Recipe: pickled okra
We had a good, rainy weekend – all gray, cool, and drenched with a few breaks in between. Looks like the monsoons have begun and they are most welcome in our thirsty mountains. And it was nice to have a weekend without obligations to anyone but each other, and of course, Kaweah.
raindrops cling to aspen leaves
fireweed in bloom, mountain biker on the trail – typical colorado
trotting along, loving her little hike
forest colors are so vibrant after a rain
Last Sunday, I canned my very first anything on my own. I had taken a class back in October, but it was a giant group effort and I didn’t feel confident enough to tackle it again until now. Why is that? Because I was waiting for this book to come out.
food in jars
I had mentioned this lovely book and its even lovelier author, Marisa, when I posted her wildly popular strawberry syrup recipe. There are just so many terrific recipes on jams, preserves, pickles, chutneys, sauces, etc. in her book that you could conceivably ignore the “canning” factor altogether. But… why would you? Considering our long winters and our short growing season in Colorado, I have decided that canning the seasonal goodness of summer is worth the investment of time, learning, effort, and money. So I started with something easy – pickles. Here’s my journey…
pickling spice blend from savory spice shop in boulder
Pickling requires pickling spices. I decided to make my own blend (a recipe from Marisa’s book) and dropped by Savory Spice Shop in Boulder (my favorite local spice source) for the spices I didn’t have. I have a barely working knowledge of spices at best, so it’s nice to walk into the store and get fantastic advice from the super friendly and knowledgeable staff when you’re in need of help.
bay leaves, juniper berries, mustard seed, peppercorns, coriander seed, allspice, dill seed, cloves, cinnamon
pour it into a jar
Now what to pickle? l was having a conversation with friends on Twitter about okra one day and I recalled these pickled okra spears that my good friend, Melinda, had turned me on to almost 20 years ago. Mmm, okra pickles. I had not had one of those in a long time. But where oh where do you get okra in Colorado? Some of the Mexican, Indian, and Asian grocery stores carry it, but Manisha reported that the Indian grocer near her house had beautiful okra just the other day. Ellen (of Helliemae’s Handcrafted Caramels) and I met there and gathered what we thought was a good deal of okra.
oh oh oh okra
For the canning newbs or wannabes, here’s what I used. For the seasoned pros, you can skip to the ingredients. There are in essence, two kinds of jars with which I can: Ball jars (or Ball-style jars) and Weck jars. Ball jars are pretty common and more affordable, but Weck jars are not only incredibly beautiful, they also have glass lids that are BPA-free. I like Weck jars for home use, but I gift the Ball jars since I’m not made of money. You also want a canning pot with a rack to keep the jars from resting on the bottom of the pot. For large batches, I have a 21.5 quart porcelain-on-steel pot with a canning rack. For small batches, I use a tall stock pot with a makeshift rack (it’s a cooling rack). Sweet. You will also want a jar lifter (I like this one from Ball because it is spring-loaded which makes for less cussing), a lid lifter wand (if you use Ball-style jars, otherwise you won’t need this for Weck jars as the lids are glass, not metal), a wide-mouth funnel, a wooden chopstick (or you can pay money for a plastic bubble popper thingy), and some kitchen towels.
1/2 liter (1 pint) weck mold jars (742)
tall stock pot with cooling rack
For the pickling, I got myself a bag of pickling salt which is different from regular salt in that it has no iodine and no additives. I also picked up apple cider vinegar that states 5% acidity on the label. From a food safety standpoint, the acidity level is important for ensuring the right pH so you don’t poison yourself with molds or bacteria. So there’s that.
5% acidity apple cider vinegar
The preparation of jars is slightly different for Weck than for Ball jars and I describe both in the recipe below, but for now, I’m going with the Weck jars. You only need to sterilize the jars if you process (boil in the canning bath) for less than 10 minutes. Since I live at 8500 feet, I have to process my jars for an additional 20 minutes – so yeah, I skipped the sterilization step. But the rubber rings go into a boiling bath for 2-3 minutes and remain in the hot water until you are ready to seal the jars. So do that, get your canning bath ready (it takes some time for the giant pot of water to come to temperature), and do your mise en place.
place the rubber rings in a bath
pickling spices, vinegar, pickling salt, garlic, lemon, okra
the brine: water, vinegar, pickling salt
When everything is ready to go and the brine is hot, start filling the jars. First add your lemon slice and pickling spices to each jar, then pack the okra in – first with the tips up and then fill in the spaces with tips down. Drop a clove of garlic into each jar. Ladle hot brine over the okra, leaving a 1/2 inch of headspace from the rim of the jar. Tap the base of each jar on a towel on your work surface to encourage the bubbles to the surface. Get the remaining bubbles out with a wooden chopstick. Because okra are hollow, they will fill with brine and your brine levels may drop. Top them off if necessary, to maintain that 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe the rims clean, place the rubber rings on the lids and cap the jars. Secure two clamps opposite from one another onto the lid and jar.
lemon slices and pickling spices
pack the okra
and a garlic clove
pour the brine
wipe the rim of the jar clean
secure the lid into place
The Weck site states that the temperature of the contents of the jars should be similar to the temperature of the water bath when you place the jars in the pot. Essentially – cold pack items should be placed in cold water and brought up to temperature, and hot pack items should be placed in hot water and brought up to temperature – otherwise you will mess up the processing time, the cooking of the foods (reaching certain temperatures is important for food safety), and possibly crack a jar. I actually had one of my Ball jars crack because I think I was taking too long with the last jar and it cooled too much when I put it in the hot water bath. So just be aware of that. Also, don’t tip the jars over – keep them upright as best you can when arranging them in the pot. Don’t pack them in crazy tight either, a little jiggle room is good. Once you place the jars in the bath, there should be 1-2 inches of water above the jars. Another warning – some water will escape as vapor and so you should expect the level of water to decrease over time, especially if processing for 30 minutes like I did for my elevation. I list elevation adjustments in the recipe below. Start your processing timer when the bath reaches a boil. It is not uncommon to see air bubbles escaping from your jars and floating to the top of the water bath. That’s just physics at work. After the pickles are done in the bath, fish them out with your nifty jar lifter, pouring off the water from the top, and setting them on a towel on your work surface. This prevents thermal shock to the jar by keeping the hot glass bottom from coming into contact with a cool surface and creating a temperature gradient in the glass. Let them cool for 24 hours and don’t mess with them! You can test for a good seal when the jars have cooled by removing the clamps (or rings from Ball jars) and lifting the jar by the lid an inch or two from the counter. It should hold. If it doesn’t hold, the seal is bad, but the food is still good! You can reprocess the food in another jar or you can refrigerate it to be eaten in the next few weeks.
set on a towel to cool
Marisa says to let the pickles cure for a week. Once they are ready, you can open your Weck jar by pulling on the rubber tab until you hear a psssssssst! I tasted my okra pickles after 5 days (I’m impatient) and they were fan-freaking-tastic! A lot of people claim to hate okra because they don’t like the sliminess, but pickled okra isn’t very slimy at all and it’s so wonderfully crunchy.
open the weck jar like so
sample the okra pickle (mmmmmm)
goes well with barbecue
I liked my pickled okra so much and I’ve become so obsessed with canning, that I went and canned several more jars to gift to friends. I’ve gone from a complete canning idiot to a partial canning idiot, and I owe it all to Marisa and her gorgeous new book! Do you can?
the best gifts come from hearts and hands
Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of Food in Jars from Running Press with no obligation. All opinions are totally my own, duh!
3 cups (720 ml) apple cider vinegar (5% acidity)
3 tbsps pickling salt
4 lemon slices
4 tbsps mixed pickling spice (purchased or you can make your own – see recipe below)
2 pounds okra, washed and trimmed
4 cloves garlic, peeled
mixed pickling spice
3 tbsps crushed bay leaves
3 tbsps black peppercorns
3 tbsps whole allspice
3 tbsps coriander seeds
3 tbsps mustard seeds
3 tbsps juniper berries
1 tbsp whole cloves
1 tbsp dill seed
1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
Make the pickling spice: Combine all ingredients in a jar. Tighten the lid onto the jar and shake to mix. Makes about 20 tablespoons.
Notes: I made this recipe using both Weck and Ball jars. The Weck site has some nice canning instructions if you are using their jars, which differ slightly from the standard instructions for canning with Ball-style jars.
Canning pickled okra: Ready the boiling water bath and the four clean (washed with soap and water) jars you plan to use for canning. Check your jars and lids for nicks or cracks – don’t use them if they have any because it could jeopardize creating a good seal. If using standard Ball or similar style jars, it helps to put them in the pot you plan to use for canning and fill them (and the pot) with water, then bring to a boil. Keep the jars at a simmer (180°F) until they are ready to use. Place the lids in a small saucepan with enough water to cover them and set to a simmer over low heat (high heat can compromise the gummy seal material). If using Weck jars, you only need to sterilize your jars and glass lids if they will be processed for less than 10 minutes. Place the rubber rings in a small saucepan of water and bring to a boil for 2-3 minutes then leave them in the hot water until you are ready to use them.
Place the vinegar, 3 cups of water, and the pickling salt in a pot over high heat. Stir to dissolve the salt and bring the brine to a boil. When you are ready to start filling the jars, place 1 lemon slice and 1 tablespoon of mixed pickled spice in each sterilized jar. Pack the okra in, with the pointy ends up, then place a second layer of okra in, pointy-end down, to maximize the number of okra in the jar. Tuck a clove of garlic in each jar. Pour the hot brine over the okra for each jar such that you have 1/2 inch (12 mm) of head-space from the rim. Make sure the brine is hot, because you’re putting it into a boiling water bath – if it isn’t hot, you could crack a jar like I did with one of my Ball jars. Gently tap the base of each jar on a kitchen towel laid out on your work surface to release any air bubbles. Use a clean wooden chopstick to get any stubborn bubbles to release from the okra, jar, etc. Add more brine if the levels drop below 1/2 inch head-space (this may happen as the okra are hollow and will fill with brine).
Use a cloth to wipe the rims clean and apply the lids and rings of the Ball-style jars to fingertip tight (just tightened with fingertips – not super tight). If using Weck jars, place the rubber rings on the glass lids and set them on the jars. Secure the lids with two canning clamps for each jar – 180° from each other (across from each other). Set the jars in your canning bath (either on a jar rack or a makeshift cooling rack – just be sure they are not set directly on the bottom of the pot) and check that there is at least 1-2 inches of water above the lids of the jars – if not, add more water. Once the pot has returned to a boil, process for 10 minutes if you are at an altitude of sea-level to 1,000 feet above sea level (asl). For 1,001 to 3,000 feet asl, add another 5 minutes to the 10 minute processing time. For 3,001 to 6,000 feet asl, add 10 minutes to the 10 minute processing time. For 6,001 to 8,000 feet asl, add another 15 minutes to the 10 minute processing time. And finally, for 8,001 to 10,000 feet asl (that’s me!) add an additional 20 minutes to the 10 minute processing time for a total of 30 minutes.
When the pickles are done processing, remove them from the canning bath and place them on a towel-lined countertop to let them cool. Don’t mess with them! For the metal lids, you may hear the “ping” of the seals forming as the center of the lid gets sucked down. There will be no pinging of the Weck lids, but you may notice the tongue of the rubber band pointing down (this is good). Let the jars cool for 24 hours. Remove the bands or clamps and lift the jar an inch or so off your work surface (carefully – in case the seal is bad and breaks) by the lid. If the seal is good, it should hold. Store the jars in a cool, dark location for up to a year (take the clamps and rings off). Also, if you have a jar with a bad seal, like my cracked jar, you can store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks – the food is still good. Makes 4 1-pint (500 ml) jars.