On Wednesday, I head to Atlanta for DragonCon. If you aren’t familiar with DragonCon (the name actually has an asterisk in the middle. I don’t know why that is, nor do I know why I can’t convince WordPress not to interpret it as instructions to italicize – so I’ve taken it out), then just picture Mardi Gras for nerds and you’re pretty close.

The point is: I have a costume to finish, laundry and packing to do, and I spent way too much of my free time this month canning things with cherries while they were cheap and in season. I reeeeeally didn’t have time this month for the challenge. But I hate to break my streak! And I have despaired of making crispy dill pickles — I love them, but mine always turn out soggy. So when I found beautiful pickling cucumbers at the farmer’s market on Saturday for a great price, it was clearly a sign to try low-temperature pasteurization.

(Side note: I did try to grow my own cucumbers this year. But my raised bed is brand new, and neither the soil nor my skills was quite up to a quality crop. Guess which one of these cucumbers was homegrown! Did you guess? ….Yeah, of course you did.)

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One of these things is not like the other.

I used a standard dill pickle recipe approved for low-temperature pasteurization – nothing fancy in my plan. Keeping the temperature steady between 180 and 185 sounded like enough of a challenge. I was really concerned about evenness of temperature throughout the water bath, and about how much finesse I could wrangle out of my glass-top stove. (Note: The manufacturer’s notes say my stove is okay for canning, under certain circumstances. I gather not all glass-top stoves are.) But once I got the water temperature to 180, it was remarkably easy to keep it within range with only small tweaks now and then.

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This worked a LOT better once I realized I shouldn’t be operating in Celsius.

I let the water temp climb a bit higher than 185 while I packed the jars with dill seed, peppercorns, red pepper, garlic, and my sliced pickle spears. As I suspected, it dropped ten degrees when I put the filled jars inside. Then I kept it at a steady 181-182 for most of the 30-minute process time. The temperature did pop up to 186 during the last five minutes – but I was able to take the lid to the pot off and get it down to 184 pretty quickly, so hopefully a few minutes of extra heat won’t impact the crispyness too much. I ended up with seven beautiful pints of pickle spears!

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100% seal rate always feels good.

I was nervous about this month’s trial, but I’m really pleased with how it went, and it wasn’t as daunting as I was expecting once I dove into it. The only sad news is that I won’t know how they are for several more weeks. If I’m still not happy with the crispness of the pickles, I’ll try another batch with the addition of pickle crisp (which I couldn’t locate in time for today’s trial). But I have high hopes. And the beauty of having half an hour in the kitchen watching the stove is that I had time to clean everything up before the jars ever came out of the canner. I even had time to try something new from one of the previous challenges: Salt-preserved key limes!

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The basil was in no way involved in today’s cooking. It just smells good.
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