Thursday, March 1, 2007

Weekend Herb Blogging- Dill Pickles

In most large families, every month is someones birthday month. Ours was no exception- I think we only missed February, May and September. (Spouses and grandchildren soon took care of those months!) In my family, March was a triple threat- 2 grandmothers and one little sister. It seemed like a good idea to make this March all about the food my grandmothers made. And I thought I would kick it off with a recipe for Kalyn's Kitchen Weekend Herb Blogging

When my Grandmother Helen died in 1992, at the venerable age of 90, I was lucky enough to get her treadle Singer Sewing machine, her stove, her collection of cookie jars, and a ledger book with some of her recipes. Helen was a good plain cook- her fried chicken was to die for; so was her fried catfish and crappie. She made some yummy cookies called hermits that we haven't been able to duplicate. She gathered recipes from newspapers, women's magazines and friends, writing them down and personalizing them with notes. She was particularly fond of recipes whose names started out with a descriptive- the ledger book contains recipes for "Good Drop Cookies", "Very Good Sour Cream Cookies", "The Best Cream Pie Filling I have Ever Tasted", and this recipe "Very Special Dill Pickles".

I only remember Helen making these pickles a few times when I was a child. She used old fashioned half gallon canning jars with zinc lids, and I remember that the pickles looked so pretty in the jars, along with a whole dill flower head, the garlic cloves and peppercorns. The dill pickles became sort of a Holy Grail for my dad for a few years in the 70's. His mother had pretty much stopped making them by then, and he wanted to try his hand. I called my Dad this week to ask him about the pickles, and he said that they were always very hot and garlicky- he said almost too hot sometimes. These are fermented pickles; he remembered that the house always smelled strongly during the weeks they were "working". I told him I remembered going with him to the City Market in Kansas City, MO to buy cucumbers the years we tried to make them. We bought enormous cucumbers one year, and immersed them in clean new plastic garbage cans. He laughed and said that we hadn't been able to find small cucumbers that year. He said "I remember when I was a kid, some of those ladies who made pickles used cucumbers so big that only one would fit in a jar. That was kind of a problem."

My Dad asked me if I was going to be making pickles this summer, and I said I thought I might- but I am not using the jars with the zinc lids- I have one of them, but I only use it for keeping Helen's button collection!

I've written the recipe just as she has it in the ledger, parenthesis and all.

By the way- My father says to remember that it is very important that the cucumbers not be waxed or oiled- the brining won't penetrate the skins if they have been treated. And he says he can't wait to taste them if I make them, so I guess I am on the hook now. I figure they'll be ready in August- just in time to make a good birthday present for him!

Gramma Helen's Very Special Dill Pickles
Select size wanted, wash and brush good and let stand in well water over night. Next morn, wipe dry and place in qt. jars (or larger if wanted) in each qt jar (bottom) place a slice or 2 horseradish, dill, garlic button, med size red pepper, almost 1 teasp whole black pepper, Bay leaf or two if wanted (I never use them)

(2 1/2 cups pickling salt = 1 lb)

To six quarts water, add 1 lb pickling salt, 1 tsp alum. Bring to boiling point, add one quart pickling vinegar and pour over pickles. This amount will fill 9 or 10 quarts.

Use old fashioned rubber jar rings and zinc lids. Seal and then turn back one turn so they can work off. They look like they are spoiling, but in 6 or 7 wks they will be clear again. If the brine is not covering the pickles, add enough salt water to cover before sealing.

OK, now for my commentary- She doesn't specify how many cucumbers to buy, and I guess that depends on the size. When I make them next summer, I will use what the local farm stands call aptly enough "pickles"- cukes about 4 inches long but fairly thick. I'll probably take my quart jar with me and figure out how many cukes will fit. When soaking the cucumbers over night, make sure they are submerged- you may have to cover them with a weighted plate or something. I don't know why they are supposed to soak in well water, and neither did my dad. It could be that the well water in Central Missouri was high in lime, and this would make a crisp pickle. If you don't have lime-y well water on hand, you can use pickling lime. Be sure and follow directions carefully- failing to rinse the lime out of the pickles can lead to reducing the acidity of the vinegar, which could lead to botulism.

Since I will not be using the old zinc lid jars, I will set the lid part of a 2 piece modern canning jar lid on top, and screw the jar ring on very lightly, so when the pickles are working it is possible for them to "spew" a little. I will set them in something that will catch anything that oozes out of the jar. And my dad suggested that they be kept someplace where the temperature is constant.

If you have never canned before, please consult an expert- I suggest the University of Missouri Extension Center, or the University Extension Center of your choice. Quarts of pickles can be processed for 15 minutes in a water bath canner. Also, be sure your vinegar isn't too old; it loses acidity over time.


Kalyn said...

Very fun and interesting, and this is perfect for Weekend Herb Blogging. My own mother made really good dill pickles. (Of course at that point in my life, hers were the only ones I had tasted, but they seemed good.) Now I have a sister who makes them but I haven't seen her recipe.

H said...

Oh, how I remember those pickles! And sometimes those Daddy made were just too hot to eat!
But the basement shelves were always well stocked with large jars of pickles. Mmmm! Good luck with this, I want to hear all about it!!

Alanna said...

What a lovely post ~

sher said...

I loved reading this post--it reminded me of my own family and childhood experiences watching my maternal grandmother can pickles and jams. I think these recipes show the power of food--how they leave a legacy for other generations of the family to experience love and family unity through food.

Thanks for visiting my site and linking me--I will certainly do the same, so I can read your blog. It's terrific!