Pickles, Firecrackers, and Blue Garlic [U]

This is the first time I’ve made pickles this early in the year—usually it’s August, when I’ve given up on my cucumber plants producing enough (last year they did, but I was out of town and when I got back they were either rotten or the size of watermelons) and caved and bought a load at the farmer’s market.

This year, the only thing that went into the pickles that didn’t grow in my yard—that is, vegetable things—was the garlic. Some of the garlic came from the farmer’s market and some came from the Giant around the corner. The only reason I’m making a big deal out of the garlic is because some of it turned blue. Not just blue, but a sort of neon aqua.

I kid you not. See the photo.

image of garlic that turned blue in pickle jar

On the right is the garlic that turned blue. The clove on the left is pretty much normal looking.

If you’ve never seen this happen, it’s pretty weird, so I looked it up on line to see if there was any reason to be worried. Turns out that it’s actually kind of common, even if I’ve been cooking with garlic for decades and had never seen it. Has to do with chemicals in the garlic—some people say immature garlic—that react with acid.

There’s something about making pickles, especially when you grow the cucumbers and dill yourself, that’s not just fun, but weirdly rewarding. Or maybe I’m just weird.

Whatever the case, here are some photos of the process:

photo of cucumbers in jars, awaiting brine

I soaked the cucumbers in ice water for several hours before putting them in the jars with garlic, dill sprigs and heads, and peppercorns.

I use a recipe that’s pretty simple to make, the only PITA is soaking the cucumbers for several hours in ice water, but it’s a good idea because they will likely end up crunchier.

image of quart jars with pickle cucumbers

I boiled the jars and lids for about 10 minutes in a giant pot I have that I usually use for making beer, then took them out and put in garlic, dill heads and sprigs, and peppercorns. In one jar—in celebration of pickling day, July 4—I put a massively hot little pepper from my son’s massively hot little pepper plant. Those should be interesting. I drew a bad picture of a firecracker on the lid, just to make sure I remembered which jar.

In the end, I had more cucumbers than I thought I did (some of them were kind of big and you can only cram so many in a jar) and had to make some more brine (3 cups water to one cup white vinegar, plus pickling salt). I once got that pickling mix from the hardware store and poured it down the drain pretty quickly after heating it up—it looked like a boiling pot of urine.

image of finished pickles

Here are jars of pickles with the lids on. I read somewhere that you should take the rings off, but it seemed a bit risky to me. I’m just dopey enough to knock the lids off without the rings. No blue garlic yet.

They’ll be ready in a few weeks, but I still have some from last year. Alert to daughters: You can have as many as you like, but the hot one belongs to your brother.

Next up, maybe tomatoes. I have a lot of them, and, as I said, it’s fun.

An added note: I’ve been home brewing since the late 1980s or so, and sanitizing bottles for beer is something I’ve routinely done. If anyone knows whether you can use the same methods for sanitizing jars for canning, I’d like to hear about it. Seems like it would be way more energy efficient not to have to boil all that water.

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About Steve, i.e., him

Stephen Stark is an award-winning novelist and bestselling ghostwriter. His fiction and nonfiction has appeared in numerous publications, including The New Yorker, the Washington Post, and the New York Times, Poets & Writers and in many other journals. He has been a fellow and taught at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, and won an NEA Literature Fellowship in fiction. His novel, Second Son, was a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 1992, and a New and Noteworthy Paperback of 1994.

One thought on “Pickles, Firecrackers, and Blue Garlic [U]

  1. We’ve yet to do pickles, but I love canning tomatoes and any other fruit we’re lucky enough to get by the bucketload. We can often scour the neighborhood for apples, pears, plums, and blackberries. But I’m inspired now to grow cucumbers next year. The pickles look great. And I’ve seen the blue garlic before! Very odd.

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