This guest post from my wife is yet another installment in her ongoing quest to grow and preserve food for our household.

I’ve had the canning bug pretty bad for the last week or two. But although Spring has officially begun, our garden is months away from producing anything worth turning into jam, pickles, or other home-canning treasures. Plus, farmers’ markets and produce stands are still closed for the season.

Summer harvests can be beautiful. Photo by Kris.

I’ve been trying to fill my need by making lemon curd while citrus is in cheap and I have access to lovely jade-green duck eggs from our friends’ ducks. But lemon curd goes in the freezer to await our strawberry and blueberry crops; it doesn’t fulfill my canning craving.

So, although I usually don’t advise buying food from the grocery store to process for home canning projects, I do make a few exceptions. These spicy pickled carrots are one of J.D.’s new favorite things — which is good, since it’s nearly impossible to get that man to eat vegetables — and they disappear quickly when I take them to share at a potluck or picnic. J.D.’s brother recently declared me “the queen of all things pickled” — he got a jar of pickled ginger green beans last Christmas and a jar of these carrots is destined for his stocking in 2011. And since carrots and vinegar are the main ingredients, these are a fairly high-nutrition, low-calorie snack.

Dilly Beans
Kris’s prize-winning dilly beans. Photo by Amy Jo.

Carrots are available year-round at the grocery store, with little impact on the price regardless of season, so they’re an economical project whenever you have a chance to give them a try. They’re also one of the crops that doesn’t do well in our garden’s soil, so I feel less conflicted about buying them — even during the harvest months.

Commercial jars of fancy pickled carrot sticks go for as much as $8 in the store. You may also find cans of pickled carrot slices in the Hispanic food section of your store or in an ethnic grocery; in our area those run about $4 for a can that’s a bit smaller than a pint jar. Even counting the cost of the lid (and part of the cost of the jars, which I reuse many times), I can make a pint of these carrots for about $1.50/jar.

Note: This recipe is my adaptation of “Spicy Carrots” in Put ‘em Up by Sherri Brooks Vinton, which a friend loaned to me (Thanks, Courtney!).

I can these pickled in a boiling water bath and store them in the pantry. But if you have room in your refrigerator, you can save time and even more money by simply re-using old mayonnaise or pickle glass jars with their original lids. These will easily keep 4 months in the fridge; at our house, they don’t last that long.

This recipe makes seven pints, but you can scale it up or down. I’ve tried it with “baby” carrots, but I think full-size carrots, peeled and cut into sticks or slices, look much more attractive. You can substitute other types of peppers if you like things really hot — or not so much — and the punch of garlic here is pretty low-key, so feel free to add more if garlic is your thing.

This recipe takes less than two hours from start to finish; in canning season I typically make these when I already have the canner boiling for jam or applesauce and it only adds about an hour to add a batch of these. But in the midst of the Oregon rain and gloom, which we call Spring, I’ll gladly dig out my canning supplies to create sunny jars of tangy, brilliantly-colored carrot pickles. And I am satisfied.

I’d love to hear how other folks get their preserving-fix during the off season!

Spicy Pickled Carrots

5 pounds of full-sized carrots, peeled and cut

4 jalapenos peppers, with seeds, halved lengthwise down the middle
14 whole cloves
2-1/3 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
7 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed slightly

5 cups distilled white vinegar (5% acidity)
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1-2/3 cups granulated sugar
5 Tbsp. pickling salt

You will need 7 pint jars (or 3 quarts and 1 pint), preferably wide-mouthed. Into each pint jar, put 1/2 a jalapeno pepper, 2 whole cloves, 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper, and one clove of crushed garlic.

Start a large canning pot so that it is boiling and ready when the carrots are all packed into jars. Be sure to start with adequate water to completely submerge the jars by about an inch. Put the lids and rings in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer; turn off heat and let lids/rings remain in the hot water until you need them.

Peel and trim both ends off the carrots. Cut them into carrot sticks that are one inch shorter than the pint jars. Pack the carrots sticks upright in the jars and fairly tightly. Put odd lengths and bits of carrots into one jar so the rest of them are as uniform as possible. (Or, if you have large carrots, you might like them cut into diagonal round slices.)

In a large pot, mix the vinegars, sugar and salt. Heat to boiling, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt. Carefully pour the hot vinegar into the jars over the packed carrots, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. (You might have extra vinegar if you did a nice job packing the carrots tightly.) Wipe the rims of the jars with a damp paper towel. At this point, if you aren’t canning these, add lids and put your refrigerator pickles in the refrigerator. Eat within four months.

For canning: Add lids and rings and process in the boiling water bath for 15 minutes (20 for quarts). Then, turn off the heat and let the jars sit in the bath for an additional 5 minutes before removing to the counter (onto a dish towel). Let sit un-disturbed for 24 hours. Check seals. If any jars failed to seal, store in the fridge. Otherwise, store in a cool, dark place for up at a year.

Pickled Carrots