If you read my last post, you’ll know I’ve been on a real canning bender lately. I canned raspberry jam, red plum jam, and peach & cherry marmalade. What can I say? When I jump on a project, I jump on a project. My last canning goal was to make a mess of sweet pickles using a recipe that has been in The Complete Package’s family for more than 40 years. Heck, it may be even longer than that. There is some debate about whether these pickles came from Aunt Una (on my mother-in-law’s side of the family) or Aunt Teenie (on my father-in-law’s side of the family). The sad truth is, both of these sweet ladies passed years ago and no one quite remembers any more. Not that it really matters, but I’ll thank both of them just in case. TCP remembers these as Aunt Teenie’s pickles, so that’s what we’re going with. Whomever started this little slice of sweet pickle heaven has my undying devotion. I simply LOVE this recipe. I’ll warn you… it takes almost two weeks to complete this process, but there’s really very little effort involved. It’s all in the “sitting” with this recipe. You’ll understand what I mean as we go through the steps below. Stick with me. It’s worth it.
Here’s what you’ll need:
clean canning jars, with lids & rings
large ceramic mixing bowls (not metal)
2 gallons of sliced pickling cucumbers
1 gallon of cold water
2 cups of pickling salt (do not used iodized salt)
1 small jar of alum (approx. .5 ounces)
12 cups of white vinegar
14 cups of sugar
2 tablespoons of celery seeds
6-8 cinnamon sticks
1 jar of pickling spice (1.5 ounces)
First, cucumbers go for a 7-day swim in the briny sea.
Start with the brining process:
Place your sliced cucumbers into ceramic mixing bowls (do not use metal bowls). In a large saucepan, heat 1 gallon of water and add 2 cups of pickling salt. Bring to a boil and pour over cucumbers until they are completely covered. The recipe says to let the cucumbers sit in this brine untouched for 7 days. I’ll be honest. Mine started getting a little foamy and funky at 5 days, so I poured it off and covered them with a fresh batch of brine. If yours don’t get too funky, let them sit untouched for the full 7 days. (The funk may have been caused by our Houston humidity.) On the eighth day, drain the cucumber slices. Return them to the ceramic bowls and cover them with boiling water (no salt added). Let them soak for another 24 hours.
Next, soak the cucumbers in alum & water:
Alum keeps your pickles from getting soggy or mushy. It’s an important step, as you want your sweet pickles to have a little crunch when you bite into them. So… on Day 9, drain the cucumber slices again and return them to the bowls. In a large saucepan, heat 1 gallon of water to a boil. Add the jar of alum and stir to dissolve. Pour the alum water over the cucumbers and let them sit for another 24 hours. See what I mean about time versus effort? This recipe is not a lot of work, but it does take time. And it’s so worth it.
After their long swim, they get 4 days in pickling spices.
Next, prepare the pickling syrup:
On Day 10, drain the alum water off the cucumber slices and rinse them thoroughly in cold, clean water. Drain them and return them to the ceramic bowls. In a large saucepan, bring the vinegar, sugar, celery seed, cinnamon sticks and pickling spices to a boil, stirring occasionally. Pour over the drained cucumber slices, making sure the cinnamon sticks are divided equally among the bowls. For the next four days, strain the syrup off the cucumbers into a large saucepan (I set a colander into my pot) and bring the syrup back to a rolling boil. Pour over the cucumbers and allow them to sit for 24 hours. Again, you’ll do this each day for 4 days. On the fourth day of pickling, you’re ready for your jars.
You won't believe how good these smell after 4 days!
Canning your sweet pickles:
On Day 14, strain the pickling syrup off the cucumbers into a saucepan. Bring the syrup back to a rolling boil. While the syrup is heating, sterilize your canning jars (either in boiling water, or in your dishwasher if you have a sterilize setting). Dry your jars and set them onto a large kitchen towel. Fill each jar to within 1/2″ of the top rim and pack them in. I like to use my fingers to press them into the jars. I try to put one cinnamon stick from the pickling syrup into each jar, but that’s optional. Once the syrup is boiling, use a ladle to fill each jar – just until the cucumber slices are covered. Using a clean, damp rag, wipe off the top edges of the jars to make sure they are clean. Place your canning lids in a clean bowl and cover them with boiling water for at least 5 minutes. Remove one lid at a time, pat it dry with a clean paper towel, and set it on top of the jar. Place a canning ring over the lid and screw it on until it fits firmly, but there’s still just a smidge of wiggle room. In other words, don’t crank it down until the jar almost cracks. Continue to fill, clean and seal each jar until all pickles are used. If you get to the end and don’t have enough to fill an entire jar, don’t panic. Just put the end of the pickles in a jar and put that jar into the refrigerator for snacking.
A canning sling makes the water bath process much easier.
Finally, finish your jars in a hot water bath:
You’ll need a tall stock pot for this step. To judge if your pot is deep enough, set your tallest jar into the pot. You should be able to fill the pot with enough water to cover the jars by at least 3/4″ above the top rim. If you’ve used multiple sizes of jars, start by processing the tallest jars first and graduate down in size. This way, as the water boils and evaporates, you won’t have to keep adding more water. If at any time during the water bath process you find your jars peeking out of the water, add enough to bring it back to 3/4″ or more above the rims. Your jars need to be submerged in order for them to seal properly. Once you’re ready to go, fill your stock pot with water and turn it to high, bringing the water to a gentle boil. If you have a canning sling, set a few jars into the sling and lower it slowly into the water bath. I keep a one-cup measuring cup & a bowl handy in case I need to remove excess water once the jars go in. Once they are submerged, set a kitchen timer for 20 minutes. If you don’t have a canning sling, you can use those silicone-tipped kitchen tongs but I would practice lifting jars with them before you get started. It can be tricky.
After the water bath:
Once your 20 minutes are up, carefully remove the jars from the hot water bath. I fold a towel in half and place it right next to the stove (but away from the flame) so I can move the jars from the water straight onto a towel to dry. After I remove each batch of jars, I give the tops a wipe with a paper towel to remove excess water on the lids. Continue to process your jars until they are all done. I like to leave at least 2-3″ between the jars while they’re cooling so they get better air circulation and cool more quickly. I also tighten the rings at this point.
Waiting for “the ping”:
If you’ve done all this correctly, your last step is waiting for the ping. If you’ve canned before, you’ll know what I mean. If you’re new to this, I’ll explain. As your jars cool, the lids will form a vacuum seal. That seal is what keeps your food from spoiling. As that vacuum occurs, you should hear a loud pop or ping as the lid flexes. That ping means it’s working. It’s a good thing. A ping is a very good thing. Occasionally, you will get a jar that seals without a ping, so here’s how to test for a good seal. Once your jars have completely cooled, touch them lightly in the center of the lid. If you press gently and you feel the lid move or hear it pop, you did not get a good seal. If, however, you press lightly and the lid feels very slightly indented and there’s no movement or sound, you have successfully sealed your jars. Don’t panic if your jars didn’t seal. This happened to me with some of my jars of jam. Just check the rings to see if they are on firmly but not cranked down hard. Make sure your water bath is still boiling and there is enough water to still cover your jars, and process again. It won’t hurt to leave them in a little longer if you’re using large jars like quarts. Just put them back in and leave them for 30 minutes this time. Check to make sure the water in the pot covers the lids by at least 3/4″ and try, try again.
Custom stickers are a great way to label your jars.
One last tip about labeling:
Office supply stores carry packages of “make your own” stickers. The package I bought had five sheets of sticker paper. Each sheet was 8 1/2″ x 11″. I created a quick Word document and pasted in a photo to create my own custom labels. It’s a colorful and fun way to label your new goodies. If that’s too crafty for you, you can still use my old method – masking tape & a Sharpie. Don’t laugh. It works.
I know this sounds like a lot of instruction, but I hope you won’t let the length of this post keep you from canning your own sweet pickles. In all honesty, most of this post is about the process of canning, not the actual recipe. If you’re a home canning expert, you’ll be able to rip through these in no time. If you’re a beginner, just take your time, read the entire post once or twice to get comfortable with the process, then jump in. Once you start eating your own homemade jams, jellies and pickles, I guarantee you’ll be glad you tried it. Good luck, and happy canning!