Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Pickles - 'tis the Season

Some of my Pickled Beets
I must start out with the fact that I am not into canning all that much. On occasion, I have canned some few jars of something, such as jam, dill pickles, pickled beets or pickled jalapenos. On the other hand, when I married my current husband, I found out about pickles and canning on a scale heretofore unknown in my world. My mother-in-law was the absolute Queen of Pickles, and I say that in a most loving and appreciative way. Her pickles and other canning were legend. From fruits and tomatoes to Green Tomato Relish, Apple Butter and all things in between, her larder was well stocked, year after year.

All of which makes it no surprise that my husband is absolutely nuts about the pickles she made, such as her green Lime Chunk Pickles or Bread and Butter Pickles or her Watermelon Rind Pickles. He eats these types of pickles like there will be no tomorrow. In my life I had never seen anyone eat so many pickles at one sitting. Once I tasted my mother-in-law's pickles, I understood how this could be the case. In particular, her Lime Chunk Pickles were so delicious, to me they were nearly like a dessert. I was happy with 4 or 5 chunks. Richly spiced and very sweet, with enough vinegar tang to make them incredible. Early in my relationship, she gave me the recipe. However, it was a recipe that would take days of work, and I heard enough about the process to make me leery of trying to make them alone.

I grant you, I have not been one to shy from a cooking challenge. I have made Guatemalan tamales, for heaven's sake. The difference being that the first time I made Guatemalan tamales, I was helping my (ex) sisters-in-law make them, and so I was instructed all along the way just how something should be done, or how it should look or why it was done in this one way, etc. As for the pickles, I never had the opportunity to see how they were done. If I was going to spend three days on making pickles, I surely didn't want to find out they didn't come out right.

Making Lime Chunk Pickles

My current sister-in-law, Sherri, when visiting recently, told me that WE were going to make Lime Chunk Pickles. She had an order placed for a half bushel of pickling cucumbers. She already had all the large pots and a canner, as I do not. I was instructed to pay for the cucumbers and we got started making these little gems last Friday evening.

Rinsed of lime and soaking in clear water
Up to this time in my life (at age 63) I had never, ever, come face to face with a half bushel of cucumbers. Sherri and I sat at the table and cut all those cucumbers into small chunks, or thick slices. She prepared the lime solution of:

1 cup of pickling lime, mixed with
2 gallons of water

This mixture was made in each of two 16-quart Granite ware preserving kettles. We divided the cucumber slices into these two pots and stirred them well. At this point, they were to set overnight, stirring them now and again to keep them in contact with the lime that tends to settle to the bottom. This part of the process is to firm up the pickles and help with the nice crisp crunch, later on. My husband was in charge of the periodic stirring.

The next morning Sherri came over and we took turns washing the cucumber slices of all the lime solution. This step is very important as any leftover lime will turn the pickles black. No one wants black pickles! We went to the degree of actually running fingers over each and every cucumber chunk or slice, under running water. After this thorough washing, the cucumber chunks were once again returned to the clean kettles and covered with clear water and left to soak for the day.

That evening, we prepared the brine. When I think of brine, I think of a salt water solution. While this mixture contains salt, it contains no water. The "brine" mixture (per kettle) is:

2 quarts apple cider vinegar
4 1/2 pounds white sugar
1 tablespoon canning salt
2 tablespoons celery seed
2 tablespoons whole cloves
2 tablespoons pickling spices
1/2 teaspoon green past food color

Lime Chunk Pickles, canned and processed

Each kettle with brine solution was brought to just under a boil; just to the point where it was too hot to keep one's finger in more than a few seconds. At this point the sugar is dissolved and the brine is ready. The green paste food color is really just an option, but my mother-in-law's green Lime Chunk Pickles were always vibrantly green, so for me this was not to be left out. We added in the food color, about a half teaspoon, until the spoon we were using to stir was no longer visible immersed in the solution. We added the drained cucumbers and stirred them in well and left them overnight.

Next morning I brought the first kettle of cucumbers in the brine to a boil and then allowed them to boil for 40 minutes. Meanwhile, I had another of the large kettles with boiling water and the quart canning jars, lids and rings. Once the pickles were cooked, I filled the jars and sealed them, while placing the next kettle to boil. My mother-in-law never used a hot water bath to process these pickles. They would seal and the lids would pop and that was that. I know that these days, everything is supposed to go into a boiling water bath, so I did process them for 10 minutes. In all, the outcome was 15 quarts from the half bushel of cucumbers. Seeing them lined up on the shelves makes me incredibly proud. I am very glad to have been a part of it and finally learn how to make them properly.  It may well be years before I do that again. At least in that quantity. I think I would stick to a peck of cucumbers in future. They sure are pretty though. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.