I have to say I am a sweet pickle person. I can open a jar of sweet pickles and eat the entire thing. It is more fun with a friend, but I can definitely do it by myself.

I got this recipe from a woman who lived outside Iowa City. These pickles were one of the first (maybe the first) canning endeavors that I undertook on my own. In my tiny apartment without proper supplies. I burned myself, but ended up with 6 jars of lovely pickles. Needless to say, I was hooked.

The cucumbers are cut and left to sit, covered in salt and ice water. The salt draws moisture out of the cucumbers which results in crispy pickles!

After the cucumbers have sat for several hours, the vinegar, sugar and spices are heated up. The cucumbers are then heated in the syrup for 5 minutes and then ladled into jars and processed.

I am wondering how this batch will come out as I did let the cucumbers sit in the fridge for several days…it was just too hot to be working over a pot of boiling water!

My friend Mary has a sweet red plum tree. I stopped by this morning, and we rigged a ladder in the bed of her little cart thingy, and picked most of the ripe plums off the tree. Now to the preservation of these delicious morsels!

I decided to make two different batches of  jam to test different methods for pitting the plums. For the first batch, I placed the whole plums directly into the pot. I added a little water, and cooked them until the pits came away from the fruit. I put the entire mess into a food mill, and removed the pits and peels. It was a little bit too tricky to remove just the pits, so the peels went too. I would have preferred to leave the peels in though.

I cooked the resulting puree with sugar, and jarred it as usual. It was a bit thin, so I let it cook down for a while.

The jam has a bit of a sharp taste which I think is from cooking the fruit with the pits. There seems to be a bit of sourness surrounding the pits of plums, too, which carried across in this jam. It is good, but maybe not my favorite. Tomorrow I am going to make the second batch of jam, with pitted fruit this time!

russian pickles

July 24, 2010

This morning I got to the market early and found some pickling cucumbers, dill, and garlic. I picked some grape leaves at my dad’s house, and a handful of oak leaves from a tree in my yard.

I used a recipe from The Joy of Pickling and Preserving for Russian dill pickles. Oak leaves are added for flavor (instead of fermenting the pickles in an oak barrel which I don’t have..).

Pickles are a no heat project which is great since it is so hot today! Wash the jar, layer the cucumbers, herbs, and spices, and cover with salt water. EASY.

This recipe included hot peppers, garlic, mustard and coriander seeds, peppercorns, and bay leaves. The pickles are covered with a layer of oak leaves, and then some grape leaves, and then pressed down with a glass disk to keep everything submerged in the brine.

pickle success!

July 21, 2010

My first batch of pickles had a narrow escape. Everything was going hunky dory, and then I went out of town for the weekend. Usually when I leave home with a batch of something brewing, my mom looks after it. I forgot to tell her about the pickles, and fortunately they survived the two and a half day absence. I came home and they had finished fermenting. They bright green cucumbers had turned a deep olive green, and the bubbles had stopped rising to the surface of the jar.

I was a little worried about the brine, as some of the white scum that usually forms on the surface had started sinking into the jar. I washed the pickles, and then stuck them in a clean jar filled with salt water. That was the first thing that came to mind to do. As far as I am concerned, the pickles narrowly missed being ruined…I most certainly am not going to leave home and forget my pickles again!

The finished pickles are crispy, bright and tasty. My mom and I are going to make potato salad for them, and I am already planning on making another batch of sour dills…

pickles for jeanne

July 10, 2010

My friend Jeanne and I were talking about pickles the other day, and she told me about a recipe that her mother used to make. Mustard pickles. 2 quarts cucumber, 2 quarts cauliflower, 2 quarts pearl onions. Covered with a mess of vinegar, sugar, mustard, turmeric, and flour. The recipe calls for a gallon of vinegar! (I cut the recipe in half…)

When I told my mom about the recipe, she said that my grampa used to make the same pickles, or a slight variation. We looked in Joy of Cooking, and they were right there, too, again slightly different.

I followed Jeanne’s recipe pretty much exactly. I went to the market this morning, bright and early, and picked up some small onions, pickling cucumbers, and cauliflower. I took them home and cut, cleaned, and blanched them in boiling salted water. Then I strained and cooled them, and they sat in the fridge for the rest of the day, draining off any excess juices. (The recipe calls for cooking them and then letting them drain over night. I looked at several different recipes, and each is a little different, cooking some things more than others, etc.)

When I got home this afternoon, I started the canning pot going and made the paste of sorts to pour over the vegetables. Vinegar with sugar, mustard, turmeric and flour. I mixed the dry ingredients together and then added some vinegar to form a thick paste. Then I added this to the rest of the vinegar in the pot and heated it until boiling.

Meanwhile, I took the drained vegetables out of the fridge and divided them between 8 pint jars. When the vinegar mixture was just to boiling, I poured it over the vegetables, sealed the jars and processed them as usual.

This is my first attempt at making sour pickles. I have made sweet bread and butter pickles, and pickled other things, but never have I fermented cucumbers for pickles. A friend dropped off a bag of pickling cucumbers to the store a few days ago, and today I remembered them in my fridge and set out to make something with them!

I found a recipe in my pickling cookbook (The Joy of Pickling) for a brined dill pickle using horseradish and mustard seeds. I love horseradish, and tried to find some fresh in town. I had no luck, and then called my friend Bob in East Pleasant Plain and he pulled up several plants for me. I have way more than I needed for the recipe, so I am going to preserve the rest in sugar and vinegar, and then plant the tops of the roots so that I can start a patch of my own!

The recipe also called for a handful of grape leaves. I picked some from my dad’s vine, and laid them in the bottom of the jar. I then layered the cucumbers, dill sprigs, chopped horseradish, onion slices, mustard seeds, and celery leaves in a 3 liter glass jar.

I am excited to watch the fermentation process through the glass.

After I had added all the ingredients to the jar I added the brine, and covered the entire thing with another batch of grape leaves. Then on top of that I placed a ziplock bag filled with brine to weight the ingredients down. It is very important that the vegetables remain submerged at all times!

The pickles will ferment for 2 to 3 weeks. After they have fermented fully, they are ready to eat, and should last in the fridge for about 4 months. I could also jar them, but don’t think that will be necessary…

apricots in stages

June 29, 2010

Today I picked up apricots from my friend’s tree. I didn’t pick them off of the tree, but from the ground. Little apricots, that are a bit spotty, but absolutely delicious! They are abundant, like little quail sized easter eggs, all over..

I brought the little speckled fruits home, and sat on my porch to pit them. Today was a perfect day to sit outside. Sunny breezy, and only a few bugs…after the apricots were pitted I covered them in sugar and a little lemon juice.

The power went out, so I couldn’t finish making the jam, but it doesn’t hurt to have the fruit sit in sugar for a bit. A few hours later, I turned on the heat, cooked the apricots, washed my jars, and heated my water for a hot water bath. The usual steps for jam, with a kitchen full of sweet apricots.

The finished jam was thicker than I expected it to be, and some of the cute little spots on the skin still showed up. And I have already had a huge spoonful of jam in my yogurt!

black raspberries

June 28, 2010

Black raspberries remind me the most of my childhood. We would go out into the woods and fields and pick as many as we could. We would bring the berries home and my mom would help us make jam, pies, and crumbles. It would always be a few precious jars. Black raspberries are sometimes all over the place, but more often few and far between. And it is way too easy to eat the berries while you are out foraging…

My friend Bob took me to some really good spots in a field next to his house a few days ago and we picked and picked and picked. He has a good system for picking berries. Belt an empty milk jug with the top cut off around your waist, and have both hands free to pick, balance, and navigate through the undergrowth.

After picking the berries, I took them home and was way too busy for a few days to do anything other than eat a few here and there. This morning I got them out, sat on the porch, and sorted out the sticks and leaves.

Then I sugared the berries, and added a little lemon juice to make a batch of jam.

Black raspberries are incredibly dark, sweet and full of seeds, which I love. I made a simple jam, and bottled it to save mostly for my brother, who lives in the city.

For the dutch oven cookoff we made a whiskey sour cherry spoon bread. A not too sweet cake, rich with butter, and filled with fruit. Cherries soaked for a few days in whiskey and sugar.

We preheated the dutch oven, melted the butter, and then added the cake batter. Then we carefully spooned in the sour cherries.

Then lidded the dish, making sure not to get any ashes in the cake, and set it aside to cook.

We whipped cream with vanilla and powdered sugar to serve with the spoon bread.

A simple and satisfying dessert.

I have a jar of cherries on my porch. They are solar cooking in a broth of sugar and whiskey. I got sick of pitting all the cherries, and this recipe called for unpitted (and unwashed) cherries, whiskey, and sugar. I had all the ingredients, as well as a quart jar, so I made use of them.

To pick the cherries, which were on a huge tree, my friend Duncan helped me out. We backed his pickup truck under the tree (over the sidewalk) and placed an 8 foot ladder in the bed of the truck. I used a pail with a handle attached to my overalls so that I had both hands free for picking the cherries and balancing.

The cherries “cook” for a month, and are supposed to last up to two years.

I found the recipe (originally made with brandy) in a cookbook on preserving fruits and vegetables according to French tradition, without canning. I am not one hundred percent sure that I trust this method, and might not end up leaving them in the sun the whole time…not sure.