Summer’s waning and you just want to kick back, have another vacation weekend, another picnic, tweak the garden, spend time with a daughter, a husband, a friend . . . but nay, produce beckons.
For some veggies the annual, seasonal show is over. But in late August and September there are a few fruits and vegetables in particular that command attention. That’s how it is if you’re blessed – or cursed – with this thing about preserving food, inherited from generations of grand mothers and fathers who put food by. What we preserve is minuscule in comparison, but when I open a jar or grab something summery out of the freezer mid-winter, I tip my hat to the example they set. Survival used to be the impetus for gathering and preserving food, and I suppose we could make a case for that now, but mostly it’s the pleasure of growing and preserving one’s own clean, uncomplicated food.
So, it’s tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, and apples that clamor for preservation in my world. Starting about now throughout September, we dry several batches of cherry tomatoes, roast & freeze some for sauce, make a traditional tomato sauce and green tomato chutney; we make dill pickles, this year bread & butter pickles too; we have enough basil for batches of pesto that we freeze in cubes or 1/2 pint containers; and finally, apples become sauce and chutney.
It makes for a few busy evenings and Sundays, made social and fun when like-minded friends are part of the plan. Get together and make enough for two, three families and reap the rewards mid-winter.
Dill-pickle making has become an annual homage to a grandmother who made these every year. Making Dill Pickles is a link to last year’s post about this late summer ritual.
Orva is my dad’s cousin I’ve known and loved all my life. Though not officially an aunt, she’s Aunt Ovra to me. She’s 98 and going strong, still canning applesauce and her Bread & Butter pickles.
Her mother and my grandmother were sisters who lived to be 93 and 100, and their adventures together in the wild are still retold at every family gathering. Like the snake pit event where, each with a pitchfork, they tossed snakes from the pit and then shoveled them into burlap bags – part of their jewelry-making scheme. Not kidding. Amazing women they were, poets and cowgirls too, and domestically speaking, they preserved everything in sight.
Orva has her own stories. A shotgun might be involved some of the time, but when we visit her farmhouse in Oregon’s wine country she has dinner organized and it always consists of a pile of local produce, some of it from her own garden. She makes these Bread & Butter pickles and we eat them by the handful right out of her refrigerated crock. After a telephone consultation I made my own batch of her pickles, also called sweet and sours. Flavorings can be played with a little. Add hot pepper to the mix, whole garlic cloves, celery, a cinnamon stick. Preserve these in a 10-minute hot water bath, or, unprocessed, they’re fine in the fridge for a month or more.
Orva’s Bread & Butter Pickle Recipe
Ingredients: 3# pickling cucumbers from the farmers’ market; 1 large onion; mustard seed; celery seed; turmeric; whole allspice; sugar; vinegar.
Directions: Since Orva salts and refrigerates her cucumbers before processing, I do too. Many recipes call for this salt and icing process, some don’t. You can skip this if you prefer, though it supposedly improves crispness.
Clean cucumbers/ Chop into chunky or thin slices, along with a finely or coarsely chopped large onion/ Place together in a large bowl, add 1/4 C kosher or pickling salt and mix together/ Place a lightweight kitchen towel over the cucumbers and onions, and then cover with 2″ of ice/ Place in the refrigerator for 4 – 6 hours/ Remove from the fridge, rinse thoroughly, and then rinse again/ Place cucumbers and onion in quart jars or one large crock.
While cukes are in the fridge, make the brine in a large, non-reactive pot. Mix 1 1/2 C white distilled vinegar, 1 1/4 C apple cider vinegar, 2 1/2 C sugar (or to taste, I used 1 3/4 C), 1 T mustard seeds, 1 t celery seeds, 1/2 t turmeric, 8or 10 allspice berries, and some finely chopped jalapeño if that sounds good/ Heat to simmer, stirring until sugar dissolves/ While piping hot, pour the brine over the rinsed cucumbers, cover and refrigerate/ They’re ready to eat in a few hours and will last in the fridge for a month, maybe more/ Or, these can be processed in a hot water bath and then stored in the pantry for up to a year – consult a reliable canning book for specific directions.
We’ll devour a bunch of these next weekend at a family gathering, I’ll put some in 1/2 pint jars and share with friends, and they’re delicious on a tuna sandwich, in potato salad, or chopped finely as a relish.
Vegetables pickled, tomatoes canned, frozen or dried, basil whipped into pesto, apples simmered into sauce, and the list goes on. Store some food, be a squirrel, have a delicious winter.