In honor of our current series on Saving Money (here, here, and here), I thought I’d post a practical how-to describing how even busy, working moms, can take a relaxing Sunday afternoon and try out a money saving strategy like canning pickles, all while gaining some fun, quality time with their kids. I’m even including some terrible quality, but fun iPhone pictures to help you visualize the process.
First things first, get a bunch of clean, sanitized jars (your dishwasher works great). And also snacks! Snacks are important when involving small children. Please don’t let this picture fool you, canning pickles takes a while, many more snacks were needed than pictured.
Next, you want to bury your firstborn with as much dill as she can carry. This much dill is not really necessary, but it’s fun to see her holding so much delicious dilly goodness. Also, she may insist on wearing snow boots from two years ago on this lovely 82 degree day. Choose your battles and remember that too small snow boots never hurt anyone.
While gathering dill from your garden (you planned for this day two months ago when you planted your garden and you have some dill just waiting in your backyard, right?), grab a couple of cherry tomatoes off the plant and hand them to your toddler, because Snacks! are important. Remember that dirt on vegetables eaten standing directly next to the garden = nutrition. No need to be grossed out that you didn’t wash those little tomatoes first. Kids need dirt, he’s fine.
However, should you head back to your house from the garden and find your dog waiting at the door with a poor, innocent bunny in his mouth, you should definitely be grossed out. Commence screaming and yelling and dancing while the dog and your children look at you like you’ve lost your mind. This step is completely optional and not at all recommended, but well, apparently, it can happen. Should this step occur, shuffle your children (and precious dill) far away from the disgusting mess and into your house. Send a text to your husband with a note that he has a treat to deal with when he gets home. Moving on…
No pictures on this one, but help your pre-schooler rinse the dill and fold and stuff it into all of your jars. Keep the toddler entertained by giving him sticks of dill to throw in a box. Be sure to exclaim numerous times that he is “So helpful” and “Doing a great job!”
Next up, grab your pickles and head to the laundry room. Yes, the laundry room, what you think canning pickles only involves the kitchen?
We bought a 1/2 bushel of pickles from the farmer’s market. We had to buy this year because I planted my pickle plant way too late and it got smothered out by the zucchini and yellow squash. Our 1/2 bushel gave us 23 jars. You could go with a peck of pickles, not to be confused with a peck of pickled peppers which should be left for Peter Piper. A peck of pickles will yield around 8-10 jars, which might be more manageable if this is your first time to the canning pickles rodeo.
Back to the laundry room, begin filling your washing machine with cold water.
Enlist small children to gently place all of your pickles in the water in the washing machine. When the machine is full of pickles and water let it agitate on the most delicate/gentle setting for a few minutes. Because, ain’t nobody got time for hand scrubbing 1/2 bushel of pickles with a little brush. Listen to the giggles and squeals of your children as they watch pickles swish around in the clothes washing machine!
Turn the agitation off after a few minutes and check your pickles to make sure they’re clean. Then enlist those kids again to fish all of the pickles out of the ice cold water. After a few minutes they will complain that their bones hurt from the cold, tell them to “suck it up and keep working, we do hard work in this house”.
Side note – Later in the evening when discussing the process with my husband he suggested that we fish out the pickles with my long handled fine mesh strainer/colander since it would pull out the pickles without skin contact with the ice water. Well, that’s not the way my grandparent’s taught me to make pickles, but sure, if you’d like to be all modern and practical, break the rules and use a colander.
Once the pickles have been washed and removed from the ice water (however you choose to remove them), head back to the kitchen. It is now pickle packing time. There are a few rules for pickle packing. We don’t just throw pickles in jars willy nilly. First of all, pickles go in the jars vertically, not horizontally. You must also place the pickles flower side down, stem side up. Big pickles on the bottom and fill in the tops with the little ones. Also, pack them in tightly. My husband saw me tightly packing the pickles in and asked, “don’t they need room to breathe?”. Umm, I don’t know what this means. They are pickles, not people, they don’t breathe. So, if you are concerned about breathing room like my husband, rest assured, vegetables don’t require breathing space.
Also, the children will request more snacks at this time. Fun part, they are holding their snacks! Just be sure to catch any half eaten pickles to make sure that you don’t can them. Sorry to any friends or family if you find any pickles with toddler teeth marks on them!
Near the end of this time, your children may get bored and/or tired and wander off. Don’t stop them. You will need to repack the majority of the jars that they packed and you don’t want to crush their helpful little spirits. Following grandpa’s OCD pickle packing rules is hard work and not for the faint of heart.
After you’ve packed up all the pickles, you might want to check on those kids that wandered off. You may find them napping, this pickle making is a tough job. But somebody has to do it. And that somebody is you, so no napping for the mama (or daddy or grandparents)! Head back to the kitchen and get back to work. Just make sure you restart the toddler’s favorite show, because everyone knows that toddlers do not take naps when we need them to.
Next up, heat up your house an extra 10 degrees or more by running all of the burners on your stove with lots of hot, hot water. Fill up your canning pot with lots of water and crank the flame as high as it will go. Get a small saucepan of water and drop in all of your jar lids. Then, start up your brine recipe. In our house this involves water (3 cups), apple cider vinegar (1 cup), sugar (1 Tablespoon), and salt (3 Tablespoons). I’m totally typing this from memory, so don’t sue me if I’m off on my recipe, but that will make enough for 2 quarts, multiply as needed. Wait for everything to get hot. At this point, you might as well start up that 4th burner with another pan of water because you know those children will be asking for dinner soon. Mac and cheese to the rescue!
Once your pots are all nice and boily, pour your brine into the jars, top with a lid, screw on a ring, and place them in the canner. You’ll have to do this a million times if you chose the 1/2 bushel option. Let the first set of jars process in the canner for about 10 minutes. Remove them and let them sit, with some space between them on the counter. No, they still don’t need breathing room, but they do need space to cool off.
Once they’ve all been processed and removed from the heat, finish making that Mac and Cheese quickly to calm the now ear piercing screams of your starving children. Listen carefully for the delicate ping, ping, ping sounds coming from the jars to be sure that all of your hard work pays off with sealed jars. Then, collapse on your couch.
Your children will soon ask when they can eat the pickles. Explain to them that they have to wait a couple months. They don’t understand and start to cry and whine. Fortunately, your husband is amazing and bought a ready to bake package of cookies at the store earlier (while the dog was eating the innocent rabbit). He takes the kids in the kitchen and bakes up the cookies (you are a well put together mother, you don’t involve yourself with store-bought, pre-made cookies, this is blasphemy). Wonderful husband then serves up hot and fresh cookies, you ignore that they came from a package and enjoy. Children are happy, husband is happy, mama is happy. And woohoo, you never have to buy gross, store bought pickles again!