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1. Use only the freshest ingredients, straight from the garden if possible. Avoid produce with a waxed coating; it won't absorb brine.
2. Wash produce and cut off any bruised or discolored bits. Dirt and spoilage that wouldn't be harmful when eaten fresh could breed dangerous bacteria when seated in a jar.
3. Use salt without additives, such as kosher or pickling salt. Avoid sea salt, which contains minerals, and iodized table salt.
4. Only white and cider vinegars have high enough acid levels for safe pickling. If your pickles are too tart, don't decrease the vinegar-add more sugar instead. Never boil the syrup beyond the time specified; prolonged boiling breaks down acetic acid, making it too weak to prevent bacterial growth.
5. Only jars specified for home canning are made to withstand the stresses and high temperatures of the process. Use vintage canning jars only if they are in perfect condition and can be used with new two-piece screw lids for a secure fit. Use the flat lid only once.
Screw bands can be reused if they are rust-free and not bent.
6. Keep everything at its proper temperature. Pickles, jars, and lids should be hot. Begin timing sterilizing of jars and water bath after the water has come to a boil.
7. Leave pickles out to cool for twenty-four hours after processing.
Before storing them, check seals: The lids should be taut and sucked slightly inward by the vacuum inside. Jars with loose seals should be refrigerated and the pickles eaten within a week.
8. Date the pickles. "Mine could sit in the cabinet for ten years," says Salli LaGrone. "I wouldn't want to serve them to company." 9. Store jars in a cool, dry, dark place. Moisture affects the seal; light can bleach pickles.
10. Inspect each jar before opening it. Press down on the lid; if it gives or "clicks," the seal has broken and the pickles must be discard- ed. When you open the jar, check for mold, leakage around the rim, gas or bubbling inside, funny smells, and slimy pickles. If any of these are the case, throw away the entire jar where children and pets will not find it.
Martha Stewart Living/October/94 Scanned & edited by Di Pahl & <gg>