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Simple Cooking - Canning for Dummies

By Anthony Todd in Food on Aug 25, 2010 7:00PM

You might look at that headline and think, "Canning? Simple? You must be kidding." That's what we thought until we tried it - turns out it's simple, fun and surprisingly rewarding. You don't need expertise, fancy equipment or anything else - just a few hours of free time and some fresh veggies. You barely even need a recipe - trial and error is probably the best approach, with some basic principles. You also get the intense satisfaction of looking at rows of neatly labeled jars sitting in your pantry. We canned cucumbers and carrots - this is the recipe for the cucumbers, but we're glad to provide more!

Canning does require some advanced planning, because there are several steps. Make sure to read all the instructions before you start. Background reading can be helpful, but if you're canning pickles (or anything acidic) you aren't going to poison yourself, so feel free to just go ahead and see what happens.

What you do need: Jars. You can buy them at any hardware store - we use quart jars for pickles. A large pot. A tea towel. We bought one specialized $8 tool, a jar lifter, to get the jars out of the water bath, but you could use a good pair of tongs if you're careful. Salt. Dill. Freshly-washed produce. Then, you're ready to can!

First, wash the jars and the lids. We ran them through the dishwasher on extra hot, then set them lid down on a clean towel. Put on a large pot of water to boil. Before you boil it, set a tea towel in the bottom - this will cushion the jars and stop them from touching the hot bottom of the pot. You don't really need a rack if you don't have one.

Create your brine. This is very simple - we used a 1 to 1 ratio of white vinegar to water. Three cups vinegar to three cups water, with about 1/3 cup of salt added. Use kosher salt or canning salt; iodized table salt contains iodine and anti caking agents that will make your pickles cloudy (Ed. Note: if you're using kosher salt, make certain to either adjust the measurements for the larger grain or grind the salt to a finer grain. — CS). Heat it up, stir until the salt is dissolved.

Prepare your veggies. We sliced pickling cucumbers in half, and trimmed off the ends. Turn the jars up, and pack the veggies in tight. Fit as many cucumbers in as you can and pack the crevasses with fresh dill. We threw in a slice of jalapeno and a crushed garlic clove, but do whatever you think will taste good!

Now comes the fun part. Pour the hot brine into the jars until they are ALMOST full - about 1/2 an inch from the top. Put the flat part of the lid on and screw on the collar. Using your tongs, lower the jars into the big pot of hot water. Try to do this when the water is warm, but not boiling, to avoid cracking the jars. Then, bring the water to a boil. Make sure the water covers the jars completely and boil for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat, take the jars out, leave them to sit for a day.

Make sure to test the seals - if the jars are sealed, there should be no "popping" sound when you press on the lids. If all is well, remove the collars, label the jars and enjoy in about a month!

Once you do this once, it's surprisingly easy. The first time will be awkward, but after that you'll be pickling and canning everything in sight. One important health warning: Boiling water canning is NOT suitable for anything that isn't acidic, so stick to pickles and sauces for now.