My mother never pickled. My mother-in-law pickled everything. I have cooked everything, but never pickled.
A few years ago, my non-pickling years ran out. I shared that experience with my readers and would like to share again. Finding myself elbow-deep in hot water this week, I thought again of that summer when my pickling lesson began.
That summer, my newly retired husband decided to grow a garden extraordinaire. We own a little plot of land behind our garage. This 10-by-30-foot parcel was a chicken coop when this garage housed carriages. Those chickens (rhymes with coop)-ed in the coop for many years, leaving the soil exceedingly rich and just ripe for producing. We knew this because during our ownership, the plot had produced extraordinary weeds. This array of wild plants was not visible from our yard, but bordered four neighbors' landscaped patios. Because of this, the plot has always been completely fenced to barricade the neighbors from this jungle vision.
A fenced yard, fertile soil, full sun and a motivated toiler was just the equation needed for that summer's bumper crop of vegetables. We had pole beans growing more than 10 feet high. This year they are even higher and connecting to the maple trees. One needs a ladder to harvest them.
We had tomato plants five feet wide and laden with ripening fruit (not so lucky this year). We had blooming brussel sprouts taller than my granddaughter, who is becoming afraid to visit grandpa's magical vegetable forest.
Last but not least, we had cucumbers. Did I say cucumbers? Oh busboy. There were vines covering the chicken wire, attaching to the bean poles, crawling over the fence, growing into the neighbors' yards, snaking around the tomato cages and enveloping the garden floor. These prolific vines were overloaded with offspring and I was overloaded with a sense of what to do with them. (This year is no exception.)
The gardener laughed, "We'll pickle them like my mom always did, and there is nothing to it." Nothing to it.
I wasn't sure I could do that. I consulted the family expert and she claimed, "It doesn't take much; it's easy."
At a luncheon, I brought up my dilemma and was surprised at how many friends had canned: "Hard to get them crisp," "I like to add garlic." In fact, I was somewhat embarrassed, having made food my career and being a pickling novice. With that being said, I had to do something with the growing group of gourd relatives. So I decided that year, I would take the pickling plunge (pun intended).
In an easy afternoon, I consulted selected websites: Cornell Cooperative Extension, The Food Channel, The Food Network, www.howtopickle.com and the best site for easy information, www.pickyourown.org. I left the wonderful world of the Internet armed with information to start my project.
I found a terrific recipe for quick refrigerator pickles from Rachael Ray. Just simmer the potage and pour it over the sliced pickles, chill, then serve. But alas, my green-thumbed spouse wouldn't let us get away with something that easy.
One day he arrived with the canner, jar rack, jar grabber tongs, lid-lifting wand, pickling salt, white vinegar, labels and the Bible of canning, the "Ball Blue Book." Being novices, we selected a spicy dill pickle recipe from Emeril Lagasse because it addressed the question of how to keep the slices crisp (soak the cucumbers in cold water overnight).
We worked hard and learned much.
We picked the best, unblemished fruit. Yes, cucumbers are the fruit of the vegetable.
We washed, then sliced the cucumbers into wedges.
We measured the ingredients and simmered the sauce to dissolve the sugar and salt.
We followed the recipe exactly, especially the processing information. A good recipe should provide information for great tasting pickles and safely prepared pickles. Do not use an old recipe that does not contain processing information.
We sterilized the jars, rings and caps, although it was not always necessary when using a hot-water bath.
We stuffed the jars, leaving the recipe-recommended space of 1/2 inch, and poured in the simmering vinegar solution..
We put the jars in a hot-water bath, heating the bath as the recipe said to 185 degrees Farenheit for 15 minutes. Some recipes do not require this for pickling because the pickling medium has such a high acid content.
We cooled the jars on a rack and checked that the cover had sealed. We listened for the "pop." We labeled the jars.
We waited. We waited. We waited. We patiently waited the minimum required three weeks.
During a surprise visit from my daughter and her husband, we decided to crack open a jar of our maturing dills.
Placing the treasure to my lips, I scanned the room for reactions. My response mirrored the others as we discovered the overwhelming presence of salt.
I wish I could tell you what happened. Was it my inexperience or Emeril's (what does a T.V. chef know about pickles, anyway) recipe? We could still eat the pickles, but they were not the anticipated stars.
"We should have used my mom's recipe," my husband reacted.
"Well, I don't have it."
"Why, it's up on the dresser."
"Who's dresser?" I curtly responded
"Mine. Mom gave it to me a while ago."
Several years later, I find that I enjoy making just one batch of pickles each season. I never make them exactly the same. I always combine a few recipes, but they are never too salty.
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