Monday, October 8, 2007

mission: dill, part II

So I ended up making dill pickles! Who would have guessed? Considering that I've never canned anything before, I impressed myself, at least! And ain't that who counts? But I'll try my darndest to impress you guys too. Here goes.

I started with obtaining pickling cucumbers from the garden of a friend, as well as dill he'd graciously given, too. I also had two conflicting recipes and the Bible of backwoods cooking, "Mrs. Restino's Country Kitchen", which uses a wood stove as the standard, not a gas-fired or electric range. Hardcore! We don't actually use a wood stove, but her book is certainly helpful for a pickling novice in crisis. So after some deliberation, I decided to use Mrs. Restino's step-by-step instructions, because the first recipe I had was hurriedly scribbled from the dictated memory of another friend who makes dills, but who rarely measures his ingredients, and the second recipe used sugar and I'm trying to cut that out of my diet. So, something plain and easy to follow and not including sugar looked like my best bet.

On Tuesday, after following Mrs. Restino's directions for about an hour, I found myself in the kitchen standing over a pot, in which boiled a mixture of water and vinegar, and which also had peppercorns, mustard seed and garlic cloves dancing in its acidic depths. I was also looking over at a smaller pot which held five new "snap" lids, percolating. On the counter beside me were five pint Mason jars, sterilized, and I had put a dill flower in each, along with five or six bright green pickling cucumbers, small and tough and knobby. Then I poured enough of the boiling vinegar mixture in each jar to come almost to the rim, set a boiled snap lid on top, and a screw lid, but not screwed all the way down.

Had I really done it? The five jars sitting side-by-side certainly made it look like it. I was quite ecstatic, but I had to wait a little longer to see if the jars would seal. In the end, three out of five did seal, and headed for the cold room to live in storage, and the other two went to the fridge. I didn't know how long I was supposed to leave them in there before they could be eaten; Mrs. Restino was silent on that point.

Skip ahead three days, and my brother Mat and a friend of his are home for the Thanksgiving weekend. They've just arrived, it's late Friday night, all the bags have been brought in, tea poured and the necessary introductions made. We're sitting around talking when suddenly I remember my pickles! I jump up:

"Mat! I made pickles!"

I run to the fridge, pull out one of the two jars. Then I grab a plate, a knife and a fork. We unscrew the lid and pull out a now-mild-green pickle. I slice it into pieces and pass the plate around. The moment of truth, and the proof is in the pickle! Amazingly enough, we each bite into a very garlicky, quite vinegary dill pickle. I have the look of a proud mama on my face: I did it! It's like alchemy, at least for a beginner like me. Into the jar: raw cucumbers and boiling vinegar, plus a few other ingredients. Out of the jar: crunchy, tasty dill pickles!

The ecstasy only lasts so long before the agony sets in: in my hurry to eat my pickle, the vinegar has gone down the wrong tube and is making the top of my throat itch and burn. I cough and cough, embarrassed but proud. My pickles may be small, but they're mighty, and I seem to be living proof. Note to self for next year: cut back on the vinegar!

It's hard to top that kind of victory, but the weekend ended up being pretty great all the same. The weather was that perfect Fall blend of cold air, colorful leaves, a high wind and clouds the scud across the sky. All our food and visits were memorable. And I even got the Janice Fuller Dill Pickle Seal Of Approval, and it's not every day she gives that one out!

I'm giving thanks for pickling cucumbers great and small, friends old and new, and for the cozy feeling you get indoors on a rainy Fall day with a good book. Oh and of course loads of thanks for and to Marlo, for letting me use the above photograph. What about you? Best answer wins a virtual dill pickle.

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