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June 7, 2010 - Kathie Evanoff
Coming from a family that would eat just about anything and marrying into a family that ate practically nothing was quite a shock to my culinary heritage.
Growing up, we always had a root cellar and pantry filled with just about anything that could be stuffed into a jar. Our freezer, which sat on an unheated, enclosed back porch, was equally filled with carefully labeled containers. If it didn’t go into a jar, then it must go into the freezer was my parent’s idea of feeding our family.
It was likely my grandparents’ doing that we were such “local” eaters, a trend that seems to be growing so quickly that even poplar television chef Emeril Lagasse has jumped on the bandwagon and recently published a book about local food.
My parents seldom spoke of their youth, which was not exactly poor, but sometimes trying. My grandfathers were coal miners, and my parents grew up in a small coal mining town in southern
While working on the book, I came to understand how my parents and grandparents lived in the early to mid part of the 20th century. It was not surprising they came to
But some things can’t be erased no matter how our lives improve. My grandparents bought a few acres in a nearby county and raised chickens and pigs and every summer planted a huge garden. My parents also planted a huge garden and every summer it became a tradition that the women in the family would spend several days putting up food for winter.
One particular “preserving party” sticks out in my mind and that is pickle day. All of the old pickle recipes came out of the tin that day. My grandmother, mother and aunts would peruse the recipes and decide what to make first. We would go out to the garden several days before the event and gather the best of the pickling cucumbers. We also gathered all the dillweed that had gone to seed and cut long stalks with ferny leaves to pack into the jars as well.
Cucumbers were sliced, cut lengthwise into spears and if the picklers looked exceptionally good, were left whole. Brine was brewed and before the end of the day, lined up on layers of newspapers on the dining room table were jar after jar of all shapes, sizes and recipes of pickles.
On the stove were hot water baths, where the jars were boiled long enough to create a vacuum that would seal the jars. But once in a while a little piece of dill leaf or a bubble of vinegar would get under the rubber edged lid and prevent the jar from getting a tight seal. In those cases, the jars went into the refrigerator to be eaten after a week or so of brining.
I didn’t know back then, that refrigerator pickles were quite common. My relatives, after all, made pickles for the sole purpose of storing for winter months. But after I was married and tried my own hand at preserving from my garden, I learned that an ongoing batch of brine can be used to make pickles right in the fridge without the need for that hot water bath and all those jars with rubber seals and metal rings. The only draw-back is there is sometimes a window of opportunity for refrigerator pickles. They must soak in the brine for a week to 10 days to take in the flavors of the salty, spicy mixture, but they should be eaten within a month or the cucumbers can turn mushy.
My husband wasn’t keen on homemade pickles, so I turned my preserving to jams, jellies and pressurized food. I didn’t preserve cucumbers. But I never stopped thinking about all jars of pickles my mother would open for our own table and I never lost my taste for the bread and butter and homemade dillweed brine that was boiled for the jars.
After discovering refrigerator pickles I decided the worst that could happen is I would be the only one eating them. By making smaller batches, I wouldn’t be wasting my time or my fresh cucumbers on jars of preserved pickles that no one would eat.
Here are a few recipes for refrigerator pickles. If you want to try your hand at preserving, these recipes also can be packed into jars for canning. Or you can simply make the brine, pour it over the cukes and wait for the magic to happen.
6 cups water
¼ cup kosher salt (table salt will not work)
2 tablespoons white vinegar
½ to ¾ cup fresh dill, chopped
8 large garlic cloves, chopped or sliced
2 pounds small well-scrubbed pickling cucumbers (do not use grocery store cucumbers as they are often coated with wax that does not easily wash off)
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
Thoroughly clean a large glass jar and lid with hot soapy water or run through the dishwasher.
In a saucepan, bring the water, salt and vinegar to a boil over medium heat.
After it comes to a boil and the salt is dissolved, remove it from the heat and let it cool to room temperature.
Pack the cucumbers in the jar with the remaining ingredients and pour the brine over it all being sure to cover the cucumbers completely.
Store the jar in the refrigerator. The pickles will be ready to eat in a week and will last quite a while stored in the refrigerator.
Spicy refrigerator dill pickles