My Mom will be 85 next week and this summer she has still been at one of her favorite hobbies – canning! Canning has definitely become part of my heritage as she learned from her Mom and has now passed it down to me. I am discovering that canning is a lot of fun and really a very satisfying feeling to see what you can make. Our first canning of the season is always pickles – and there’s quite a process to getting there, the “pickle process”!
The “pickle process” begins early in the spring by picking out which varieties of cucumbers to grow. I am the gardener in the family but my Mom has the knack for picking out the best varieties of plants to grow. I like to grow cucumbers from seeds so as soon as the seed displays are up at our local Orscheln store, we begin to peruse the seed packages to pick out which ones we will be growing.
There are always the tried and true favorites, but we enjoy trying out new ones. This year, my Mom really picked out some winners – Marketmore and Tendercrisp. I always put out Straight Eights too, which is a solid producer, but my new favorite is definitely Marketmore. The vines produced a lot of nice straight cucumbers, just perfect for pickling – and they did not seem to mind the heat of our very hot, dry summer so bad either.
I learned the trick for growing great cucumbers from my Dad. He built some perfect cages for the cucumbers to grow up on by bending wire panels into circles about 3’ in diameter and about 5’ tall. The cucumber vines love to climb, so they grow up on the cages – which means they do not spread all over the garden and are easier to pick. Anyone who has grown cucumbers will know that they tend to “hide” in the leaves and get too large for pickles. But, the cages make the cucumbers much easier to spot and eliminate that problem.
When it comes time to pickle, well honestly, my Mom and I are all for shortcuts there too. We do have some great recipes to make from scratch, but that means buying spices that have no other use the rest of the year and taking the time to cook up the pickling mixture. Our favorite shortcut – Mrs. Wages Canning Mixes! Mrs. Wages Canning Mixes have been around for a long time and they are excellent! My personal favorite is the Bread and Butter pickles. Everything you need (except for sugar and vinegar) is in the package, so no buying spices! And they turn out great every time!
Just because you use a mix does not mean you can’t be creative. Adjust the sugar or vinegar to create a pickle that is a little sweeter or tarter to your taste. You can even add food coloring if you want – we like some really green pickles for Christmas! Have fun adding your own touches and then enjoy your own homemade, home canned pickles all year long!