I Think I Can

It started on Saturday, when I met my sister Jen in Boulder for lunch and some shopping. She brought me the most beautiful bouquet (because, yes, that’s exactly what it was) of dill from her garden. While my dill this year kind of petered out, her’s blossomed into more than she could possibly use for her salmon filet that she has maybe once a month…..

Sunday, I decided to go to Nick’s Farm Store – a garden center and farm store a few miles from my house. They always have a good selection of fruits and vegetables each summer. And about this time every year they have pickling cucumbers, along with Colorado peaches and homegrown tomatoes.

But it was the pickling cucumbers I was after. Jen’s dill just called to be put into a few jars of sour pickles in vinegar brine.

I don’t know how I learned to can. I guess I taught myself. But I learned to love pickles from both sides of my family. Every year when the pickling cucumbers were available, Mom would prepare a batch of her three-day dill pickles. These pickles were not designed to be processed and saved. They were meant to be prepared, kept in the brine for three days, and then eaten. Unfortunately, the pickles never lasted three days. By that first night, you could see one of us (usually Dad was the first) reaching under the plate that held the cucumbers down into the brine, weighted down by a large can of tomatoes or pork n’ beans. The pickles were long gone by Day Three.

But as soon as I had a place of my own, I taught myself to can. I bought a big canning pot and all of the accoutrement necessary for canning fruits and pickles. I make pickles and dilly beans. I prepare and process Colorado’s delicious Palisade peaches for eating all year long. If I can get ahold of a lot of tomatoes, I can tomatoes to use in soups and stews throughout the winter.

Sometime during Sunday night, it occurred to me that I needed to begin passing along my canning knowledge to my grandkids. So yesterday morning, I sent a text message to Jll asking if any of the kids would be interested in watching/helping me make pickles. Yep, she responded.

Bill brought up my canning equipment from the basement, and I washed the pickling cukes. About that time, Alastair, Dagny, and Maggie Faith arrived. How in the world do you make pickles? Maggie asked. She didn’t even realize that pickles came from cucumbers. I put them to work cutting up the cucumbers, which they did without slicing nary a finger. I then had them drop into each of six pint jars: a garlic clove, a finger full of dill seed, a sprig of fresh dill, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and a good pinch of black peppercorns. In the meantime, I prepared the brine, which consisted of apple cider vinegar, salt, and a touch of sugar. Dagny tasted it and proclaimed it to be perfect. In fact, I finally had to stop her from just drinking the brine as I was fearful it would make her sick.

When the spices were in the jar, I put them to work stuffing the jars with the cut-up cukes…..

The brine went in….

….and the jars were closed and placed in the boiling water of the large canning pot. Fifteen minutes later, voila……

When they left for home, I sent a jar of the pickles with them. They were on their bicycles, and I presumed they had some sort of basket. When I saw there was no basket, I suggested they let me bring them a jar later.

“Nana,” said Dagny. “I can carry a jar of pickles, because I ride my bike without using my hands.”

Well of course you do.

With great trepidation, I wished her a fond farewell with her jar of pickles…..

I’m sorry to tell you that a mere 15 seconds after I took this photo, disaster struck. She didn’t make it to the end of our sidewalk before she dropped the jar and there were pickles and pickle juice everywhere. She had the saddest look on her face.

I promised to deliver a jar of pickles today, something I will do this morning.

Maybe next I will make dilly beans.

This post linked to Blogging Grandmother’s Link Party.

Pickled

Every year without fail I put up at least one batch of dill pickles. I occasionally will make jelly or can tomatoes. I have been known to make dilly beans as well. But the pickles I do each year.

And each year when I make my pickles, I tell people – either by word of mouth or via my blog – just how darned EASY it is to put up pickles, and why-oh-why don’t more people do it. I’m actually quite, well, smug about it. Look at me. I make homemade pickles. Ma Ingalls (of Little House on the Prairie fame) and I and could be BFFs. We could sit around and quilt and talk about pickling recipes and how much butter we were going to churn this week.

This year I went one step further and actually grew my fresh dill. I began making noise about going to the Farm Store to buy pickling cucumbers since my dill was ready to pick. It didn’t happen, however, because I went instead to the hospital. Choices, choices….

By time I got out of the hospital, my dill was starting to look sad. So despite the fact that I didn’t feel that great, and despite the fact that my body was still working its way back to normal (a process that’s taking longer than I expected), a week ago I went to the Farm Store and bought four pounds of pickling cucumbers. When I got home, I washed them, put them in a big bowl of ice water, and placed them in the fridge to chill overnight. In the meantime, I went out to my garden and picked my long sprigs of dill, and put them in a vase of water to stay fresh until the next day when I would do my pickling.

So, the next day, I began the process of putting up the pickles. The process involves sterilizing the jars and lids, carefully washing and cutting the cucumbers, putting the spices (including mustard seeds, garlic, and red pepper flakes) in the sterilized jars, preparing the pickling brine, bringing my massive canning pot full of water to a rolling boil, filling the jars with the cut cucumbers, making sure the rims of the jars are clean, closing the jars, and placing the jars in the boiling water.

Perhaps it was because I wasn’t feeling tip top, but at some point during this process it occurred to me that pickling isn’t actually all that darn easy. It isn’t, of course, rocket science, but it is time consuming and somewhat tedious. Nevertheless, for reasons I don’t quite understand myself, I LOVE doing it. I generally don’t eat a single pickle; instead, I give them all to my brother Dave or my nephew Erik. But it is really something I enjoy doing.

I had just gotten the jars of cucumbers into the pot of boiling water to begin the process that results in the sealing of the jars. I began wiping the stove and the countertops with a rag. I turned around to place the rag in the sink, and suddenly saw my vase full of dill.

“I’ll be a f*****g son of a b***h,” I said quite loudly. I’m not proud of dillthis.

“What’s the matter?” asked Bill, who happened to be taking a break from building the playhouse-that-will-never-be-finished.

“I forgot to put the dill in my dill pickles,” I said.

“Can you add the dill now?” Bill asked.

Nope, you really can’t, because by this point it’s basically a chemical process that involves the heat creating a vacuum so that the jars can be sealed.

pickle jars

Look! No dill.

So I finished the processing and will be offering dill-less dill pickles this season. All that remains is for me to come up with a quirky name. Any suggestions? How about Killer Dave’s No Dill Dill Pickles?

I thought I might be able to get away with it. Kaiya spotted my jars of pickles the other day and asked if she could have one. I handed one to her. She ate it, but didn’t seem thrilled.

“These taste like sweet pickles,” she said, “and I like dill pickles.”

Well don’t we all.

I had a few little cucumbers left and didn’t want to throw them away. Instead, I made a small batch of my Aunt Leona’s refrigerator pickles, or what she called her Frozen Cuke Salad.

leonas refrigerator picklesFrozen Cuke Salad, courtesy Leona Micek

2 qt. sliced cukes
2 T. salt

Mix and refrigerate 2 hours. Drain and rinse.

Make syrup: Bring to boil..
½ c. vinegar
1-1/2 c. sugar
Onion to taste
Green and red pepper to taste
Parsley (optional)

Cool syrup slightly and pour over cukes. Refrigerate another 24 hours. Put in containers and freeze.

Leona’s Note: We prefer to keep in frig and eat.

Nana’s Notes: Me too!

 

The A’s Have It

There are lots of very satisfying things about spring. The flowers begin to pop out. The weather is mostly lovely. Here in the East Valley of Phoenix, weather in March is spectacular. Not yet hot and almost always sunny. People are driving around with the tops down on their convertibles – something they cannot do in the summer when it’s too hot.

In Colorado,  there is always the possibility of a spring snowstorm. Still, even in Colorado, there are probably more nice days than not starting in March.

My first three-day dill pickles of the year!

My first three-day dill pickles of the year! They’re about a minute old at this point.

But one of the best things about spring is the emergence of some of my favorite fruits and vegetables. Strawberries are luscious, red, and juicy. Pickling cucumbers are starting to appear in Arizona grocery stores. Pretty soon the sweet Vidalia onions will begin showing up on the store shelves, and they are ever so delicious to grill.

A fruitBut let’s give it up for the three A’s. Although you can get avocados all year round, come March, they are not only delicious but they are inexpensive. Artichokes…two bucks each. And what can I say about fresh asparagus? Why, I make asparagus probably four times a week, and each time I smack my lips with satisfaction.

At the grocery store the other day, the woman who checked me out was young – and not just young compared to me as many people are. She was, I would say, barely in her 20s. She still had braces on her teeth, though that doesn’t necessarily say much. I had braces on my teeth when I was in my 40s.

But she was quite puzzled by a couple of my vegetables. She looked at my leek as though it was from outer space. She called over to the next check stand, holding the leek carefully with her thumb and her forefinger as though it would bite.

“A leek,” I said patiently.

And because I was so patient, she then pointed to my artichoke. “What’s that?” she asked, her face aghast.

Training, Store Managers. Training.

“An artichoke,” I said, still patient. And this particular vegetable she really should pick up carefully, as those leaves have quite pointy ends, as you may know if you’ve been poked.

I have absolutely no reason to be snotty about her lack of knowledge of these vegetables. I had literally never heard of an artichoke until I was an adult, or very near. Artichokes were not in my mother’s vegetable repertoire. (As an aside, despite the fact that my mother was a very good cook, nearly every single night she opened a can of vegetables for the family. I think that was a 50s and 60s thing. The only fresh vegetables we ever ate were corn on the cob and green beans in season.)

My family’s very first experience with the admittedly hard-to-figure-out artichoke was with my dad’s sister Myrta, who offered it to us one night at her house for dinner. Despite the oddity of the vegetable, every single one of us was immediately hooked. And I believe every single one of us prepares artichokes the way Myrta did – cooked for an hour or so in water with a garlic clove. Served with a side of butter.

As an alternative – pull off a large number of the outer leaves, slice the artichoke in half, clean out the “choke” in the center and cook it on the grill. Very Italian. But I don’t like it quite as well as the old fashioned method.

I’m pretty sure I had also not tasted an avocado until we moved to Leadville and began eating Mexican food. Avocados, like artichokes, were love at first bite. My entire family loves guacamole – haven’t met one we dislike. But I also love to slice up an avocado, a delicious ripe summer tomato, and either a red onion or a couple of scallions, drizzle it with a good deal of olive oil and squeeze a couple of limes over the whole kit and caboodle, along with salt. Yum.

We did eat asparagus as a child, but, well, OUT OF A CAN. When I bought my first house after my divorce, the first spring following our moving in, I noticed unusual sprouts coming out of the ground. It took me quite a while to realize that the sprouts were asparagus spears. I was so freaked out about IF and WHEN I should harvest them that I missed out on the whole thing.

As I mentioned above, I cook asparagus for myself four or five times a week. Bill is not a fan. That’s okay. More for me. I drizzle it in olive oil and season it with season salt or Montreal seasoning and either grill it or roast it in the oven. I want some right NOW.

Enjoy vegetables in season when they taste the best and are the least expensive. When the price goes up, the flavor goes down.

Happy Spring!