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Homemade Pickles and Relishes. Photo by Linda GabrisHomemade Pickles and Relishes

...a wonderful way to turn autumn harvest into winter treasure

by Linda Gabris

When I was growing up in the backwoods of Muskoka, my grandparents had one of the biggest gardens in the countryside. Come autumn, there was nothing I enjoyed more than helping Grandma “put up” bushels of canned goods to stock the cellar shelves for winter use.

Of course, in those days “putting food by”—or canning—was an important way of life. We seldom went to town to shop for groceries in winter. Even though I now have easy access to year-round shopping, I still take great pleasure, pride and comfort in doing up my own preserves and condiments, including pickles and relishes from the bounty of my backyard garden.

It brings me great joy to open a sparkling jar from the cellar and boast: “yes, indeed, it’s homemade!” But you don’t need a garden; you can get reasonable buys on seasonal produce at local farmers’ markets, roadside fruit and vegetable stands or even in grocery stores.

As far as home-canning goes, the rules have changed a little since my younger days! Canning jars have been updated, and home canners today have a set of basic rules laid down by experts to help ensure food is canned safely and does not spoil.

The antique sealers my Grandma used (known as bailed or lightening jars) with glass lids, rubber rings and wire clamps are no longer recommended and have been replaced by modern, self-sealing jars such as Mason jars.

Mason is the name of the maker who in 1858 patented the first jars with handy screw-on caps, rather than bails. The Mason jar became so popular it went down in history as both a commercial and household name. Health Canada advises that home canners today use modern Mason-style jars, fitted each season with new self-sealing lids and screw-on bands.

Mason jars are made of heavy glass that withstands heat under pressure without breaking. Using unapproved jars, or those that commercial food has been purchased in (and yes, I know first hand that some old- timers have done just that!) are apt to break under pressure and should never be used for processing food at home.

First and foremost, make sure your jars are free of nicks and are fitted with new seals every season, as the sealing compound loses its muscle after use. You can reuse the screw-on bands so long as they are not bent or rusted.

Jars must be sterilized before filling. Wash first in hot sudsy water, then scald. Put jars in a large kettle of water, making sure they are completely covered. Heat to boiling, then continue boil for 15 minutes. Keep jars in hot water until ready to fill with food.

Process the seals according to directions on the box. Most brands are submerged in hot water to soften the sealing compound—but not boiled, as this can damage the seal. Since manufacturers directions may vary, read and follow carefully.

Use only top quality ingredients. Let’s face it, if you make dill pickles out of sandy, wilted cukes you can bet your pickles will be gritty and lack crispness. Same goes for making corn relish out of moldy ears of corn! The finished product will not be blue-ribbon worthy. Harvest your vegetables when they are prime for picking—on canning morning for best results—and wash thoroughly, then hold in icy cold water.

For long-term storage, you must “heat process” all home canned foods, either by a boiling water bath or in a pressure canner. In the following recipes, high acid foods such as pickles and relishes (which have large amounts of acid added in the form of vinegar) can be safely processed in a boiling water bath.

Even though Grandma processed all her foods the old-fashioned way in a boiling water bath, this practice for low-acid foods such as vegetables done up without the aid of vinegar (canned peas, beans, asparagus) is not recommended today. For safekeeping, these types of low acid foods must be processed in a pressure canner.

The following recipes are well-suited for processing in the boiling bath fashion. Because the temperature in the jars never exceeds 212º Fahrenheit, it is suitable only for such strong acid foods as pickles and other vinegar-prepared items. The bath does three important things: kills bacteria, yeast and molds that cannot live at such a temperature; drives out air in the food which can cause spoilage; and seals the jars.

In order for the bath to work properly, the jars must be kept completely submerged at least two inches under water, and the water kept at a full rolling boil for the exact times indicated. Take note that cooking time of the recipe is NOT counted as part of the processing time. To thoroughly destroy all microorganisms that can cause food to go bad, the food must be heated to proven temperatures as stated in time-honoured recipes.

Any lidded kettle deep enough to accommodate the size of jars being processed, and fitted with a wire or mesh to hold jars slightly off the bottom, will suffice as a boiling-bath canner. There are inexpensive, large, enamel kettles specially designed for the purpose available at hardware stores. They come with perforated or wire mesh racks to allow water to circulate properly.

Before starting, gather all equipment. As well as a boiling bath kettle, ample jars and new seals, you will need a large earthen, glass or stainless steel bowl for soaking, and a large, heavy-bottomed kettle for pre-cooking food. Fill your tea kettle with water and keep it whistling throughout your canning session for a ready supply of boiling water. Have an alarm clock or kitchen timer to ensure proper timing. Round up a ladle, measuring cup, jar-lifter and spatula and you’re ready to roll.


With rack in place, put boiling bath kettle on large burner of stove. Fill with water to halfway mark. Start heating. Prepare food as stated below. Fill hot, sterilized jars leaving 1 inch headspace with prepared food. Wipe jar rims with clean dishcloth that’s been dipped in hot water. Follow manufacturer’s directions for preparing and adjusting lids. When all jars have been filled and capped, lower into hot water. Add enough boiling water to cover at least 2 inches above the tops of jars. Put lid on kettle. When water comes back to an even boil, begin timing, adding boiling water if needed to keep covered. When time is up, remove jars and allow to cool undisturbed for 24 hours, keeping upright. Remove screw bands and check for proper seals. A properly sealed lid will curve downward—in other words, the seal will be “sucked” down. If the jar is not properly sealed, it must be stored in the fridge and treated as an already-opened jar. You can replace the bands lightly or store the jars without bands. Label and store canned foods in a cool, dark place. Canned foods have a shelf life of about one year. Do not eat canned foods that have an “off” odor or colour or that show any signs of leakage.

Homemade Kosher Dills. Photo by Linda GabrisGRANDMA’S OLD-FASHIONED

Grandma always said, “Pick cukes in the morning and pickle before lunch if you want a really super pickle.” Select uniformly sized, firm, fresh pickling cucumbers. This recipe can be halved, doubled or tripled depending on the size of your crop. Let these pickles age for at least three weeks before cracking open a jar. Makes 8 quarts (950 ml jars)

8 pounds (3.6 kg) pickling cucumbers
A large pan that holds enough water and ice to cover cukes (Grandma soaked hers in fresh-drawn, ice cold, well water)
8 sprigs of fresh dill
32 cloves whole peeled garlic
8 tablespoons (105 ml) pickling salt
8 teaspoons mixed pickling spice
8 cups white vinegar
8 cups water

Wash cucumbers and scrub lightly with vegetable brush removing sand. Rinse under cold running water. Put cucumbers in large bowl and cover with water. Add ice and let stand for an hour if fresh picked. If more than two hours since picking, let stand for at least 4 hours to firm up, adding ice as needed or keep in fridge under water.

Make pickling liquid by mixing vinegar and water in large kettle and bringing to boil. Reduce heat and keep simmering while filling jars.

Place 1 sprig of dill, 4 cloves garlic, l tablespoon pickling salt and 1 teaspoon pickling spice into each jar.

Pack cucumbers standing upright. Add pickling liquid to cover, leaving headspace. If more liquid is needed, make by mixing equal parts vinegar and water, and bringing to a boil.

Using a spatula, lift out air bubbles. Follow directions for proceeding with boiling water bath. Process for 15 minutes.

Homemade Mustard Pickles.  Photo by Linda GabrisAUNT MERNIE’S CHUNKY MUSTARD PICKLES

The story goes that Aunt Mernie got this recipe from Grandma. But over the years—after adding a pinch of this and a pinch of that—she perfected the pickles to the point that Grandma had to ask for her recipe. (Grandma used chunks of peeled yellow, seeded garden cucumbers. Aunt Mernie used unpeeled pickling cukes cut into fours; perhaps that’s why hers were so much more gourmet) Makes about 5 quarts (950 ml jars) or about 10 pint-sized jars.

2 quarts of sliced cukes (prepared either Grandma’s way, or Aunt Mernie’s)
2 cups sliced onions (for gourmet use baby or pearl onions)
1 cauliflower, cut into small flowerets
2 sweet red peppers, cut into chunks
1/2 cup pickling salt
2 cups vinegar
1 cup water
3 cups sugar
2 teaspoon celery seed
pinch each of ginger and curry powder
2 tablespoons mustard powder
1 tablespoon turmeric
3/4 cups flour
1 cup water

Place cucumbers and onions in large bowl. Sprinkle with salt. Let stand one hour. While soaking, steam the cauliflower and peppers until barely tender. Drain.

Drain cucumbers and onions. Rinse under cold running water. Add cooked vegetables and mix well.

Place vinegar, water and sugar in pot and heat to boiling. Whisk dry ingredients with water until smooth and slowly blend into vinegar mix, cooking until thick and smooth. Add vegetables and bring to rolling boil.

Ladle into jars. Proceed with boiling water bath, processing 20 minutes.

Homemade Spicy Dilled Carrots. Photo by Linda GabrisSPICY DILLED CARROTS

Great colour and crunch for any pickle platter.
Make one jar of super long sticks for cocktail stirrers. Makes 8 quarts (950 ml jars)

7 pounds carrots
6 cups white vinegar
2 cup water
1 cups sugar
½ cup pickling salt
16 cloves garlic
8 sprigs dill
8 hot peppers (or 8 pinches of hot dried chili peppers)
2 tablespoons pickling spice

Scrub carrots. Cut into sticks of desired size. Drop into icy water until all are carrots are prepared.

Mix vinegar, water, sugar and salt, and bring to boil. Keep hot.

Put 2 cloves garlic, 1 sprig of dill, 1 hot pepper or pinch of chili pepper and ¼ teaspoon pickling spice into each hot jar. Pack carrot sticks to within ¾ inch of rim. Add boiling brine to cover.

Remove air bubbles. Proceed with boiling water bath. Process for 15 minutes.

Homemade Perky Pickled Garlic. Photo by Linda GabrisPERKY PICKLED GARLIC

If you don’t grow your own, buy a braid or two of garlic especially for pickling. This recipe can be doubled, if you wish.

If garlic is difficult to peel, blanch in boiling water for 20 seconds, then submerge in cold water.
This should help to loosen the skins.

Garlic, separated into cloves and peeled, enough to fill 3 pint sized jars.
3 1/2 cups of white vinegar (more as needed)
1 tablespoon pickling salt
2 tablespoons pickling spice
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon crushed chilies

Combine all ingredients, except garlic in kettle and bring to a boil. Simmer three minutes.

Pack hot jars with garlic. Cover with boiling brine solution to within ½ inch of rim. Wipe jar rims and put on lids and screw bands. Cool, then store in refrigerator until used. This keeps for several months in fridge without processing in boiling water bath. For bigger batches for long term storage on cellar shelves, it’s advisable to process in boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Homemade Corn Nugget Relish.  Photo by Linda GabrisCORN NUGGET RELISH

So pretty, so good. In our house we use corn relish in place of salsa for dipping and dunking everything from nachos to celery sticks. Makes 3 quarts (950 ml jars) or 6 pint-sized jars.

6 cups fresh corn, cut off the cob
1 cup chopped onion
2 cups chopped sweet red peppers
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1 teaspoon celery salt
2 cups cider vinegar

3 tablespoons mustard powder
1 tablespoon turmeric
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup cold water

Put first 9 ingredients into kettle and mix well. Bring to boil. Lower heat and simmer for 1 hour, stirring often. Combine mustard powder, turmeric, flour and water in bowl and mix until smooth. Slowly blend into corn mixture, stirring until thick. Cook until bubbles break surface for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.

Ladle into hot jars. Proceed as above, processing pint jars 10 minutes and quart sealers 15 minutes.

This is an original story, first published in The Country Connection Magazine, Issue 47, Autumn 2004. Copyright Linda Gabris.

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