As you may have noticed from my book list, I did a lot of research before I started this whole project. One of the books I read talked in depth about canning, about how even on the 100th batch of stuff you process you still listen expectantly for the little "click" the jar lids make as they successfully seal themselves shut. Right, I thought, like I'm going to sit around a hot kitchen processing food and then spend even more time in the hot kitchen listening for a vacuum to form. As if.
I've never canned anything, but I figured with the glut of produce we're getting this summer (and the lack of fresh local produce I anticipate for the winter) it might be a good time to try. Friday I had the brilliant idea to make pickles (thank you very much, Fitch's, for having the cucumbers in stock and giving me the idea in the first place). So I bought a canning pot and some jars, got everything washed up, and started to research recipes.
I settled on making a half-recipe of bread and butter pickles using this recipe from the University of Georgia. These pickles take the better part of a day, what with all the soaking in brine and all, so I started them in the morning and didn't process them until Jason started putting Liza in bed. Being a modern kind of gal (and also one whose printer is on the fritz), I had the recipe open in one tab on my laptop, my generic canning instructions open in another tab, and a draft blog post open in a third so I could record what was going on as it happened.
8:26pm - Water and jars are in canner and heating to a boil; pickling solution is heating on the stove. Made the executive decision that in the absence of mustard seeds, a smaller quantity of powdered mustard would do. Lids are going into the warm water bath, cucumbers are draining in the sink.
8:29pm - Pickling solution boiling, ten minutes starts now.
8:40 - Cucumbers into the pickling solution; canning water still not boiling.
8:45 - Damn, that really doesn't look like enough pickling solution to cover the slices in the jars. What can I add? More vinegar? Did I forget the water? No, there's no water in the recipe, what else can I ... oh, fudge. I forgot the sugar. Post-adding 2 cups of sugar is allowed, right? It better be.
8:46 - That's better. Now there's actually liquid in there, not just yellow cucumbers.
8:47 - Canner is boiling! Huzzah! Ten minutes of jar sterilization starts now.
After that, it was all a blur that involved way too much turmeric-colored water all over everything for me to get anywhere near the laptop. Suffice it to say, yes, I managed to have enough brine to cover the pickles in two quart jars (plus a few extra slices I stuck in a plastic container in the fridge), and yes, I managed to get the jars drained, filled, and back in the water without scalding myself. I had most of the dishes washed up while the jars were processing on the stove, and by the time they were ready to come out, I was more than ready to go sit down somewhere cool.
I pulled the first jar out, and as soon as the lid hit the cool air, it went "click." I was extremely smug - see, how hard can canning be, if I got it right the first try, even with screwing up the recipe a little bit! Then I pulled out the second jar, and it didn't click. I sat it out on the rack to cool and finished cleaning up the kitchen, keeping an ear out all the while for the sound of the lid sealing. Did I have a little pickle juice on the lip of the jar? (wash wash wash) Did I get a bad lid? (dry dry dry) Did I not screw the band on tight enough? (attempt to scrub turmeric stain off of countertop) Click, damn you! I will not tolerate a 50% failure rate on my first attempt at canning!
I stomped off to the family room and found something meaningless to watch on tv (and only sneaked upstairs a couple times to poke at the lid and confirm it was still unsealed). Jason went to bed, and I stayed up to read for a while. Poke, poke - nope. I will not be happy if I have to use up a quart of unsealed bread-and-butter pickles this week, because I've also got the other two quarts of refrigerator dill pickles I already made that have to be used up soon, and these were supposed to be for later ... grump grump grump.
Then, finally -