There’s something special about food in a Mason jar, though I can’t quite put my finger on it. Perhaps it’s the persona it exudes: homemade, distinct, unique; or maybe it’s the belief that a fair amount of care and effort linger just beneath the lid.
Canning foods adds a layer of depth to eating seasonally by “saving the seasons” — fresh, bright blueberries in the midst of a harsh, cold winter is a particularly pleasant prospect, especially when coupled with the personal fulfillment of having created the product yourself. I’ve been reading about how to can foods at home, wrapping my brain around the necessary steps to, quite frankly, avoid poisoning myself and fellow tasters. Canning is a bit scientific and methodical, requiring certain supplies to execute a heat-activated process to kill microorganisms and inactivate enzymes that cause food to spoil. Jars must be vacuum-sealed to prevent air from entering and re-contaminating the food.
These days, the concern over food safety intensifies as recalls continue to bombard the news. Additionally, there’s some very controversial legislation in Congress right now threatening small farm livelihood and direct-to-consumer venues such as farmers’ markets and road side stands (gasp!). Since the very foundation of canning is built around preventing food contamination and spoilage, the process seems more intimidating than ever with this heightened food safety awareness; though numerous resources abound to help make the process a bit less daunting.
My CSA share provided two giant cucumbers this week. While my sister-in-law, V, made a cucumber, feta and tomato salad with one of the cukes, the long, slinky thing tempted my interest and appreciation for all things in jars. This recipe for Sweet Pickles is a simple pickling experiment denoting my shy foray into the world of canning. Like the single toe testing the pool water on the first day of summer — I’m taking baby steps before diving right in. No fancy equipment, just a jar, a refrigerator, and a girl with a cooking spirit.
So is a jar of pickled cukes nutritious? There’s some scattered research citing the acidity in vinegar-based foods like pickles helps control blood sugar levels, which may be of interest to those with diabetes. The star in this recipe, the cucumber, promises a good amount of fiber, vitamin K and calcium. Combined with the cancer-fighting and heart-protective properties in red onion and garlic, the cuke is soaking up some serious nourishment.
I loved the results of my pickling experiment. These pickles are great on top of a burger or as a crisp, light snack. They remind me of the salty-sweet bread and butter variety (check out Smitten Kitten’s rendition), though more sweet than salty — just the way my taste buds roll.
Adapted from Cooking Light August issue, page 34, “New Uses for Zucchini”
- 3 cups 1/8-inch cucumber slices
- 1 cup slivered red onion
- 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 1/2 cup turbinado sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1 tsp yellow mustard
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt
- 3/4 tsp pepper
- Combine first three ingredients in a bowl.
- In a saucepan, bring to a boil vinegar, sugar, paprika, mustard, salt and pepper. Pour over zucchini mixture.
- Refrigerate overnight.
- Jar as desired – will make about 2 8oz jars.
Recipe Notes: The original Cooking Light recipe was actually road-tested for zucchini. The magazine’s version calls for mustard seeds and red pepper flakes. Without these on hand, I substituted yellow mustard (hence the yellow-brown tinge to the vinegar solution) and sweet paprika for the red pepper flakes. I also used red onion in lieu of yellow.