More Pickles?

As if 30 quarts of dill pickles wasn't enough, I decided to make more pickles this last weekend...

I had a good reason - these pickling cucs were leftover from our big pick at The Tree Farm, and I
couldn't let them go to waste. Our garden plot has finally started producing a few cucumbers as well, so all in all I'm just about cucumbered out - which is not a bad thing exactly.

In the interest of variety and time I decided to use these extra cucs in two different pickle recipes, neither of which require canning: refrigerator bread and butter pickles, and raw fermented pickles. I'll give the full recipes for each at the bottom of this post, but first I'll walk you through all the steps.

First, the bread and butter pickles.

I soaked the cucumbers in ice water to ensure crispiness. I don't know if this step really does anything, but I've seen several sources recommend it, and I figure it can't hurt. I let them soak for about an hour.

Pretty local onions. I used the recipe from the classic cookbook, Joy of Cooking. It calls for peppers and onions, but there's not too many local peppers available yet so I skipped them and added extra onions instead.

Onions sliced thin in the bottom of a large bowl.....

Followed by a layer of thinly sliced cucumbers.

Another layer of onions.

Then finally a layer of cucumbers with 1/2 cup salt on top.

I weighted this all down with a plate and stuck it in the fridge overnight.

Like my new bowl? I was gifted with a $100 gift certificate to a shop in Madison that features local artist's wares. This bowl caught my eye. It's the kind of thing I would never be able to spring for on my own, but it's wonderful to have!

I had to switch plates mid-way through - the cucumbers shrank considerably and the red plate was too big to sink down enough. This is what it looked like the next morning.

It's hard to see here, but there's a thin layer of water over-top the sliced cucumbers. The salt drew out the water and sort of "cooked" the onions and cucumbers. They were VERY salty, even after I rinsed them a few times... I was a bit worried that they were too salty, but I trusted the Joy of Cooking enough to keep on going with the recipe as written.

The next step was to bring the brine (apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, and spices) to a boil and slowly add the sliced cucs. The smell of the brine brought memories of summer flooding back - my Mom used to make bread and butter pickles every year.....

The finished pickles went into clean jars and into the fridge. The recipe calls for putting them in a hot water bath to can them, but since I only had four quarts, I decided that the fridge was an easier route. I'll give three of these away and keep one for myself. I tasted a few before I put them away and was relieved to know that they weren't too salty after all - the strong flavor of the brine must counteract the salt enough that it's not overpowering. The pickles themselves pack quite a punch - sweet, salt, vinegar. Yum.

OK, now for the fermented pickles. This is the older way of preserving cucumbers - fermenting was a common form of food preservation before hot water canning was invented in the early 19th century. Like other lacto-fermented foods, this method uses beneficial (or probioic) bacteria to preserve the food. I've always wanted to try it, and now seemed like a good time.

My go-to book for fermentation is Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. Her pickle recipe calls for whey - it helps get the lacto-fermentation started and ensures that the good bacteria will be present in large numbers. The best way that I know of to collect whey is to strain yogurt. The "juice" that drips out is whey. I have this handy yogurt strainer, but I'd bet that a drip coffee filter would work just as well. I set it on the back counter to do its thing while I prepped the other ingredients and filled the jars.

I cut the remaining cucumbers into spears and packed them into clean canning jars. I didn't have dill, so I used fresh garden basil to flavor them instead along with a few cloves of garlic for each jar. I'm curious to see how the basil turns out - dill pickles are so common it's hard to imagine anything else, but it's also hard to imagine that basil wouldn't be good.

This "brine" doesn't use any vinegar - I used celery seed, mustard seed, salt, weigh, and water. (the exact proportions are in the recipe below.)

By the time I was mixing the brine, I had 12 Tablespoons of whey collected from the yogurt. To be true to the recipe I needed 16, but I decided that 12 was close enough. The remaining yogurt was thick and still usable - more like Greek style than when it started.

I poured the brine into the jars, covered them loosely, and let them sit on the counter at room temperature for two days to ferment. The result was amazingly good - a mild basil flavored pickle with a pleasing fermented aftertaste. I'll have to make more of these next year!

Here are the recipes!

Refrigerator Bread and Butter Pickles (based on The Joy of Cooking)

4 Quarts pickling cucumbers
3 Large white onions
1/2 cup pickling salt
4 cups apple cider vinegar
4 cups brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 Tablespoons mustard seed
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves

Cut the cucumbers and onions into the thinnest slices possible. Layer vegetables in a bowl. Pour the salt over them. Place in refrigerator for 12 hours, covered with a weighted lid. Drain vegetables. rinse in cold water, and drain again thoroughly. Combine the remaining ingredients and bring just to the boiling point. Add vegetables gradually with very little stirring. Heat to the scalding point but do not boil. Pour the pickles into clean jars. Seal and let cool, then transfer to the refrigerator.

Lacto-Fermented Cucumbers (based on Nourishing Traditions)

16-20 pickling cucumbers
2 Tablespoons mustard seed
2 Tablespoons celery seed
8 sprigs fresh basil ( or dill)
8 peeled cloves garlic
4 Tablespoons sea salt
12 Tablespoons weigh
4 Cups filtered water

Wash cucumbers well. Cut them into spears and stuff into four clean quart jars, along with two sprigs of basil and two garlic cloves in each jar. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over cucumbers, adding more water if necessary to cover the cucumbers. The top of the liquid should be at least 1 inch below the top of the jars. Cover loosely and keep at room temperature for 2 days before transferring to cold storage.

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There Will Be Watermelons!

What a difference a week can make. Last week I was unsuccessfully scanning the watermelon plants for tiny melon babies, and now this! This one is bigger than my fist and growing quickly.

There are two types of watermelon planted at my McComick Community Garden plot - this is the larger of the two, Mountain Sweet. There are more than 10 of these little suckers that have successfully pollinated, and if all goes well they'll ripen into 20-35lb super sweet yellow fleshed melons. I'm not counting my melons before they're ripe, however - raccoons, rabbits, and other critters can do a a lot of damage, not to mention that these are in a community garden where human theft is always a possibility. Regardless of what happens, I'm happy that they've made it this far!

This is the second, smaller variety - Blacktail Mountain. We've got a good number of these coming on too, and they'll ripen at a petite 6-12lb. They should be ready before the big guys, giving us continuous melon goodness for hopefully a month or so.

The Pride of Wisconsin melon is stretching out with tons of flowers and little melons-to-be.

Awe. Isn't it cute?

One of the squash plants has died, I'm not sure why.

We'll get at least a few squashes though. I can't remember the variety - a Hubbard type from the looks of it.

The okra at McCormick has started to produce, thanks to the hot muggy weather we've had. Aren't the flowers beautiful?

This isn't a good picture, but it gives an idea of how the pods grows on the plant. It's really neat. I'm planning for a decorative/edible garden in front of my house next year, and okra will definitely have a place in it.

OK, now over to Main Street to see how things grow. Broccoli in the foreground, potatoes in the middle, and the tomato jungle in the back. We've cut all the big broccoli heads, and we're now just waiting for the little shoots that grow off of the main stem. These should keep producing small amounts for a while.

The potatoes don't look so hot, but that's actually a good thing, it means harvest time is coming soon! The red potato plants in front have died back almost entirely, and the purples in the back are getting there. I've been digging little bits here are there for a few weeks, but it will be time to do the big harvest soon - maybe next weekend....

Compare this scene to this picture, taken just two months ago. What a difference. We've had such a hot, wet summer that things have just grown like crazy. I haven't even had to water!

One of the OxHeart plants has blossom-end rot, which is a physiological disease caused by a lack of calcium. I've been picking off the fruits that look like this, hoping the plant will pull out of it. Even if it doesn't, I'm not too worried. We'll have way more tomatoes than we know what to do with very very soon.

Check out the size of this unripe CandyStripe!

Here's an OxHeart that's free of rot and beginning to turn color. So close.....

Ben and Erica's plot is incredible right now. So different from two months ago when we planted most of the seeds and starts.

The tomatoes over there are even more jungle-like than at my little plot.

There are a lot of green tomatoes over here as well, but no ripe ones yet - except these pretty little Sungolds. These are some of the sweetest in the cherry tomato family. Wonderful.

The summer squash is going bonkers, and throwing off way more squash than anyone can eat. It doesn't help that I live in a household of non-squash eaters. I'm still doing my part though, and sneaking them in wherever I can.

The greens on the onions have become more or less worthless, but the bulbs have grown to a nice size. We've been eating the little bulbs, thinning them so the remaining onions can grow to full size.

The beans are mostly on hiatus, but Mom (a much more experienced bean grower than I) assures me that they will be producing again soon. The trick, she says, is to make sure you keep them picked clean, which we have done. They're starting to flower again now, just as she predicted.

Grapes on the left, pole beans on the right. It's hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. This is what it looked like a few months ago....

There are tons of Concord grapes forming. I'm going to attempt to take a cutting from these vines to plant at my house. They're so good, and incredibly vigorous. The grape vines were completely taking over the cherry tree beside them, so I cut them back today as brutally as I could without taking too many unripe grapes off.

OK, last stop on the tour is the house......

The potted peppers are doing decently despite the lack of full sun.

These three look especially good. Can you see all the little peppers coming in on the plant to the left? I don't know the variety of any of these since they came in a seed mix called "mixed heirloom hot peppers." I'll just have to wait and see what they do. Exciting!

The tomatillos are going to produce well, although they're a lot leggier than the tomatillos at the Main Street Garden due to the partial shade. As you can see, the chickens love to dust bathe under them. Luckily that plants are big enough that the girls don't do any damage.

Mmmm.... salsa verde.

Even my basil, which I almost wrote off as too sickly and bug eaten to do much good, has decided to start growing. We're having pesto tonight!

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Dill Pickles and other July Preserving

Oh summer, the time of too much to do in too little time. I would gladly work 6 day weeks in the dead of winter if I could have three day weekends during the height of summer......

The preservation season has officially started. Mom, Meg, and I went to The Tree Farm on Sunday morning and picked oodles of cucumbers for pickles, as well as broccoli for freezing. We'll be back later in the season when the peppers come on and when they have big cabbages for kraut, but this was a good early season haul to be sure.

50lb of pickling cucumbers. Some were a little fatter than what we wanted, and we hoped they weren't too seedy.

I soaked them in ice water for a few hours to cool them off before we got started. The temperature was in the high 80's in the shade - it's just amazing how fast 20lb of ice can melt!

Dill from the garden.

My Mom is an accomplished canner - she had a huge garden all through my childhood, and I have many memories of pickles, tomatoes, and other goodies being canned for winter use. Meg (my brother Dave's girlfriend), had never canned before but wanted to learn, so she, Mom, and I got together for a big pickle canning session.

Step one is to sterilize the jars. Mom washed them well and then poured boiling water over them, being sure to cover the lips of the jars well. We also put the lids in a pan of boiling water for 5 minutes to sterilize.

Now for the fun part...

Peeling garlic (local of course!)

The cucumbers weren't too seedy at all, they were just perfect. They were way too big to fit into the jars whole, so we cut them into spears.

Two cloves of garlic in each jar, then they got stuffed full with cucumbers, two heads of dill, and a few fronds of dill weed (the green part of the dill plant).

We ended up with 30 quarts in all, only because we ran out of jars. We still had cucs to spare. It was very fun to work together, one person cutting cucumbers, one packing jars, one sterilizing.... It's rewarding to do things like this with my Mother, and knowing that my grandmother probably did the same thing with her mother to preserve the season's bounty. Some things never change.

We used a brine of 12 cups water, 4 cups distilled white vinegar, and 2/3 cups pickling salt. Mixed together, then brought to a boil and poured over the cucumbers. After the jars were filled, the sterilized lids went on, and the pickles were submerged in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. All of this involves a lot of boiling water in a little kitchen, which is no easy thing to handle on a humid almost 90 degree day.

The smell of the hot steamy kitchen with boiling vinegar and the aroma of dill brought memories of my childhood flooding back. It's amazing how smells can do that.

I am no canning expert, and botulism is not something to be taken lightly, so I would urge anyone contemplating canning anything to read up on it a little more before you start, but generally it's not that hard. Just make sure you do everything by the book and you'll be fine.

Here's my portion of the finished product. In about 6 weeks they'll be ready to eat. I can't wait!!

And I have all these cucs leftover! My plan is to make bread and butter refrigerator pickles. Doing them in the fridge instead of canning is way easier, but they won't keep as long. I'll have to spread them out amongst my family.... I'm sure they'll figure in a future post.

The broccoli at The Tree Farm was a little overripe, but Meg and I managed to find some decently firm heads to freeze.

I cut my share into florets, steamed it for 5 minutes until it was just barely cooked (blanched), and then packed it into 5 1 quart freezer bags. The chest freezer is pretty bare at this point, just a few bags of lonely strawberries. it feels good to be filling it up again!

Last but not least, check out my dried peppermint! This will make many a cup of hot tea this winter. I cut it from the overgrown mint patch at the Main Street Garden, and dried it in the basement. The basement is by far the coolest place in the house, and I have a snazzy new dehumidifier down there that does and excellent job at keeping the air dry.

The best environment for drying herbs is cool and dry, so since it's been so muggy outside this summer I've started drying my herbs in the basement. I simply stick them in a paper grocery sack, roll up the top so it's closed and dark inside, and set it on top of the dryer, right next to the dehumidifier. I shake it once in a while to make sure the herbs don't settle and mat together. It works like a charm and dries very quickly.

Once the peppermint was completely dry, I stripped the leaves off the stems and packed it in a mason jar. I got a quart packed full, plus a pint. I'm almost excited for the weather to get cool so I can enjoy a cup of hot tea.

Actually I take that back. I'm not looking forward to cool weather all that much. I love this season of incredible lushness and hot muggy days filled with fresh food, gardening and preserving. I know autumn will come, and I won't mind, but I plan to enjoy every drop of summer that I can!

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