This is the second post in a series on pickling. In the first post, I talked about short term pickling and shared a recipe for Spicy Pickled Green Beans. After reading that post, I’m sure you were absolutely dying to know more about what long term pickling had to offer, and how to do it! Settle in, the wait is over… today we’re talking about water bath pickling!
All joking aside, long term pickling can be dangerous if done incorrectly. The main goal of long term pickling is to produce a jar of food that can be stored at room temperature for months without spoilage. If you don’t process the food items correctly, bacterial growth could make you extremely ill and can even prove deadly in some cases. Prior to even beginning to pickle anything, I suggest you read through this post in its entirety. If you are new to pickling, you should also read through the CDC’s website on canning safety. Pickling is not difficult, you just need to take a little time to do it right.
To start, let’s talk about the four primary spoilers you’ll find in pickling: enzymes, molds, yeasts, and botulism. The little sketch I drew up below explains the basics of what you need to know about how to kill these baddies. Enzymes, molds, and yeasts can all be killed between temperatures of 140°F and 190°F, which is great because water boils at 212°F. With this in mind, if you submerge your jars in boiling water for a period of time sufficient to heat the jars’ contents to 212°F, you’ve killed these spoilers.
…but what about botulism, which is killed at 240°F? Boiling water is not enough, so you need to take extra measures to ensure the food you are pickling remains safe. In pickling, this extra safety comes in the form of acid! Choose a vinegar of at least 5% acidity to slow the growth of botulism, making your pickles safer to eat.
Now that you know a little bit about what causes pickled items to spoil, we can talk a bit about the steps you take to pickle foods using the water bath method (boiling water). First, prepare the foods you intend to pickle: chop, dice, mince, peel, or as otherwise directed by the recipe you are using. Also, bring your pickling brine to a boil and then reduce to a light simmer.
Equipment in mind, Mason jars are obviously the standard when canning or pickling any food. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and can be found anywhere from your local grocery store to the internet.
Next, sanitize your jars, lids, and bands by submerging in boiling water for five minutes, or use a dishwasher capable of sanitizing these containers.
After your jars have been sanitized, pack them with foods you intend to pickle and pour the hot brine in, leaving an inch of space between the top of the jar and the top of your brine. To ensure a proper seal, wipe the rims of the your jars and the rubber part of the lids with a paper towel. Place the lids on the jars and gently spin the bands over to create a seal. Do not tighten the bands too much, just tight enough to hold the lid down.
With the jars filled and sealed, submerge them in boiling water for the amount of time specified by the recipe. Foods of varying densities require different times submerged in the water. Ideally, your jars are not sitting directly on the bottom of the pot in which you are boiling the water. I’ve found that a metal pasta strainer works well to elevate the jars, but you could use a metal rack that fits your pot, or even buy a special setup for pickling and canning.
After your pickles have boiled for the required period of time, carefully remove the jars and let them cool at room temperature. After a few hours have passed and your jars have reached room temperature, you can test the seal using a number of techniques.
First, unscrew the bands and carefully lift each jar by holding just the lid. The seal between the jar and lid should be strong enough to hold the weight of the filled jar. If your lid’s suction fails, your food has not been pickled correctly and may not be safe to eat. The other test is to examine whether the center of the lid has been sucked down. If you push down on the top of the lid and it gives way to your pressure, it has not been sealed properly.
If your food has been pickled correctly, you can store it in a cool, dark place for up to one year. Use common sense when opening pickled items prior to eating; if you notice any strange smells, discoloration, molds, or yeasts, do not eat the pickled food.
- Always refer to the most recent, safe, and proven methods of pickling. Consult multiple sources prior to pickling or canning any food item.
- Start with the ripest, crispest vegetables to get the most flavorful, crisp pickles.
- Boiling times vary based on food density. Consult your individual, trusted recipe for boiling times.
- While jars and bands are reusable, lids should not be reused.
- Higher elevations require additional boiling times.
- 1 bunch rainbow chard, tops removed for other use
- 1 red onion, sliced
- 1 1/2 cups 5% acidity white vinegar
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- Follow the steps detailed above using the hot water bath method, boiling for 10 minutes. Pack the chard and onion into the sterilized jars, and boil together the vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, and peppercorns.