Sunday, August 19, 2007

In a Pickle


"On a hot day in Virginia, I know nothing more comforting than a fine spiced pickle, brought up trout-like from the sparkling depths of the aromatic jar below the stairs of Aunt Sally's cellar."
Thomas Jefferson

Today I made SOUR DILL PICKLES from a great cookbook I picked up over the weekend at the Old Home Day annual Friends of the Library book sale. It's called THE BALL BLUE RIBBON COOKBOOK [Ball Corporation: Muncie, Indiana, 1992]. I almost overlooked it but late in the afternoon I went back to the sale (for the third time as we live within walking distance from the town library) and couldn't resist adding some more items in the $1 a bag clearance. I have many canning-related books and pamphlets and enough cookbooks to never have to make the same recipe twice for several lifetimes (not that I would), but something about this book lured me to throw it into my dollar bag. I'm glad that I did as each recipe is from a state fair winner from across America. [I was also assured and my cookbook madness confirmed when I spoke with a woman at the cookbook table who said "if you get 2 or 3 good recipes out of any cookbook, you're doing well and it's a keeper." Just what I needed to hear. Thank you, whomever you are!]

All week I had been looking at various books for different pickle recipes. Having never made them before, I wanted to compare notes and ingredients. Our cucumbers are now coming in fast and furious--five hills (2 of the longer European style and 3 of pickling cukes) and two large pots (one of each: the problem I've found with pots is they have to be uniformly and regularly watered, otherwise the cukes get deformed and bulbous on one end). This particular recipe also required dill heads, also in my garden this year, and fresh garlic cloves, which I happened to get at Dimond Hill Farm the other day (Edie, next year I will use yours! My friend is starting a small organic gourmet garlic operation at Bee's Wing Farm in nearby Dublin, New Hampshire and I'll link to her blog when she's got it up and running.)

My husband likes the old-style pickle barrel pickles and rarely eats a "boughten pickle". We're all fans of dill pickles so that was the first recipe I started with today. I also intend to try a sweeter variety for the sake of it, or perhaps just a bread & butter variety will suffice, and pickle relish, too. My grandfather used to pickle in a large stoneware crock with a lid but somehow that seems a bit more tedious and less portable (and not so good for holiday gift-giving).

I wanted to start with something basic using a whole pickle in a recipe. This seemed to be a good starter pickle recipe. I can't tell you how it comes out for another few months as they're supposed to stay put a few months to season. This is also a good use of those dill heads in your garden that are just as prolific at this time of year as the cukes.

Sour Dill Pickles

from Marguerite W. Barford, Augusta, West Virginia
[Hampshire County Fair, Augusta, WV]

• Enough cucumbers to put 3-4 in each jar, depending on size (pint or quart)
• Ice cubes
• 1/2 cup canning salt
• 1 quart vinegar, 5% acidity
• 1 quart water
• 3 tablespoons mixed pickling spices
• 7 heads of dill (or one per jar)
• 7 cloves of garlic (one per jar)

Scrub freshly picked cucumbers and rinse. Combine cukes and ice in a large pan (I used the scoured out sink). Spread ice over the top. (I put cukes in sink with cold water and piles of ice, but not too much, for about an hour. It crisped them up nicely.)

Meanwhile, prepare home canning jars and lids according to manufacturer's instructions.

Drain cucumbers; dry each cucumber. Combine salt, vinegar, and water in saucepan. Tie pickling spice in a cheesecloth bag and add to vinegar mixture; simmer 15 minutes. Discard spice bag. Place one head of dill and one clove of garlic in each jar. Pack cucumbers into hot, sterilized jars, packing closely and leaving 1/4 inch head space. Pour hot liquid over cucumbers, again leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Adjust caps.

Process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. Yield: about 7 pints [see NOTE]

NOTE: It is easy to make more brine solution if you run out (I did). Because of various sized pickles, I used a combination of quarts and pints so needed to make more brine solution.

PS Here is an interesting "Pickle History Timeline" from the New York Food Museum

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