Sunday, November 15, 2009

Peter Piper Picked 10-14 Pounds of Pickled Peppers

Dear Tricia, Since I have seemed to successfully pickle myself, I thought I could do the same to various vegetables and try my hand at canning. All the recipes I have call for white distilled vinegar. Boring. I wanted to use rice vinegar in a few of my pickling experiments, but I'm afraid I'll poison folks since it doesn't have the 5% acidity that seems to be required. "Merry Christmas, here's a jar of botulism for you". Also, how/where can I score cheap canning supplies?

Happy National Pickle Day! Turns out, November 14th is the national day for pickling things (other than your liver), so its serendipitous that I chose this weekend to solve your conundrum.
Alrighty Polly Pickle Pants, lets get to business. You're right: you need at least 5% acidity for vinegars to pickle with, and most of them qualify except for that wimpy rice vinegar which only measures up to about 4%. (Compared to apple cider vinegar's 5%, balsamic's 6%, and sherry vinegar's 7%)
At first I wasn't hopeful. But then throughout my Sunday morning of searching pickling websites and playing Tetris, I found a pickled onion recipe on a great website called that included both red wine vinegar and rice vinegar in equal parts:

6 lbs. of sliced red onions
2 quarts good red wine vinegar
2 quart seasoned rice wine vinegar
2 quarts sugar
1 T. black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
½ Cup mustard seeds

This leads me to assume that if you have the required 5% acidity from the red wine vinegar, adding rice vinegar shouldn't lower the pickling power, as long as at least half of the total amount of vinegar has the necessary 5%. Think of using sunscreen: if you mix equal parts SPF 40 and SPF 20 together, you're still going to get SPF 40 coverage.
The other thing I wanted to point out is that rice wine vinegar and rice vinegar are the exact same thing. It all comes from fermented rice wine that has a bacteria added to it to turn it into vinegar. (And for the life of me, I can't find out what bacteria they add. The suspense is killing me, so if anyone knows, email me pronto.) So you can use them interchangeably. Just don't use plain old rice wine by mistake. That will just get you drunk and leave you with a mean stomache ache.
Cheap canning supplies are pretty easy to come by. I checked ebay and they have pressure cookers for like 30 bucks, canning racks for less than 5 bucks, and full pot/rack combos for cheap too.
The most expensive part of canning, as you know, is buying the jars. If you want to bargain shop online, check out where you can find sets of 24 for about 30 bucks (you'll just have to fork over some cash for the shipping). Wal-Mart has cheap mason jars, but I'm not a fan of supporting that company (for like a million different reasons), so go check out your local hardware store. They always have tons of cool stuff for cooking that you never knew you needed, and if they don't have mason jars, they'll probably special order them for you. A wink and a nod usually does the trick.
And with all this talk about pickled things, it had me wondering how much a peck of them would really equal? It turns out that a peck is a quarter of a bushel, equaling about 2 gallons of dry weight, or 10-14 pounds. That's a good one to throw out at your next cocktail party.

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