Having brought home 20 pounds of cucumbers yesterday, today was the day I turned them into pickles.
First task: Find the recipe. Since canned goods can turn dangerously nasty if mistreated, I can't just wing it. It's not on a recipe card. Neither of the recipes in my two dedicated pickle books look right (ok, so it's a little weird to have cookbooks for just pickles, but as I said, recipes are critical and I like canning things). Back to the old stand-by, the Joy of Cooking. Yup, that looks better. Except that it starts with 4 pounds of cucumbers going into pint jars, and I have 20 pounds going into quart jars; guess I'll have to start small and see how it scales up.
Second task: Get the canning jars and lids into the dishwasher for sterilizing. Jars I can find, but I'm short of the proper lids. So it's off to the grocery store for lids and bulk white vinegar (lucky I checked before leaving!). While there, I pick up a box of canning salt because I can't remember if I already have some and it's cheap. In the meantime, my faithful daughter loads 14 quart jars (all she could find), 4 pint jars, and the associated rings into the dishwasher and starts it up.
Third task: Find all equipment and get the water in the canning pot heating. The big aluminum canning pot I use heats very slowly, so getting it started is one of the first things to do. Find the canning tongs (a tool which elegantly matches its purpose - I wouldn't can without it again), a jelly bag and string, the large funnel, and the ladle, then clean the dutch oven after two months of disuse. Fold a towel next to the stove as a landing place for hot, wet jars (one of my best innovations!)
Fourth task: Get ingredients together. Cucumbers come out of the fridge, vinegar is on the counter, dill comes out of the water, peppercorns come out of the spice cabinet, the box of salt I already had in the cupboard comes out (and the new box goes in). Equal parts of vinegar and water go into the dutch oven, along with 1 cup salt for each 9 cups of water, and it is set to boil.
Fifth task: Wait for the dishwasher to be done. Turn down heat under canning pot and vinegar. Put lids into a jelly bag, tie, and suspend in boiling water in canning pot - no point in getting another pan on the stove for sterilizing the lids.
Sixth task: Finally, the dishwasher is done. Turn up heat again. Remove hot jars from dishwasher with towel. Stuff each quart jar with pickles; first add 6-8 peppercorns and 1-2 heads of dill, then start packing proto-pickles with the largest ones and end with smaller ones on top. Luckily, there aren't enough cucumbers here to worry about pickle-packer's thumb (caused by repetitively cramming the last cucumber into the jar with your thumb).
Seventh task: Transfer the boiling vinegar to the jars. Get fed up with the ladle and remember that the pyrex measuring cup works better. Discard the funnel as useless. About half of each jar is filled with vinegar, even though it looks full already; it doesn't seem to matter if the pickles have been sliced or not. Top quickly with hot lids and rims. Suck on burned fingers until they quit stinging.
Eighth task: Place seven filled jars into canning pot with tongs. Put lid on and bring water to a boil (this seems to take forever - sit patiently and read a magazine rather than watching it); let boil for 15 minutes. Then remove jars with tongs and place on folded towel to cool.
Ninth task: Start another batch while the jars seal int he boiling water. Add more water, vinegar, and salt to the dutch oven. Start slicing cucumbers for the smaller jars. Discover that there are still plenty of cucumbers on the counter, find more jars, and run them through the dishwasher, too - this time on the short cycle. Find more lids. Add 4 peppercorns and 1 head of dill to each pint jar, then load with sliced pickles. Leave a little room at the top. Experiment with flavorings: add dried red peppers to two jars, some curry powder instead of dill to one.
Tenth task: fill with vinegar and repeat tasks above. Eventually finish, well after the day has started getting hot. Wait a month before eating. Twenty pounds of cucumbers makes 19 quarts of pickles, which means four rounds of the canning bath. With luck, this will hold us until next summer.
Caution: Do not try this at home unless you also have a good basic guide on canning!