Amazing Produce

When we lived in Montana we were living what is a high cold desert. We lived at 5,600 feet above sea level, we had less than 10 inches of moisture a year and sitting out in the open the wind was merciless in all seasons. Frost was possible anytime, and you were never surprised to wake up to snow. For a girl coming from the Midwest the inability to grow a garden that did not get frosted off at least twice year was a hard thing to swallow. Suddenly here in North Carolina I find myself surrounded by amazing produce.

We arrived in the last week of strawberry season. RangerSir and I found ourselves talking about how the local strawberries tasted like the ones we remember in our grandparent’s gardens. The had that mythical flavor that grocery store stable strawberries can never capture.

Since that time we have had so many other amazing fresh farm grown items. We had a cantalope one week that was unlike anything in memory in flavor and sweetness. This week we got an old-fashioned watermelon imperfect shape with seeds and all. It had a flavor that almost seemed impossible. On the other hand it had so many seeds that the only option was to let them be and spit them out as we ate the melon. The rind of this melon with the little bit of green, a nice layer of white and some red called for me to make some watermelon pickles.

I can’t remember the last time I saw seeds in a watermelon.

I did not make watermelon pickles. My mom’s recipe calls for a couple of weeks of time in brine in a crock and lots of daily chores of skimming and reheating that I could not imagine doing in the apartment. I did make an assortment of refrigerator pickles instead. I got nice fresh little pickle-style cucumbers at my favorite farmstand and I picked up fresh beets at the local farmer’s market. I called my mother and got the recipe for pickle sauce of Great Grandma’s beet pickled beets. My mother told me about making a refrigerator version of bread and butter pickles she had made. I used Google to find a bread and butter pickle recipe that was small batch and went directly to the refrigerator. Lastly I remember our favorite deli we ate in so often when we last lived in the city. They always had a crock of fresh dill pickles on the table. A friend had given me a book “1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die.” It had a kosher dill pickle recipe that the story alongside the recipe could have been describing the deli of my memory.

I had given away all my canning jars when we packed for moving. I debated if I should buy new and start my collection of canning jars again. I felt that these pickles were one offs and I was unsure I would be canning again. I decided I wanted something pretty or at least decorative for this first batch of pickles in NC. I sought out French heat resistant canning jars with red rubber ring seals and a clamp. I spent an afternoon making the various sauces/brines for my pickles, cutting veggies and arranging my jars. My choice of jars gave my “canned goods” a rustic farm feel and made them show off pretty.

Small batches of pickles

My pickles turned out awesome and brought back so many wonderful memories. It was a great sense of accomplishment and went a long ways toward of making this new place feel like home. I encourage you if you like pickles to consider making a fresh refrigerator batch of pickles. The supplies are readily available, minimal and not expensive. We are now in peach and tomato season. I feel a peach pie and gazpacho calling me next. Keep tuned.

Canning 2013 Style

canningSunday I spent some time canning, sort of.    What sort of means, is I was creating batches of pickles that would only give me a pint or two and involved no time spent in the canner.   Now before you food safety critics go flipping your lids, everything I am making has lots of vinegar, went in sterile jars and are going immediately into the refrigerator.

There are many of you out there who still can, freeze and dry.   I grew up doing it and did it for years.   Now there doesn’t seem to be as much free time, nor do I want to put as much by with just the two of us.

I thought about downsizing my heirloom recipes from my mom,  but cutting down a recipe that calls for gallons of vinegar, pounds of sugar and half-bushels of vegetables seemed even to someone who likes the challenge of math  too much work.

Off I was to the internet to find smaller recipes that I could either cut down or make in just a couple of pint jars.    I found some and work on them.   Tweaking them to make them more similar to mom’s or reflect my households evolving tastes.

I ended up with dill pickles, bread and butter pickles and beet pickles.   I made two pints of each.   One to keep and one to give away.   Perfect.   No hot water bath.   No canner.   No dozens of jars that you know you will not finish in the next five years.   I love it.

Kudos to all of you still keeping the art alive on the larger scale.   Those of you who have quit canning because it is a lot of hassle for a small family I hope you will give it a try on a small scale.   The newbies and wanabes out there who are just starting or dreaming of canning, go forth, explore.    There are many ways on a small scale to try you hand and the art of canning.