“In a world where news of inhumanity bombards our sensibilities, where grasping for things goes so far beyond our needs, where time is squandered in busyness, it is a pleasure and a privilege to pause for a look at handiwork, to see beauty amidst utility, and to know that craft traditions begun so long ago serve us today.”
A handful of years ago, when my niece Kristine was in high school, she gave a demonstration speech on how to can dill pickles. After her presentation, when she told me that there were students in her class that did not know that pickles were once cucumbers, I was shocked. Really? How could this happen in a rural community in Upper Michigan where vegetable gardens commonly sprout in backyards? I guess that I took it for granted that others grew up in a household similar to the one in which I was raised. Pre-bread machines my mom always made homemade bread, cake and frosting were whipped up from scratch, macaroni-and-cheese did not come out of a box, and on a weekly basis stock pots of aromatic soup simmered on the stove.
Did we eat junk food and drink soda? Yes. Yet, my mom always made sure our diet was balanced out by home cooked meals and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Even when we spent long, summer days at the beach the slow-cooker was preparing some sort of wholesome, savory dish. Fast food did not exist in our hometown (aside from the seasonal drive-in restaurant) and take-out and dinners at restaurants were rare and special indulgences.
Granted, times have changed, but I think that in we need to go back to the way some things were in the past. My mom grew up in a large Finnish-American family with six other siblings, and because finances were lean, they had to learn how to be resourceful. I am thankful that Mom passed this resourcefulness on to me. I am equally thankful to have married a man who wants his children to be raised with these same values.
The next time you are in line at the supermarket, reflect on the choices in your cart (and even other shoppers around you). It is common to hear (and participate) in conversations about how expensive groceries are these days. Yet, when you take a look at what is tossed into grocery carts there often are cheaper alternatives. Think of how many raw potatoes can be purchased for the price of a bag of potato chips. How many bags of dried beans can be purchased for the cost of canned? Compare the cost of individually packaged instant oatmeal versus a tub of old-fashioned oats. While they may be expensive, how many cherries or grapes could a twelve pack of soda purchase?
While I try to keep my grocery cart limited to whole foods, I do confess to convenience food purchases. Though, I try to be more mindful of making our favorite meals by scratch, because not only is it more economical, but more nutritional as well. Plus, I like to believe that when I stretch my grocery dollar I can afford to put more organic offerings on our table – or an extra evening out at a local restaurant.
Not only are some convenience foods easy to make, but cooking from scratch helps us avoid putting chemicals into our bodies. The next time you pick up a can of soup carefully scan the ingredients. How about salad dressing? Can you pronounce the long list of additives and preservatives? If not, you might want to think about making your own.
In addition to dressings, I find that a great way to perk up salads and other meals are pickles. Growing up, pickles were an important food group in our house – as were straight up cucumbers. My grandpa Puskala often served us sliced cucumbers from his garden and vinegar for breakfast (probably because that is all that we wanted to eat). My Grandma Hilda’s canned dill pickles and crock pickles were a family favorite and my mom followed her canning tradition. In fact, my mom is known to can over one hundred quarts of pickles in the fall because she gifts them to people throughout the year. The smell of pickle brine is one of my fondest memories from childhood.
Today I am going to share with you my Grandma’s dill pickle recipe. By August most gardeners are up to their ears in cucumbers and if you do not garden yourself you can find them readily available from a neighbor or the farmer’s market. Pickles are one of the easiest items to can because you only need to use a hot water bath (use a large stock pot that will allow water over the lids) and you do not have to pressure can the jars. My canner/stock pot will prepare 7 quarts at a time.
I like to use one quart wide mouth jars and you will also need lids with bands. Sanitize the jars in the sanitize cycle of your dishwasher or in a pot of boiling water. If you are boiling the jars, boil them for 30-45 minutes and make sure you boil the lids and bands and well (I boil the lids for 5-10 minutes).
BRINE (bring to a boil when you are ready to can)
2 Quarts of Water
1 Quart of Apple Cider Vinegar
½ Cup of Canning Salt (Make sure that you buy canning salt and not regular table salt)
You will also need:
Dill (fresh and/or dill seed. I recommend fresh dill – but seed will work in a pinch).
Alum Powder (Can be found in the spice and pickling sections and it helps make pickles crunchy)
*Optional for spicy peppers
Crushed red peppers (could also use jalapenos or other fresh peppers)
Choose the shape of the pickles that you desire (chips, spears, whole, or thin sandwich slices). I like to can a variety of shapes.
While you are packing your jars, make sure that you bring the water in your canner (large stock pot) to boiling. The water should be over the jars when you place them in the canner.
In the bottom of the jar place ¾ teaspoon of alum powder, a generous helping of dill (stem and all), crushed garlic cloves (I put three per jar), and peppers if you desire a spicy pickle. Then pack the rest of the jar with cucumbers. I recommend placing them in carefully and packing them thoroughly (or else you will have lots of room in the jar).
Once the cucumbers are firmly packed, fill the jar with the boiling brine, leaving about ¾ inch of head room at the top. Put on the lid and tighten the band (firmly – but you do not have to overly tighten).
Place the jars in the canner and TURN OFF the heat and let sit for 25 minutes. My mom taught me that this is the secret to crunchy pickles. If you continue to heat the water, the pickles may end up mushy.
After 25 minutes remove the jars and let sit until they seal (this may take up to 24 hours). While it is frustrating if you have a jar, or two, that does not seal. You can refrigerate these pickles and give them a couple of weeks to “pickle” and eat them within the month. In the same way, if you do not want to can the pickles you can make crock pickles using this brine and let them sit in the refrigerator in a large jar(s) or a bowl or crock.
If you love pickles as much as I do, you have to try my grandmother’s recipe. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to leave a comment here, send me an email, or stop by my Facebook page.
Imagine this winter, when you pop open a jar of pickles and remember a steamy summer day when your kitchen was filled with the fragrance of dill. These pickles may remind you of your childhood and like me, you may appreciate the old-fashioned. I would wear a dress over jeans any day, I love the word ice-box, and I believe in setting a beautiful table. I believe that food made with love, and attention to detail, tastes better. Give these pickles a try and let me know what you think!
My husband created a canning station for me on our front porch for those sultry summer days when our house doesn’t need the extra warmth.
Here is a video that my stepdaughter Avalon made last summer when I taught her how to make pickles! Isn’t she the cutest?