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In A Pickle 

A preservation starter project

Home canning has been on my to-do list for several years, and at long last, my wish came true this summer. While on vacation in Seattle last month, two girlfriends and I teamed up and embarked on a self-taught canning extravaganza, "putting up" peaches and berries for jam.

It was an enlightening experience, opening my eyes to the amount of work, time and bicep strength involved in preserving food for the long winter ahead. We of the instant-presto generation know nothing about squirreling away food in mason jars for times less abundant. For us girls, this was a fun way to pass the afternoon, but it got me thinking: Maybe we need to take this home canning thing a little more seriously. Wouldn't it be nice to know how to preserve the goods from the garden or the farm market rather than rely on those tinny cans of mush from the supermarket shelves?

The only people I know who know how to can (other than me and my two pals) are either dead or receiving Social Security checks. Now is the time to learn and keep the art of canning alive before all the teachers are long gone.

With that reality check in mind, I've been preservingly preoccupied, thinking about the next project (tomatoes this week) and trying to embrace a different mind-set about my winter larder.

In all fairness, canning does require a rig -- a few big pots, jars, seals, lids, special tongs and a rack -- but if that's not gonna happen till next year, I understand. In the meantime, there's a preservation starter project with your name all over it, no special equipment required. There are cucumbers that need pickling -- and quick, before autumn begins in earnest. Your burgers and franks will thank you.

Ed McFarland's Pickles

Adapted from the Aug. 27, 2007, issue of New York magazine

  • 6 small Kirby cucumbers (which contain smaller and fewer seeds; alternatively, use larger seedless cukes)
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup pickling or kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 habanero peppers
  • 2 cups red wine vinegar (Use a combination of vinegar and water for a milder, less sour result; alternatively, use a milder vinegar, such as cider or rice)
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1/8 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
  • 3/4 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 allspice berry
  • 3/4 teaspoon mustard seed

Using a knife, or, preferably a mandoline, slice cucumbers approximately 1/8-inch thick. In a large, nonreactive bowl or plastic container, mix water, salt and 1/4 cup of the sugar with a whisk. Add cucumber slices and whole peppers to the mixture, thoroughly covering them with the brine. Cover container and let stand for 12 hours.

Remove cucumber slices and peppers from brine, place in a colander in the sink, and rinse well with cold water, making sure all of the water drains.

Combine remaining 1/2 cup sugar, vinegar, garlic and spices in another nonreactive bowl or plastic container.

Add cucumber slices and peppers. Cover and refrigerate for 5 hours before serving. Pickles should last refrigerated for up to 60 days.

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