Ah, summer, when a young man’s fancy turns to pickles… or at least it should! Maybe it’s because so much delicious produce is in season, maybe it’s because all these muggy, hot days are good preparation for an afternoon spent over a boiling cauldron of brine. Regardless, now’s a great time to dip your toe into food preservation. (Not literally, ew.)
I’ve been a brine enthusiast for many years — just ask my mother about all the jars of pickled okra that never made it home from the grocery store — but until a few years ago I’d always been too intimidated by the process to try my hand at it.
What if it took me several tries (and lots of money wasted on produce) to get it right? What if I gave botulism to all my loved ones !?!
Enter my friend Nina, who taught me a method that’s quicker and easier than the traditional hot-pack method, which involves pouring hot brine over your vegetables and spices, then processing the jar by boiling it in a hot water bath. This is one way of doing it! (One of several ways, actually.)
One problem with the hot pack method, especially if you live in, say, a wee-tiny studio apartment, is that it generates a lot of heat because of a second boiling pot, and it lengthens the canning process considerably. (Also, if you boil your jars for too long, you risk mushy pickles that end up looking like witch fingers, and you’ll never eat them, just stare at them for months on your shelf, these terrariums of failure.)
So here’s a method that mimics the hot water bath, has worked well for me, and should probably just be limited to pickles:
- Preheat your oven to a really low temperature, anywhere from 250 to 300 degrees.
- Get your brine started! There are as many brine recipes as there are stars in the sky, but I used this one last weekend.
- Wash your jars with antibacterial soap, then place them in the oven. Do the same with the jar lids. Wait about 20 minutes or so.
- Once the jars have dried in the oven, they’re sterile! And ready for packing. Carefully, carefully take the jars out of the oven, then put your spices and vegetables inside. Cover the vegetables in brine, leaving about a half-inch headspace.
- Using oven mitts, seal the lid on as tightly as you can. Within 10 minutes, it should seal itself!
- Bask in that pioneer woman glow.
As is always the case with canning, look out for warning signs of spoiled food. And I’ve only used this method to make pickles; anything you’re planning to preserve for longer than three months or so might need to be hot canned. But I’ve gotten a lot of pickled okra using this method, and so far, so good!