learning to can, in a video series with theresa loe (lesson 1: easy refrigerator pickles)

THERESA LOE packs more into a garden—or a canning jar—than anyone else I know. A longtime gardener and city homesteader on just a tenth of an acre in Los Angeles, she manages to layer her back and even front yards much the way she layers cucumber slices and spices into canning jars for her easy, low-salt refrigerator pickles. That how-to and recipe is the second of 13 short lessons this Master Food Preserver is serving up starting this week on “Growing a Greener World,” the PBS series where she is a founding producer.

Theresa describes her focus this way: “I’m passionate about taking the garden full circle (from seed, to table, to pantry) and capturing that seasonal, fresh-picked flavor with style.” But much of the food–including plenty of pickles–that she feeds her family starts in that cramped space (which even boasts a flock of chickens!).

A portion of Theresa Loe's 1/10th-acre homestead garden
“My lack of garden space forces me to be creative in how I utilize it,” says Theresa, who has been gardening her tiny Zone 10 plot (above) for 22 years, and says she has “learned a few tricks by trial and error.” Like these:

  • “I grow in layers from front to back like everyone else (with short plants in front and tall in back), but I also do layering vertically. I grow in the soil (low), in containers (mid-range), up walls and hanging (high).  I grow pumpkins and cucumbers up on my walls, for instance. It means I have to tie/attach a lot and use slings if the pumpkins get big.
  • “I way ‘over plant’ and then eat what I thin out. I disregard what it says on the seed packet and really pack it in. To conserve space, I also grow root veggies, which are growing down (such as carrots), next to vines which are growing up (like beans), and do some companion planting like the three sisters method (corn, beans and instead of squash, I use nasturtiums as my ground cover).”
  • Any time even a tiny a space becomes available, Theresa layers in another sowing–what she calls a “drift, not a row,” and another.  Which bring me back to the way she deftly packs so much flavor into her jars of super-easy refrigerator pickle slices—no hot-water bath required.

Theresa Loe's refrigerator pickles
Watch the video up top, then get the full recipe for these low-salt bread-and-butter style pickles, ready to eat after three days in the fridge, on the “Growing a Greener World” website now. That link includes lots of Theresa’s pickling tips and tricks–starting with choosing the right cucumber and vinegar. Yes, there are differences! (There’s a batch of canning basics on the “Growing a Greener World” website, too.)

In a couple of weeks, Theresa will join me for a full interview on my public-radio show and podcast, and share more of her can-do expertise (pun intended). But for now, want to watch her fun, inspirational canning series along with me the next 12 weeks, and simply get canning?

Or if you’re feeling informally festive, you could go simpler still, and just use one of your canning jars to serve up a fruity “Jamtini” cocktail, Theresa Loe-style:

(Photos and videos from “Growing a Greener World,” and Theresa Loe.)

  1. Jayne says:

    Yum! I made refrigerator pickles with the small cucumbers that were in abundance at the markets earlier in the Summer. Used the Weck jars and they are not only delicious but handsome! This is a great little video and her garden is impressive too!

    1. margaret says:

      I’m a vegetarian, Suzi B, but I always start by referring for canning advice to the National Center for Home Food Preservation website. Here’s their Meat section link. Don’t improvise; follow directions carefully, including the express warning up top re: meat, poultry, fish, seafood: “Note: There are no safe options for canning these foods in a boiling water canner.” Pressure canner only!

  2. Mary says:

    hello! I have a bumper crop of jalapeños. I’ve frozen some, but would like to try pickling some too. I’m sure you have great ideas about this and other ways to put them up. Thanks!

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