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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1 comment:

  1. Hi Megan,
    "Megs" I think I'll call you. I'm Iver. I'm still in Humbloldt and discovering the locavore movement. I bought a chicken from the good folks at Shakefork farms at the Arcata farmers market. I Googled them and ya'll popped up. I blogged my chicken experience. You'll need to scroll back to the post titled "Luke's Joint" to see the start od it. The meaty part is in the next post "Herb Brined Roasted Chicken".

    Gotta go. I need to read your pickle post!



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