more perfect (Insert Chandler Bing voice)?

Clearly she didn’t get all the details on my canning experience before she asked for my help.

Details on that can-can are forthcoming.

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  1. Wow. I can't believe it took you six hours to can those few pickles. Have no fear. It won't take that long for the beans. We're quick around here. Well, usually. I'll just be ordering you all around and taking photos for you, so it might take a wee bit longer.

    1. To be fair, I did say we got distracted...perhaps it was more than once. And we had to eat...I forgot to mention that too.

  2. I will can-can again with you any time! (Though I did save the "quick pickled peppers" recipe from the paper this weekend!) :)

    1. So quick pickled peppers are for the next time? ;)

  3. Writing the date on the lids would be a good idea--and you might want to also specify "sweet" or "dill" on the relish lids. :-)

    1. Good thought but the relish looks different...the sweet is actually yellow. And I only ended up with one jar of sweet...it's not typically been my favorite kind :)

  4. I am so impressed. I really would like to learn to can, especially when we have an abundance of CSA veggies. My Aunt has promised a lesson for me and another Aunt so that should be great fun! I really love the idea of homemade pickles and relish - never thought of that - and tomato sauce and whatever!

    1. Don't be impressed yet...we haven't tasted the goods! :)