Apples and Cucumbers and Pickles, OH MY!

Being a Michigan native, I'm accustomed to having lots of u-pick orchards offering many different fruits and berries.  I no longer live in Michigan, and it's much harder to find places in my current location.  Two falls ago we did find a u-pick apple orchard about an hour from us (thanks to a Girl Scouts program).  We picked lots of apples and ate them.

Last fall I got it into my head that I wanted to pick a bunch of apples and try my hand at canning applesauce.  I thought maybe my picky eater son would eat it.  His only fruits are cinnamon (never plain) applesauce and bananas.  (NOPE!  Thought wrong.) I've made applesauce plenty of times, but never to can.  I have frozen it, but I really don't care for the texture once it's thawed out.  So, anyway, I gathered some canning supplies (including a pot that would work on my induction cooktop) and we went off to the orchard to pick apples.
Here's my nice pot from Meijer on my GE induction cooktop.

It was only-mid September, but that was apparently late in the orchard's season last year. There wasn't much left to choose from, but we did get about a half-bushel.  I quickly found that that is A LOT of apples!!  I tried not peeling the apples and then running the cooked apples through a food mill.  I tried peeling the apples.  Either way, it is a ton of work and not cheap.  After a week or two, I ended up with 12 quarts of applesauce.  Nothing added but a little cinnamon (no sugar).  Some of the batches ended up really yummy and others were just okay.  I guess we did better mixing the varieties in some batches versus others.  If I recall correctly, we only had two or three types of apples.  Like I said, slim pickings.  I was unsure if I did the canning correctly, but they seem to have turned out and I was pretty proud of myself!  I'm seriously considering making more this year.  One tip:  Use an immersion blender to quickly knock down any extra lumps in your applesauce.  Works great!  I just saw an apple peeling attachment for the KitchenAid mixer that I'm very interested in.  Too bad it's pretty pricy.  Maybe next year.
My first canning batch EVER!
Second batch of applesauce, 9/2014

This year we decided to plant a garden.  We made a special one using an animal watering tank with drain tile in the bottom.  It is supposed to be self-watering.  We planted carrots, four broccoli plants, green beans, lettuce, one tomato, and a bunch of climbing pickling cucumbers.  The broccoli never produced anything edible and worms had pretty much eaten all the leaves, so we pulled that out this week.  The deer got the bean plants, the lettuce--thankfully we'd already been harvesting it for a month at that point, and part of the carrots.  We do have a ton of cucumbers though!  Oh, and I picked ONE green bean this week!  Ha!  

I brought my first harvest of about 10 cucumbers to my parents in Michigan at the beginning of July.  I made some refrigerator pickles with my next harvest.  They were okay, but I'd use a different recipe next time--too vinegary and not enough dill for our taste--have I ever mentioned how much I LOVE dill?  Next I tried making sweet pickles.  I made four pints plus a bit left over for the fridge.  Those came out really well, but I'm thinking I was probably not supposed to put all the seasonings in the jar.  Maybe those should have been filtered out??  It's kinda gross to bite into a hard chunk of clove attached to the pickle.  The other thing I would do differently is slice my cucumbers a little thicker.
Sweet pickles, 7/22/2015

My husband wanted me to make dill pickles next, so I made three pints of those with my next harvest.  We haven't tried any of those yet, but I did read a tip that really was a game-changer.  The recipe I used was from Simply Canning and the author suggests making the brine in a stainless tea kettle.  Wow!  That was such an amazing tip.  You just pour the brine right in--no mess like when I did the sweet pickles!  

{Update 9-2-15:  we opened a jar of dill pickles this week and they were pretty awful!  :(  The predominant flavor was SALT!  Like, so much salt you didn't even have to get the pickle to your mouth to taste the salt!!!  Either the author of the recipe really likes uber-salty things or the recipe needs to be clarified.  I suppose it's possible I did something wrong, but man, what a disappointment.}
Dill pickles, 8/6/15

We had a little rain last week and we had an explosion of cucumbers!  We also found one we'd missed for several harvests.  I called her Big Bertha.  She was 1.5 pounds!!  I decided to try sweet pickle relish next and I used Big Bertha (with the seeds removed, of course)!  I'm a little confused by things I'm reading on the Internet as to whether or not recipes not in certain guides are safe to use.  So even though I found a recipe that looked intriguing on a blog, I ended up using a recipe out of my Ball canning guide.  
Big Bertha, the 1.5 lb pickling cucumber!
I made eight half pints plus a little left over.  I tried a bit of the leftover and it seemed really vinegary, not sweet at all.  I'm the only one in the house who eats relish (and tomatoes and avocados), so I was really disappointed.  My husband took the leftovers plus one of the canned jars to his work cookout today.  He didn't try any, but he said everyone liked it and thought it tasted sweet.  I'm going to let it sit for a few weeks and then try it again.
Sweet pickle relish, 8/10/15

So, how do you know who to trust as to whether or not a canning recipe is safe and in the correct proportions to avoid food-borne illness?  Do you have a favorite canning recipe?  I'd love to hear from you.

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