How to Host a Pickle Party

Enlist friends and turn canning into a social event.
Pickled Produce

Pickled Produce

Fruits of a day's labor: canning-topia.

Fruits of a day's labor: canning-topia.

What to do, what to do?  The garden has kicked into a surprising burst of productivity and the CSA share this week is formidable. While I’m not likely to complain about having too much produce, sometimes it’s just…

OK, so sometimes there might be too much produce. How much pickling can one pack into a weekend?

Tweet around and you just might find friends facing the same problem. Sure, you could all lock the doors and shut down the social media for a day of solitary peeling, chopping, brining, and canning. Me? I’m thinking pickle camp.

Most of the time that goes into pickling is in the preparation. Gathering a group of pickle-minded individuals to share the work load will reduce the hours exponentially. Call it something cute like “pickle party” and they might not even notice there’s work to be done.

So pack up your produce in your old kit bag. And your salt, spices and canning rig. Perhaps even a propane outdoor cooker. What was at first glance a herculean task is suddenly the social event of the season.

It’s possible I may have taken it a little far with that social event of the season business, but combining forces to preserve your respective harvests makes quick work of a tedious task.

Knitters are an illustrious breed. While visiting friends in Boston, I spent a day with Amy, Jackie, Kellee, and Stitchy — four Boston area knitters willing to stop pawing their precious skeins of hand-spun cashmere long enough to apply their determination to something other than the fiber arts.

With five children, a husband or two, and a cheerful dog in tow, the gang converged on Jackie’s kitchen carrying  boxes and bags overflowing with gear and veggies and we got down to business.

Jackie loaded the dishwasher with jars, transferring them to the oven set at low temperature to keep them warm as they came out. Keeping the jars warm reduces the chances of breakage when they hit the boiling water bath to seal.

A water bath canning rig set up on the front porch over a propane flame freed up the stove for brine preparation.

Kellee set to work mixing a salt and vinegar brine of a neutral flavor. Because we were pickling a variety of vegetables, spices were added directly to the jars to allow us to use the same brine to pickle batches of carrots, beans and peppers.

Meanwhile, Amy and I peeled, Stitchy and Jackie chopped and we all took turns packing pint and quart jars with the results, adding garlic, peppercorns and other spices as we went along.

Lids and bands were plucked from a saucepan kept at a low boil on the stove to keep the metal hot and the rubber seals pliant and packed jars were efficiently capped and shuttled out to our front porch canning facility for a ten minute water bath to seal the deal.

Somewhere in the mix, we also managed to produce a gallon or so of pesto (thanks to Jackie’s husband for tirelessly manning the food processor) and closed out the day pickling small batches of beets and husk cherries that did not lend themselves to the neutral brine assembly line.

Even with generous helpings of chit-chat, horseplay and kid-wrangling, in a scant seven hours we processed well over a hundred pounds of produce. Not bad. We didn’t quite get to that cabbage earmarked for sauerkraut, though.

Like all good camp experiences, it ended all too soon.

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