Homemade pickles are the least of it.

Are you canning yet? Everyone else seems to be. And we have to admit, it’s really something special. {Uh-pdate: It’s something special, but also something a little soggier than we’d hoped. Please read the note about processing at the bottom of the post.}


Some of my favorite neighbors are people we’ve never met. I don’t know their names or really understand which house is theirs among the many whose tiny urban backyards we can see from our bedroom windows. If I passed these folks on the sidewalk, I might recognize their stooping postures or shuffling gaits, but I wouldn’t know their faces. Still, we aren’t strangers.

Every year as summer is just about threatening to slip away quietly into fall, when maybe we’ve started to turn our own attention toward the first day of school and take a few tentative steps back into the rushing rhythms of the productive life, an arresting sound greets us of a morning. It’s the hollow scream of cheap aluminum pots scraping against concrete, accompanied by percussive bursts of Italian-American chatter. Then, like sandpaper, box upon thick cardboard box filled with plum tomatoes being dragged out to the grassless yard. For two days, morning till night, the work of putting up those tomatoes in gleaming glass quart jars is the only work in the world. It gets louder, rowdier as the hours wear on, fueled by the jugs of homemade wine that will be the work of a later fall day.

In years past, we would steal shy glances out the bedroom windows, drinking in the romance of that distant lifestyle brought close only by population density. In some vague sense we paid homage to the shifting seasons and were comforted by the certainty of that storied process arriving every August. But then we marched back onto our trains, into our offices, and existed in a world apart from that life.

Last year about this time, we had our own first go at canning tomatoes. With a weeks-old baby and an awful lot of apprehension about government-sanctioned safety practices, we canned like fugitives in the middle of the night. We crushed, we food-milled, we funneled. We had our share of fun, but then we meticulously sanitized jar mouths and lidded them with sterilized tongs. We followed the letter of the law and, unfortunately, some of the spirit too. On top of it all we felt a little like kids playing house, in funny old-fashioned clothes from the back of mom’s closet and too-big shoes. Even so, night after winter night, we reveled in our canning-enabled spaghetti dinners and homemade pizzas, which nourished us in ways we hadn’t known before—and didn’t kill us, to boot.


In the year since then, the resurgence of home canning in this country has been nothing short of astounding. Canning is the subject of articles, websites, revolutions and puns galore. We weren’t ready to dive head-first into canning party mode this year like all those organized revolutionaries out there, but we did invite a few friends to pickle, play and share a drink with. Sure, there were a number of unplanned trips to the store for forgotten ingredients (oh, is there lots of salt in pickles?), a few pint-sized “helpers” underfoot at inopportune moments—but also the heady, soulful aromas of toasted pickling spices, the deliciously satisfying clicks of our jars sealing as they cooled, and the season’s first crisp breeze blowing through the kitchen windows. This time, we acidified and processed carefully, but we didn’t obsess. We are learning to make this thing our own—part of the real, messy lives we lead from inside these windows. Something we’ll be able to do for years, until our backs stoop and our gaits shuffle. It’s us canning now, and we’re pickle-faced with gladness. Won’t you join us?


Homemade Pickles

Adapted from Food in Jars
Makes 8 Pints

4 cups water
2 cups cider vinegar (5% acidity)
2 cups white vinegar (5% acidity)
7 Tablespoons kosher salt
8 Tablespoons homemade pickling spice
16 cloves garlic, smashed
Enough Kirby cucumbers to fill 8 pint jars, blossom end discarded, cukes sliced into coins or spears

1. Prepare a boiling water canner. (Don’t be intimidated by this—you’re pretty much just filling your biggest pot halfway with water, putting your cookie-cooling rack in the bottom, and turning on the stove—but do have a look at the link if you’ve never canned before.

2. Combine the water, vinegars and salt in a medium pot and bring the brine to a boil.

3. Meanwhile, place one Tablespoon of pickling spice and two garlic cloves in each jar. Pack the sliced or speared cucumbers tightly into the jars.

4. As soon as the brine is boiling, ladel it into the jars, leaving half an inch of “headspace” on top. Place the lids and rings on the jars and tighten.

5. Place the jars in the canner and process for 10 minutes from the time the water is boiling. At the end of the ten minutes, remove the jars from the water and set aside to cool for 24 hours. Then remove the rings and check the seal on each jar (scroll down to the video here for guidance). Stored in a cool, dry place, the pickles will last for a year.

Note: If you want to make refrigerator pickles, you can skip the processing and keep these in the fridge for up to a couple of months. Wait at least two days before eating!

UPDATED Note on processing: We just dove into our first jar of processed pickles, and they weren’t as crisp as I’d hoped. Either we over-processed them (being hyper-diligent about returning the water to a boil before starting the timer, and adding an extra minute or two for “safety,”) or we didn’t do a good job cutting off the blossom ends, or maybe we just prefer the extreme crunch of refrigerator pickles. Sigh. We’ll keep you posted as we learn more. Apologies for any sog we may have caused!

  • Jill

    WOW! You have been busy! :o)
    Can’t wait to taste those pickles…
    Next year I just may have to crash the canning party! You know me… SLOWLY making my way into the world of homemade (food anyway… LOL — crafts, done…)ReplyCancel

  • Funny. I dreamed about canning last night.ReplyCancel

  • Very nice post. I enjoyed your writing, as well as your subject. We have also returned to pickling, although we are doing it on the easy side (meaning refrigerated pickles).
    More power to you on doing what our grandparents did. It may not be cheaper than store bought, but it has to be healthier, and is undeniably more satisfying.ReplyCancel

  • Vicki

    I made dill pickles this year, with my mom’s recipe, but they
    are really salty. Are you suppose to let them sit for a while before opening them?? Yours look really good.ReplyCancel

  • Hi Vicki, it’s hard to do, but yes. They should probably sit for a couple of weeks before you dive in. I’ve eaten refrigerator pickles after only a couple of days, and they’re tasty but not fully pickled yet. If you go through all the work of processing the jars, you might as well leave them alone for a while. If you have a little extra brine, you could make a small jar of refrigerator pickles to snack on while you wait!ReplyCancel

  • […] Some of my favorite neighbors are people we’ve never met. I don’t know their names or really understand which house is theirs among the many whose tiny urban backyards we can see from our bedroom windows. If I passed these folks on the sidewalk, I might recognize their stooping postures or shuffling gaits, but I wouldn’t know their faces. Still, we aren’t strangers … [read more] […]ReplyCancel

  • octopod

    If you want to get ’em really crunchy, I hear the way is to tuck in a couple of fresh grape or oak leaves. The tannins do some kind of magic in there.ReplyCancel

  • Tracy

    I had 3 jars of homemade pickles that did not seal. Is it possible to try sealing the jars again or will the pickles get too mushy (I use hot-water bath)?ReplyCancel

  • […] We did more canning in 2009. Click here for an easy recipe for homemade […]ReplyCancel

  • […] The Recipe: Spiced Pickles (with the addition of an ice/salt soak for 5 hours to prevent soggy-ness) […]ReplyCancel

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