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if you can can can!

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

it’s beautiful

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

shake (mix)

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.

pickling salt

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.

canning bath

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!

Pickled Okra
[print recipe]
from Food in Jars by Marisa McClellan

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.

27 nibbles at “if you can can can!”

  1. Allison Day says:

    Okay, confession… the idea of canning anything terrifies me. But… I know Son would LOVE pickled okra, so I guess I’m going to have to get over this fear soon! I definitely want to get Marisa’s book, so that’ll be excellent motivation to try. ^_^

  2. Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar says:

    I seriously need to try this! Yum!

  3. Kristen says:

    I love the title of this post! Moulin Rouge is one of my favorite movies. Ever since my mom started her garden in earnest, she’s been canning. I helped her one year when a batch of roma tomatoes threatened to take over the entire garden. We made one of the best soups I’ve ever had: chipotle tomato soup. So good in the winter time!

    This year she has gone crazy and has been canning blueberries and blackberries left and right (and a few pickles) before the rest of the vegetables come in. I just opened a blueberry with cardamom, lemon peel and Grand Marnier jam she made and it nearly made my head spin it was so good. As for me, I do not can but I LOVED all the beautiful photos you posted of your first foray into canning! I think I’ll have to buy buy Marisa’s book for my mom. She would absolutely love it!

  4. Stefanie says:

    I’m with Allison – I’ve been wanting to try this, but the whole process seems overwhelming. Your pickles look great though!

  5. Bobbie says:

    Thanks to my OCD genes, I am positively terrified that I will miss some important canning step and kill myself with botulism. That’s the only thing that stands between me and a cellar full of canned produce. How can I be absolutely certain that my canned goods are safe? Is it all about temperature, time, acidity, and a good seal?

  6. Sara C says:

    I am working my way through her book too! Just made the strawberry vanilla jam and pickled red onions. I’ve only canned about 5-6 times now with ball jars and just purchased a weck jar to try out. Good luck on your future endeavors!

  7. Katie | Healthnut Foodie says:

    Fun! I canned my first batch of tomatoes and hamburger dill pickles just last week! I can’t wait to get my hands on her great book!!!

  8. Roberto says:

    YES! I CAN can… (but I can’t dance the can-can!) I started “putting up” jams 3 years ago after tasting the stunningly good strawberry preserves my daughter’s beau’s mom made. Added inspiration was the discovery of strawberry-rhubarb jam on a visit to Bar Harbor. With a big steamer tub already on hand, I got the Ball starter kit and their legendary “Blue Book” to guide me. When I was young I saw my mom and grandmother “put up” all sorts of things, ranging from beans from our garden to home-made jellies, so I was confident I could do it safely if I studied a bit. The preserves make excellent holiday and “hostess” gifts.

  9. Nan says:

    I’ve been canning and preserving my entire life — a skill I learned from my mother. I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything in the world. For that reason, It’s something I now do with my daughter. I’m so happy to see a resurgence of gardening and canning/preserving because, for so long, we’d taken ourselves so far away from our personal food chain. It’s always good to be mindful of what we’re eating and what went into it’s acquisition.

    Over the years, my friends have questioned why I continued to can and preserve when I didn’t have to. My response is that it I like knowing where my food came from and exactly what’s in it. Saving money by producing my own is the icing on the cake. I derive great satisfaction when searching the shelves of beautifully home preserved goodies, selecting and popping open a jar of my own pickled okra on a cold, snowy saturday evening. A loaf of crusty bread you baked yourself, a nice piece of cheese, a bottle of red wine, and you have yourself a picnic in front of the fire. Wonderful!

    So glad to see I’m no longer one of a very small group stalwart home canners and preservers — standing at a hot stove in the heat of the summer! Welcome to the ranks Jen!!

  10. Carol says:

    Yes, I can!! I too watched my grandparents can tomatoes, green beans, corn, etc. To all those who are nervous, don’t be. It’s easier than you think. I have the Blue Book of Canning, which is the “bible” of canning – it has the latest advice on food safety, etc. I must say that opening a jar of tomato juice in January is like drinking summer in a jar!
    PS, I’m making 4-oz jars of jam for my daughter’s wedding in August – some blueberry, some strawberry. And I make bread & butter pickles, salsa, tomato sauce. Haven’t poisoned anyone yet! My daughter loves pickled okra, so I’m just going to have to try your recipe. And buy that book!!!

  11. Carla says:

    Do try pickled green beans as well as okra..and beets..oh my, so good!!! I’ve been canning for over 40 years..and no one has ever gotten sick. I even can mushrooms (pressure, of course)…and although my husband was “not too sure” about home canned shrooms…he ate them, loved them and never ever second guessed home canned goodies again!!!

    There is nothing more satisfying than hearing the little pings when your jars seal and knowing if all else goes to hell in a hand basket, you will eat well!!!

  12. na says:

    I do a lot of canning and this is my first moment of ‘duh’ with regards to weck jars. I have never heard of them. How can this be?! I need to do some shopping asap :-)
    I made some okra pickles last year and they were blech! I need to try your recipe. Thanks for posting information that’s useful to intermediate level canners too :-)

  13. Bridget says:

    I had canned okra for the first time this weekend! They were really good, not slimy at all. Also, I was eating them at about 8500 feet in the Colorado mountains during a rainy (but still gorgeous) weekend!

  14. Jennifer H. says:

    I live not too far south of you (Colorado Springs, about 6,000 feet) and it seems like the extra processing time tends to make whatever is being canned too mushy. How do you get around that? I’m planning to get this book (at least from the library) and definitely want to do some more (small-batch) canning, but am afraid of the possible non-crunchy results.

  15. Shut Up & Cook says:

    Your pictures are always so great…how long does it take you to shoot for each post?

  16. Mrs Ergül says:

    Very beautiful Weck jars! I love them! Love all the photos in this recipe. They are THE BEST!!

  17. farmerpam says:

    Yes, we can! Nice to see you doing it too!

  18. Hilary says:

    What a great post! I too just purchased Marisa’s book and it is beautiful. I live just outside Philadelphia where Marisa lives and have taken one of her canning classes. Last summer I made Blueberry Lime jam and this summer I did the Strawberry Vanilla Jam and an Apricot Jam – they are amazing!! I’m hooked. Reading Marisa’s blog and her book has made me more confident.

    Jen- I truly love your blog. It is one of the first food blogs I started reading. Your photos are gorgeous and your style of writing is so warm and friendly. I always look forward to it. thanks!!

  19. joey says:

    Pickling and preserving has always attracted me…over here we have less need of it though because we don’t have a winter to speak of! That doesn’t stop me from making pickles and jams though! :) Admittedly these are all small batch stuff that I keep in my fridge and consume right away so no real “processing” involved. I want to try more though! Will check out this book. You’re okras look awesome!

  20. Manisha says:

    Those okra look even more delightful in jars!

    Krishna Grocery is owned by good people. I’m glad you found what you were looking for there.

  21. Alison says:

    Jen of URB, I do can! My most recent product is apricot jam. I want to try salsa soon.

    Jennifer H., for crunchier, less-cooked pickles, I’d try refrigerator pickles.

    Anyone wanting to learn more, check out your university extension. The Colorado State one has info on food processing here: A lot of classes are out there, too.

  22. jenyu says:

    Allison – I was paralyzed by the same fear, but I finally took the plunge and it’s awesome (and Marisa’s book is terrific)

    Katrina – it’s so fun!

    Kristen – I love that movie too :) Wow, your so lucky that your mom is such a great canner already. The book has tons of lovely recipes. I hope she likes them!

    Stefanie – I can say after having canned a half dozen batches that you get the hang of it quickly!

    Bobbie – yes.

    Sara – thanks, you too!

    Katie – hope you enjoy it as much as I have :)

    Roberto – awesome! I don’t know many guys who can, so I am doubly impressed!

    Nan – thank you. I love canning for many of the same reasons. It’s wonderful!

    Carol – some lovely recipes in the book. And what a great wedding favor!

    Carla – I’ve done beets, but not beans yet – I want to try dilly beans :) I like hearing the pings too… you don’t get pings from weck jars though!

    na – the Wecks are expensive, but oooooh so nice! Maybe try this recipe? I really like them.

    Bridget – yeah, I love how they lose their slime with the pickling process :)

    Jennifer – I didn’t seem to have problems with the okra, although there are pickling crisp beads you can buy (from Ball) to prevent mushy pickles (calcium carbonate?)

    Shut Up & Cook – it depends on how long the recipe takes. Usually doubles or triples the time of a normal recipe though.

    Mrs. Ergül – thanks!

    farmerpam – thank you :) I feel so happy now!

    Hilary – lucky you! She’s wonderful, isn’t she? And wow, I’m so flattered! You are very sweet. Glad to have such awesome readers like you xo

    joey – thank you!

    Manisha – aren’t they cute? The only thing to be aware of is that you don’t pick okra that are too tall for the jars! ;)

    Alison – thanks for the link!

  23. Manisha says:

    This okra pickle is incredibly good and it’s also all gone, so I hope it didn’t have to sit for another couple of weeks before opening! Thanks so much for sharing a jar with us! I didn’t expect the okra to be as crunchy as it was! The juniper berries were a wonderful surprise–I bit into every one I found. Your coriander seeds are so teeny compared to the ones I am used to! The brine is super delicious and flavorful, too. I’m hoarding it to add to a veggie pulao I will be making tomorrow. Thanks again for everything, especially your support and kindness! Hugs!

  24. jenyu says:

    Nish – so glad you liked them! Marisa’s recipes are excellent. I absolutely love okra this way (and tempura fried, but that’s a lot of messy work!) :) The coriander seeds are from Savory Spice (organic, I believe). xo

  25. Joy says:

    I love canning pickled okra and have a recipe that I’ve used for years. I’ve never seen lemon in a jar of pickled okra before. I bet it is wonderful. I can’t wait to try it! One piece of advice I have for you is to pack your jars tighter. Okra typically shrinks during the hot water bath so you can pack it in there pretty tight and still end up with plenty of room. I want each of my jars as full as possible so there is more okra to enjoy. Thanks for the recipe!

  26. Alisia says:

    These are SOOOOOOO good! I canned these last year and they were incredible! Needless to say, they didn’t last long. The best part? They’re so easy! Some of the other reviewers said they’re intimidated by the canning process- that’s really too bad IMO, but If you chicken out last minute, then put them in jars, put the lid on them, let them cool for a bit and just keep them in the fridge and snack on them whenever you want. I’m getting ready to pickle some more, as my okra is coming in like crazy! This will definitely be my “go-to” recipe for pickled okra! Thanks!

  27. Margret Hanagan says:

    We grow okra on our farm, so I pickle it, but I was looking for a different recipe. I’m going to try yours. I also will can some.

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