Plus Pickles

Now we have everything, plus pickles.

That's a saying at our house; a marriage idiom. It dates back to when we were first married, or maybe when we were living together in North Carolina. Either way, we were poor. We did the grocery shopping together, with a list and a calculator. When we hit the max on the weekly budget, we'd figure out what we could live without and put it back on the shelf. One day, though, we managed to get everything on our list, and were even able to pick up a jar of pickles as a bonus. 

The phrase stuck, and it's grown to signify general contentment or delight in abundance.

Today, it is literally as well as figuratively true, because last night we processed our first cucumber harvest:

These are just the pickling cukes (which is why some of the them are such funny shapes). We trellised one 12-foot row of pickling cucumbers and another 12-foot row of slicers. The pickling ones are kicking butt, and last night we had enough to do something with. 

Canning is pretty easy if you have the right stuff. That pot on the left is our caning pot, and inside it has a special rack to raise and lower the jars into the boiling water. We also have special tongs to pick up the jars and a wide funnel that helps with filling the jars with the pickling brine. 

What we didn't have ready was enough jars. Normal people would have just bought a box or two of new ones along with the box of new lids, but we ended up running around the house gathering (and then washing) old jars. It's not all our fault — the recipe said eight pounds of cucumbers would need three quart-sized jars.

False. Our nine pounds of cucumbers took up seven quart-sized jars and four pint-sized jars. We also had to quick whip up a second batch of pickle juice (vinegar, salt, sugar, and spices) in the middle of our process. This is most likely because those short, round cucumbers take up a lot of room in the jars.

Anyway, you can see here that we made regular old dill pickles, following the recipe in the Ball Blue Book. The pickle juice is a quart of water and a quart of vinegar (we used white), plus 3 tablespoons pickling spice, 3/4 cups sugar, and 1/2 cup kosher salt. While all that simmers for 15 minutes, slice the cucumbers and put them in the jars with a bunch small handful of dill (that's at top of the jar). Then ladle the juice in over the cukes and put the lid on, and pop it in the canner full of boiling water for 15 minutes. (Getting that huge thing to boil takes forever and steams up your kitchen, but you can do other things in a cooler room while you wait.)

As you can see, we didn't bother to put the spices in cheesecloth and strain them out before we ladled in the juice. Also, this photo shows our secret ingredient: a grape leaf. Our first-ever batch of kosher pickles years ago was deliciously flavored, but mushy as all get-out. A little internet research turned up the idea that some tannin would help the veggies keep their crunch. At the Red House we just grabbed a handful of oak leaves from a tree in the park, which worked like a charm. Now that we have grapes right here in our garden in Newburyport, we used grape leaves instead. They are huge, so we tore them in a half and used a half-leaf in each jar. 

In four to six weeks we will be able to see if it worked!


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