The Accidental Scientist: Science of Cooking Exploratorium
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canning pickles
Pickles should not be kept on your pantry shelf unless they are canned. This involves heating jars of pickles to temperatures high enough to kill off spoilage microbes—a method known as heat processing . An airtight vacuum seal forms when the jars cool, shutting microbes out. Once canned, most pickles keep for up to one year.




How to Prepare Jars and Lids .
Before use, wash jars in hot, soapy water and rinse thoroughly. Then put the clean jars on the wire rack inside the boiling-water canner. Fill with water and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to keep the water below simmering. Keep the jars in the hot water until you fill them with pickles. If the recipe calls for presterilized jars, boil the jars completely submerged in water for 10 minutes before turning down the heat.

In a separate small container, heat the lids (flat discs) in hot, but not boiling water. (NOTE: Some lids have different preparation steps, so closely follow the lid manufacturer’s directions.) Heating softens the sealing compound, helping it form an airtight seal with the jar. It is not necessary to heat the screwbands because they never come in contact with the food.

Filling the Jars .
When you fill the hot jars with your prepared recipe, use a clean, damp towel to wipe the rims right before applying the lid. Any residue can prevent the lids from sealing properly.

What Do I Need? .
glass canning jars (often called mason jars) and 2-piece metal canning lids (see individual recipes to find out how many you need) Tip
Many supermarkets, hardware stores, and department stores carry canning supplies.

Glass canning jars have two-piece closures. One piece is a flat disk with a gasket around the rim. The other is a screwband that holds down the lid against the top of the jar. The band can be reused, but the lid cannot.
a canner: a large, deep, stainless-steel, nonreactive pot with a tight-fitting lid (should be large enough to allow at least 4 inches of headroom above the jars)
  a wire basket or rack to fit inside the canner and hold jars
  a jar lifter (special tongs)
hot pads or several towels
a timer
General Heat-Processing Instructions


1. Place the closed jars (filled with the prepared recipe) on the wire rack in the canner, and transfer the jars to the canner (the water in the canner should still be hot from preparing the jars). Make sure the water covers the jars by at least 1 inch.

To learn more about federal guidelines for canning, the US Department of Agriculture has guidelines for safe home canning.

Need Help?
If you have troubleshooting questions on canning or pickling, there is a wealth of information at Some companies also offer consumer helplines. In the US, call Ball and Kerr (1-800-240-3340, option 5); in Canada, call Bernarden (1-888-430-4231).


2. Cover the canner tightly and bring the water to a rolling boil. When there’s a full rolling boil, start the timer. Reduce the heat to a simmer and start the timer. Boil the jars for the amount of time recommended in the recipe.


3. When processing time is complete, remove the lid and turn off the heat. Use a jar lifter to remove the jars from the canner, and set the jars upright on a rack or a layer of towels to cool. Make sure to leave room around the jars for air circulation. Also make sure the room is draft-free.


4. Allow jars to cool undisturbed for 24 hours. During cooling, you might hear a soft "ping" when the lids seal tightly. Once the jars are cool, test for vacuum seals by tapping the top of the jar with a spoon. You should hear a bell-like tone, not a "clunk." Also, the lids should be concave; a convex lid is a sign of a bad seal. Finally, the lids should not move when you press on them with your finger.


5. Refrigerate the jars that did not seal properly. (Resealing jars after they have cooled isn’t safe.)


6. Store the jars of canned pickles in a cool, dark place, such as a cupboard or a basement. Eat them within 1 year. Once the jar has been opened, keep it in the refrigerator.

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