Refrigerator Dill Pickles

August 24, 2011

I get really emotional when I eat pickles. Homemade ones, of course.

I can and pickle for experience of it, more than for the end product.  It’s how I give myself a little Spring, Summer, or Fall in the dead of Winter. Every time I open a jar, I close my eyes and try very hard to remember the details the day. How hot was it? What did the leaves look like in the tree outside our window? What did we wear? Each jar gives me a little rush of nostalgia.

The jar of pickles I made Saturday has a special significance. I made these on the very last weekend of our summer. That is, the very last weekend before Will started school again. Let me tell you about it.

The best way to combat the doldrums of adulthood is to pretend you are a child, but have budget and transportation of an adult. We spent Sunday doing only what we wanted. We woke up late. We went mini-golfing, drove Go Karts, and played Skeeball. We exchanged the Skeeball tickets we won for crazy straws and temporary tatoos. Instead of eating lunch, we ate Blizzards at Dairy Queen (Snickers for me, Heathbar for Will). We went to go see Bridesmaids at the discount movie theatre. I skipped my shower, because I didn’t want to wash off my frog and lizard tattoos.

And I made these pickles. And with every precise (or slightly imprecise) slice of cucumber, with every lid I screwed on nice and tight, I meditated on each moment of our wonderful day.

Opening this jar will be so very nice.

REFRIGERATOR DILL PICKLES (from Ball’s Complete Book of Home Preserving’sRefrigerator Dill Slices)

Yields about 5 pint jars of pickles

Though I haven’t tasted the finished product yet, I am certain these will be amazing. I ate a pickle or two before I put them in a jar. Yes, that means I ate it when it was a hot, briny cucumber. But my oh my, what a wonderful combination of salty and sour. It will be hard to wait the full 2 weeks.

Ingredients

8 1/4 cups sliced trimmed pickling cucumbers (1/4 inch/0.5cm slices)

2 cups white vinegar

2 cups water

6 tbsp pickling or canning salt

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 tbsp pickling spice (available in the spice aisle of well-stocked supermarkets)

7 1/2 tsp dill seeds

5 tsp mustard seeds

1 1/4 tsp whole black peppercorns

5 cloves garlic, halved

Recipe

1. Put cucumber slices in a large heatproof bowl.

2. Combine vinegar, water, pickling salt, sugar, and pickling spice in the saucepan in a medium stainless steel saucepan over medium high heat and stir occasionally until sugar and salt dissolve. Let the mixture come to a boil, then turn down the heat and cover with a lid. Boil gently for 10 minutes.

3. Pour the hot brine over cucumbers. Cover the bowl with waxed paper and let it rest until the mixture cools to room temperature (about 30 minutes).

4. In each mason jar, place 1 1/2 tsp dill seeds, 1 tsp mustard seeds, 1/4 teaspoon peppercorns, and 2 garlic clove halves. Fill jars with cucumber slices until they are 1/2 inch from the top. Pour pickling liquid into each jar until the liquid covers the cucumbers. Leave 1/2 inch headspace from the rim of the jar. Screw lids onto jars. Place in refrigerator. Allow cucumbers to marinate at least 2 weeks. Use within 3 months.

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Canning Crushed Tomatoes

September 19, 2010

Ah, I love tomato season. It signals the end of summer, and the start of autumn–my very favorite season of all. I also love tomato season because I can get my canning into full gear! I have two friends who are canning fanatics, and we like to get together and preserve massive amounts of produce. Will likes to make fun of us for this, even though he reaps the benefits. I figured now would be a good time to take you through my favorite thing to can: Crushed Tomatoes.

The first rule of canning is that it is more enjoyable and faster to do it with other people. This is Katherine and Ruby. Canning is waaaay more fun with them (and with my friend Stephanie, who couldn’t make it because she had to teach a dance class). Check out Ruby’s knit leg warmers!

Next, buy a bunch of produce, preferably from a farmer’s market. I’m not above buying organic produce from the store to can, though. If you are like Katherine and me, you will buy 35lbs of tomatoes. We are enthusiastic canners.

Next, get the biggest pot you can find. Place a rack or a bunch of jar lids in the bottom of the pot (this will prevent the jars from clinking on the bottom of the pot and cracking). Plop as many jars as you can fit on one single level into the pot. Fill with water and start that pot boiling. This process is called sterilizing the jars. You only really need to sterilize jars by boiling them for 10 minutes, but if you have a giant pot, it will take a long time to get that water boiling. You might as well start early.

Next, prepare to blanch your tomatoes. Blanching will make the skin come off easily. Boil water in a pot, and fill a large bowl with ice water.  Work in batches. Blanch tomatoes in the boiling water for 30 seconds-1 minute.

Submerge the tomatoes in the ice water.  Peel the skin off your tomatoes when they are cool enough to handle.

Cut out the center stem scar.

Squeeze out the seeds (this is seriously messy). Cut your tomato into quarters.

Place tomato pieces into a large pot. Smash them with a potato masher or with your hands. Keep adding your tomatoes until your pot is full. Cook the tomatoes on medium-high heat, stirring constantly until the mixture is boiling.  Turn heat down. Simmer for 5-10 minutes. While this simmers, pull your jars out of the boiling water. Place 1 tablespoon store-bought lemon juice or white vinegar in the bottom of each jar. (Store-bought lemon juice standardizes acidity). This will assure the acidity of the tomatoes is high enough to keep them bacteria-free.

Next, heat your lids and rings in hot, but not boiling, water. Once your tomatoes have simmered, spoon the hot tomatoes into your jars. Having a funnel like this helps prevent you from getting tomato everywhere. Fill the jars up, leaving 1/2in-1/4in headspace.

Wipe the rims of your jars with a clean damp cloth. Place hot lids and rings on jars to close. Process (meaning boil) closed jars in a boiling water bath (with a rack or rings on the bottom of the pot) for 40 minutes. Take jars out of boiling water, let cool 12-24 hours. Check to make sure your jar has sealed. You can do this by pressing down on the lid. The lid should not pop when you press down on it. Store your delicious, home-canned crushed tomatoes in a cool, dry place.

Hungry for a pasta sauce recipe using your homemade, crushed tomatoes? My Grandma Rose’s Simple Pasta Sauce

More on canning: Canned Pears Poached in Wine

Canned Pears Poached in Wine

February 23, 2010

At the beginning of the fall, I began canning. I had free time on my hands, (due to that whole lovely work 13-hour shifts 3 days-a-week thing that nurses get to do), and quickly reached my quota of filling it by watching tv. Shhh… it was mostly reality tv. *Shame*.

I started with pickles (a great first step, for you aspiring canners out there), then moved to applesauce (an excellent second step), then jam, jellies, and a whole host of things ordinary and weird (sweet pickled pumpkin, anyone?). I think the thing that kept me canning is just that I think it is just SO COOL. Tonite, in the dead of winter, I ate a perfect October pear, frozen in time. YUM. You can’t even get that at Whole Foods right now!

And to me, Canned Poached Pears is, to date, the most awesome thing I have ever made in my kitchen. Not because of the taste, though. Don’t get me wrong, it is a delicious, savory dessert. But the idea that I am preserving fruit when it is just perfect, then poaching it while it is already sealed in the jars (preserving the alcohol content-YES!), then cracking a jar open for an elaborate, special occasion dessert 6 months to 2 years after I made it is, to me, nothing short of awesome. Because sometimes when I am in my kitchen I feel more like a magician than a cook. Just call me a Canning Wizard. Or… Canning Sorceress?* You could also just call me a nerd. Well, whatever you call me, I’ve got a whole bunch of pears sitting in my pantry just waiting for me to gobble them up. Now THAT is cool.

CANNED POACHED PEARS

nytimes.com

*This is the conversation I just had with Will

Elizabeth: Will, what’s the female form of Wizard?

Will: Maybe, Sorceress? But if you’d played Dungeons & Dragons you’d know that Wizards and Sorcerers are not the same, duh-uh!