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Pack your pickles (and peppers) today

It's time to start pickling everything you plant from asparagus to zucchini
by: SUBMITTED PHOTO Oregon State University Extension Service offers pickling how-tos online and through their Hotline. Making pretty pickled peppers likes these will be a snap with their directions.

Ninety cents a pound.

Sounds like a bargain, no matter what the item might be.

In this case, ninety cents per pound was the u-pick price for pickling cucumbers on a Ripe and Ready Alert I received from Tri-County Farms.

And then our friends at OSU Extension Service sent a news release reminding us that you can pickle more than just cucumbers. Get creative - pickle your favorite summer bounty! Their 18-page publication, 'Pickling Vegetables,' tells how.

With those two pokes I know it's time to start pickling - everything from asparagus to zucchini!

My husband Mark and I, along with several friends, make dill pickles and bread and butter pickles each summer. Mark also makes tiny gherkins, dilly beans and chutney and green tomato relish.

Ever since Elizabeth Fox and her dad showed us how to make sauerkraut we've wanted to try it. Mark grew cabbage in his garden especially for that purpose this year. And I also want to make pickled peppers and marinated mushrooms.

Most recipes for pickles call for about four pounds of produce and minimal other ingredients, so packing a peck of pickled produce is pretty polite to the pocketbook - plus it's pure pleasure!

Whew - enough with the tongue twisters - let's find out what is involved with pickling.

There are two types of pickles, brined and quick pickles.

Brined pickles are fermented and require several weeks of 'curing' at room temperature. During this period, colors and flavors change and acid is produced as lactic acid bacteria grow. Examples would be sauerkraut and the pickles in the barrel at the old fashioned grocery store.

Quick, or unfermented pickles, are made in a day or two by adding acid in the form of vinegar. It is critical to add enough vinegar to prevent bacterial growth. This is the type of pickling with which I have the most experience.

The equipment you need for making fermented pickles and sauerkraut includes:

* A crock large enough to hold the produce. A one-gallon container is needed for every 5 pounds of produce. The crock can be made of food-grade plastic or glass. It is not safe to use garbage cans or other containers that are not made to come into contact with food.

* A weight to keep the fermenting food under the brine. A dinner plate or glass pie plate that is slightly smaller than the container opening works fine. Weigh it down with 2 to 3 quart jars (closed with lids) filled with water.

For both fermented and non-fermented pickles you should have

* Non-metal utensils, as metal may react with acid or salt and affect the quality and safety of the pickle.

* Jars designed for home canning.

* Fresh two-piece lids and rings. You can reuse undented and rust-free rings, but not the lids.

* A boiling-water canner. These canners are made of aluminum or porcelain-covered steel and have removable baskets and fitted lids. Any large container may be used if it has room for at least 1 inch of briskly boiling water over the tops of the jars during processing.

* An instant read or candy thermometer that registers in the 120º to 185º F range.

The produce used must be without blemishes or mold. Wash it thoroughly in cold water.

When pickling cucumbers it is important that you use varieties grown especially for pickling. Do not use commercially waxed cucumbers as the pickling liquid cannot penetrate the wax.

Pick your produce early in the morning and use it that day or up to 24 hours for best results.

Select vegetables of the same size, especially when using cucumbers. Use oddly shaped and big cucumbers for relishes and pickles you will cut before pickling.

Remove the blossom ends of cucumbers; they may contain enzymes that soften the pickle.

Use pickling or canning salts exclusively. Table salt has an additive that keeps it free-flowing and it may make your brine cloudy. Don't use reduced sodium salt because you need a specific amount of sodium to control bacterial growth. Don't use flake or kosher salt, as they vary in density, or sea salt or rock salt, which have impurities.

The vinegar is the most important ingredient in quick pickle recipes. Without an adequate amount, the pickles won't be safe to eat. Use any vinegar with five percent acidity.

The spices and herbs you use should be fresh and whole spices are best. Powdered spices may cause the pickles to darken and the brine to become cloudy.

The process of making pickles is simple, but if you have never made them before I would encourage you to download the Extension Services publication 'Pick-ling Vegetables' at http://bit.ly/PNW355 . You can also get answers to your questions by calling the Extension Service Food safety/preservation Hotline Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 1-800-354-7319.

Still need a little handholding? Call me - perhaps Mark and I will let you apprentice when we make our pickles. We'd love to share the fun!

The recipes shared today are from Pickling Vegetables - I plan on using them for my own Pickled Peppers and Marinated Mushrooms.

Bon Appetit! Eat something wonderful!

Pickled Hot Peppers

Yields about 9 pints

A word of caution: To prevent burns, wear rubber or food service gloves when handling hot peppers. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching your face.

4 pounds hot long red, green or yellow peppers (Hungarian, banana, clie, jalapeno, etc.)

3 pounds sweet red and green peppers, mixed

5 cups of 5 percent acidity vinegar

1 cup water

4 teaspoons canning or pickling salt

2 tablespoons sugar

2 cloves garlic

Wash peppers. If small peppers are left whole, slash two or four slits in each. Quarter large peppers. Blanch in boiling water or blister skin to peel. (To blister, place peppers on a baking sheet in a 400º F oven or under the broiler for 6 to 8 minutes or until skins blister.) Cool peppers on the baking sheet covered with a damp towel. After several minutes, peel. Flatten small peppers.

Fill half-pint or pint jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Combine and heat vinegar, water, salt, sugar and garlic to boiling and then simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove garlic. Add hot pickling solution over peppers, leaving ½ inch headspacae. Adjust lids and use conventional boiling water canner processing method to seal.

Marinated Whole Mushrooms

Yields about 9 half-pints

7 pounds small whole mushrooms

½ cup bottled lemon juice

2 cups olive or vegetable oil

2 ½ cups white vinegar, 5 percent acidity

1 tablespoon dried oregano leaves

1 tablespoon dried basil leaves

1 tablespoon pickling salt

½ cup finely chopped onion

¼ cup diced pimento (small red sweet peppers)

2 cloves garlic, cut in quarters

25 black peppercorns

Select very fresh unopened mushrooms with caps less than 1 ¼ inches in diameter. Clean with damp paper towels to remove any dirt. Cut stems, leaving ¼ inch attached to cap. Place in 6-quart kettle and add lemon juice and water to cover. Bring to boil. Simmer 5 minutes. Drain mushrooms.

Mix olive oil, vinegar, oregano, basil and salt in a saucepan. Stir in onions and pimento and heat to boiling. Place ¼ garlic clove and 2 or 3 peppercorns in each half-pint jar. Fill half-pints with mushrooms and hot, well-mixed olive oil-vinegar solution, leaving ½ inch headspace. Adjust lids and use conventional boiling water canner processing.

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at brandall@lake

oswegoreview.com or by phone at the newspaper office at 503-635-8811.