PICKLES: ONE OF MY FAVORITE FOOD GROUPS

“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.”

–John Wilson

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
Garlic cloves
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?

 

 

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Launching Our Family YouTube Channel

I have exciting news, the Waldos are making plans for the summer. My family has made a commitment to join me in blogging. In addition, we are going to start vlogging together. After receiving many questions about our farm projects, we thought creating a YouTube channel would be a great way to share and log our progress. It will add a layer Produce with Amy and serve as a time capsule for our projects. Our hope is to help others who want to grow their own food, be resourceful, and learn with us on this journey to maximize our health and productivity. We are enlisting our community to help us move forward with our creativity. Thank you! 

Today we made our first video to launch our family YouTube channel, Superior Maple Grove Farm. We hope to post our DIY projects and our farm adventures. From creating an eco-system for bees, building ponds, growing food in a high tunnel/hoop house, and raising chickens – our hope for this channel is to share our challenges, victories, and dreams for the future. Of course I will continue to make recipes and we will make sure to address Avalon and Lukas’ interests as well.

We believe in reciprocal education and hope our viewers learn something from us and we hope to learn from you. Thank you for watching! The Waldos – Amy, John, Avalon and Lukas. ❤

Subscribe to our channel here: Superior Maple Grove Farm

ASIAN INFUSED SALAD WITH CHILI LIME DRESSING

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.
— May Sarton

Did someone say spring fever? Yes, I am feeling anxious for summer. Even though I try to be the kind of person who views the glass as half full, believe me when I say that I gave winter the evil eye this year. Yes, I live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Yes, I have lived here for most of my forty-six years. Yes, I know that I should savor each moment and wish life to move fast forward. Still, I find myself wistful for long hikes and vases full of fresh-cut flowers from my back yard. I watch the chickens preen in the sunshine and I eagerly anticipate long daylight hours filled with warmth and all of the possibility that we can gather in a few short months.

Since my family is fortunate to have a hoop house, April will be planting season for us and we are investing a lot of sweat equity into our garden this year. For a couple of months now we have been starting seeds in our house. My husband John started broccoli, Brussels sprouts, pumpkin, watermelon, and an assortment of flowers. Last weekend I started tomatoes and cucumbers. Check out the “mini-greenhouses” I used to plant cucumbers and recycle the large clamshell containers that greens come in from the supermarket.

In the fall it was difficult to go back to buying greens for salads and smoothies after being able to grow our own all spring and summer.
However, I found a neat way to recycle the large clamshell packages. They make great mini-greenhouses to start seeds. Fill with soil, plant seeds, water, close the top, and place in a sunny windowsill until your seeds germinate. 🌱🌱

Pumpkin plant windowsill garden.

We have a tiny house but we maximize our space and take advantage of the wonderful sunlight.

This weekend I am picking up squash seeds (zucchini, yellow summer squash, spaghetti squash, and butternut squash) to also start indoors. While we still have several feet of snow on the ground, on sunny days the temperature is reaching the low 70s in the hoop house. I can already taste the green beans, broccoli, and peas and I cannot wait to be able to pick fresh greens daily for salads.

When I make salads as an entrée for work or dinner, I like to bulk them up with ingredients that are going to have staying power. I love to add beans or nuts for protein and whole wheat pasta, other grains, or quinoa. For the salad that I am sharing with you this month, I decided to use rice noodles – because I thought they would work well with the spicy chili lime dressing. I usually have them on hand because my husband and I love them in my hot and sour mushroom soup. Rice noodles come in a variety of textures (for this salad I used a thin noodle) but the thicker strands would work well too. Both the rice noodles and the garlic chili sauce (that I use in the dressing) can be purchased in the Asian section of the supermarket.

This salad can be plated or made in a jar. While I used clementine oranges or “Cuties”, pineapple or whatever fruit or berries that are in season would work great. The sweetness of fruit partners well with the spiciness of the dressing.
I love to create vibrant salads, since we eat with our eyes first, and I think that taking time to artfully arrange food helps deepen our enjoyment and brings eating to a new level. That is why I enjoy making jar salads. Not only do the jars keep the salads fresh for up to a week, but they help make the salads visually appealing and ready to grab-and-go for work or when you are pressed for time at home. I love being able to prep my salads once for a healthy meal all week-long.

Normally, when I make dressing, I use my Vitamix blender. However, for this dressing, I wanted a chunkier consistency so I added all the ingredients into a pint-sized mason jar, put the lid on and gave it a good shake.

CHILI LIME DRESSING

  • 1 cup of rice vinegar
  • 1 lime (juice and zest. If you are using bottled lime juice, one lime renders approximately 1/4 cup)
  • 1 clove of minced garlic
  • 2 Tablespoons of sesame oil (sesame oil has a very distinct taste and I love to use it to stir fry vegetables as well)
  • 2 Tablespoons of tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon garlic chili sauce (Warning — chili sauce is SPICY so you may want to add a little at a time. I like heat so I even added more after mixing)
  • 1 Tablespoon of finely chopped onion (I used red onion but green onions would be great for this dressing)
  • 1 Tablespoon of finely chopped fresh ginger root (ginger has a very strong taste and if you are not used to it, I suggest adding a little at a time)
  • Fresh cilantro, finely chopped (1 used 1/4 cup. If you do not like cilantro, parsley would work well)

In the summer I also add a sprig of fresh mint and freshly chopped chives to the dressing.

 

I added 4 Tablespoons of dressing to the bottom of each jar and layered the following ingredients:

Orange bell pepper (chopped)
1 cup of snow peas
Edamame (I make sure to buy organic and purchase in the freezer section and thaw and use in the salads)
Rice noodles (cooked and cooled)
Sunflower seeds
Clementines
Cabbage (chopped)

I made four salads using quart Mason jars. You can decide how much of each ingredient to add. I used ¼ cup each of sunflower seeds, noodles, and edamame. I divided up one small bell pepper, used one clementine per jar, and filled the rest with crunchy cabbage (packing it well to ensure the salad had enough cabbage). Red cabbage works well with this salad as do carrots, tomatoes, broccoli – and if you eat meat you can add chicken or shrimp.

As sure as the geese will return to Upper Michigan skies, this salad will make a great addition to your spring and summer menu. It would be a great dish to bring to a picnic (imagine making small individual salads for everyone in pint jars). The dressing is versatile and while it perks up cabbage or greens in your salad, it is equally delicious drizzled over steamed or roasted vegetables.

If you have spring fever like I do, I hope you find a way to satisfy your yearning for warming days. Now is the perfect time to start some seeds indoors for your own vegetable garden. If you have limited space think about growing tomatoes and fresh herbs in containers. You will thank yourself in a few months when you are making salads from your own fresh produce. Trust me, food always tastes better when it is grown and prepared with a labor of love.

Watermelon sprouts.


 

Spring Fever Remedy: Cucumber Soup

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
― Robert Louis Stevenson

Our hoop house is in the distance, patiently awaiting summer.

 

 

Today is a snow day off of work/school and to say that I have spring fever is an understatement. I have been dreaming of leafy green vegetation since the first hint of snowflakes graced the sky. A couple of weeks ago my husband John planted trays of seeds in our family room window, and in front of our sliding glass door. Daily we watch the thermometer that measures the temperature in our hoop house – waiting until it is warm enough at night to start planting the seedlings. Today it is only 30 degree in the hoop house, but on sunny days it has been reaching the low 50s. Last summer was our first taste of large scale gardening and we are hooked. Winter was our time to dream and make plans for even better produce.

Morning Glory

This was in the beginning of the season. We ended up going to a drip hose watering method since the plants were ENORMOUS and a sprinkler wasn’t able to do the job.

Last year we were able to harvest cucumbers from July until late October. Not only were we able to fill our shelves with quarts of pickles, we were also able to share our bounty with friends.

It was a learning process since it was our first year with a hoop house. This year we will be adding a large fan to circulate the air and we will be start our pumpkins inside and move them outside. We will also make sure that we have plenty of seedlings as backup for when plants (such a broccoli) go to seed and stop producing.

We used a trellis system with pulleys and plastic clips for the tomato and cucumber plants.

As I tried to come up with different ways to serve up crunchy slices of cucumbers, I often joked that I needed to come up with a cucumber cookbook. While my eleven-year-old step daughter Avalon’s favorite way to enjoy cucumber is putting them on her eyes to pretend she is at a spa, I think one of my favorite ways is a cool and refreshing bowl of cucumber soup. In fact, this time of year I find myself yearning so much for summer that I make sure that I pick up the ingredients at the supermarket so I can whip up a batch.

We harvested this many cucumbers often on a daily basis.

 

My favorite way to eat cucumbers is sliced with some fresh dill, raw apple cider vinegar, and salt and pepper. I am even known to eat this for breakfast.

This soup is light, healthy, and a wonderful way to welcome spring. You will also want to set this recipe aside to recreate in the summer when cucumbers are in their prime. It is a wonderful meal when the temperatures soar and cooking in a hot kitchen feels out of the question.

Stick with wholesome and fresh ingredients and your body will thank you.

CREAMY CUCUMBER SOUP WITH AVOCADO & DILL (makes one large bowl or two small)

*1 large Cucumber
*1 cup of Plain yogurt (use your favorite brand – low fat or full fat version. Greek yogurt is thick and works well for this dish)
*Juice and zest of one lemon or lime
*
1/2 Avocado
*1 small clove of Garlic
*1 Tablespoon of Onion (or a couple green onions)
*Few leaves of Kale or Spinach
*¼ cup of fresh Dill (or to taste)
*Salt and Pepper to Taste

If it is a garden cucumber, or organic from the market, I only remove ½ of the peelings. Cut the cucumber in half and with a spoon remove the seeds (they make the soup too runny). Chop and reserve ½ of the cucumber. Add the other half of the cucumber and the rest of the ingredients to a blender. Do a quick blend if you want the soup to be chunky and longer if you want it smooth. Pour in a bowl and add the chopped cucumber to the top and a sprig of fresh dill.

This soup is extremely versatile and if you are not fond of dill you can use cilantro. I like to add different toppings depending on what I have on hand. Some of our favorites are kalamata olives, feta cheese, and grape tomatoes. Sometimes if I am looking for a lighter soup, I leave out the avocado. Since it’s so easy to make you can leave the ingredients out for friends or family members to make their own bowl.

It only seemed fitting that I snapped a photo last summer in the hoop house. ❤

If you have spring fever like I do, I encourage you to try a new recipe or do something light and lively with the decor in your home. Grab your camera and record the way the sunlight sifts through bare branches or watch the way your pets delight in puddles of sunshine. Continue to dream and eventually spring will be here! Until then, make the most of today and enjoy every healthy moment.

 

Here you can see the pulley system that we used for our plants. It really worked well and we will be using this system again. It is unbelievable how heavy tomato plants and cucumber vines get and this system really helped hoist them up.

The Sweet Spot

“Good, old-fashioned ways keep hearts sweet, heads sane, hands busy.”
―Louise May Alcott

It is true that I shocked a lot of people a few years ago when I made a major lifestyle switch. A new name. Step kids. Yet, the most shocking revelation to many was that I made residence on a farm. When I reconnect with former students and old friends they often chuckle to learn that I am embracing my current crazy-chicken-lady status with wild abandon. Though, honestly, I think that my bond to nature has always run deep. I was born and raised in the UP of Michigan by hard-working parents who built a house with their bare hands (I am not kidding either. My father built his own sawmill and skidded and milled all of the lumber and built the entire house from the foundation up). When I met John, even though we are vastly different, not only did I instantly realize that he had my dad’s work ethic, but we had a lot of things in common. We both desired a life that incorporated tranquility, old-fashioned values, and a link with nature. Not to mention the synchronicity that was playing out in all of our lives. John, the kids, and I – came into each other’s lives at the perfect time. We made an instant connection. We needed each other.

I think often of the original homesteaders who cleared our land and built our home with trees cut from the property (the original section of our house is over 125 years old). When exploring our property you will find fences made from heaps of stones EVERYWHERE. The same stones that they toiled to remove, we now use to landscape the two ponds that John built, as well as repurpose for our flower beds and around the pool. I honor their hard work and feel that using these rocks give our projects more significance – it gives them a story.

My Renaissance Man John pensive in thought.

We are thankful for the rocks for landscaping.

I wonder how many years ago the apple trees in our orchard were planted? The trees give the landscape a personality. I watch them travel from each season and I feel moved by their beauty. The first hint of rosy buds takes my breath away. Their branches move from bony winter to startling green – then the most dizzying display of white and pink ruffled blossoms until their grand display – boughs drooping and heavy with fruit. The orchard shade is often where we pull up chairs to take a quick break from working in the hoop house. It is here that Lukas takes joy in being able to pop an icy root beer (kept just for him in the shop refrigerator) though he is always ready to share that first sip (he is a sweet and thoughtful boy). Were these trees planted in hopes that their canopy would someday provide shelter as well as fruit? Did the people who planted them rest like we do and marvel in the serenity around them? Did they listen to the haunting cry of the cranes and feel wistful when the sky aches green after a thunderstorm like I do?

Our apple trees were loaded with blossoms this spring.

The apple trees provide a lovely shady spot when we need to pause from a project.

Mid-summer the apples start to get big.

Rosy autumn apples.

The trees barren and waiting for spring.

Someday long after we are gone, will the owners of this farm wonder about us? Will they question who planted the peach and cherry trees, the blueberry bushes, the grapes, and the masses of tulips, daffodils, lilies, roses, and gladioli?

I have always wanted a front porch. Therefore, I was charmed the first time I visited John and saw his beautiful log home, with a covered porch. Now it’s “our home” – our happy place. It was thrilling last summer to close on our mortgage and become farm and home owners together. Our hard work is a legacy that we want to pass on to Avalon and Lukas.
The winters in the UP are fierce, which makes our summers twice as sweet. I feel it is my responsibility to soak up every moment of bliss in the summer and I have found that our porch is the perfect place to relax with lazy dogs (not Meesha – the youngest of our two German Shepherds – she will continually drop her throw toy at your feet).

Meesha ❤

Mid afternoon is best when the breezes blow (as a teacher I am afforded and thankful for this luxury). Early mornings and at dusk the zombie mosquitos tend to attack. Yet I’ve been known to enjoy a cup of morning coffee (though I prefer one of the ponds as a backdrop with our three clambering ducks: Lucky, Dante, and Beatrice) or a cold drink at night (usually while John is still working hard on a project).

Last summer I painted the rocking chairs bright red. I also love adding color with pots and collected treasures. In the summer I haul out the house plants, and because I am thrifty, I winter the ferns and geraniums. Last year I potted hostas in pots and they did lovely on the porch that gets plenty of shade. I then planted them around the pool in the fall (there’s always a spot for a hosta).


John can’t look at the porch without thinking it needs to be power washed. Yes, our hens free range across the porch in the morning. Though, there’s only so many hours in the day. Plus, it’s the imperfections that make life worth living. A reminder that life is beautiful in spite of flaws – temporal and fleeting – but worth savoring and working hard for our dreams.
July is the sweet spot of summer since we are set free of time commitments (softball/baseball games and youth theatre). Last July we were truly able to surrender to family dinners, home projects, the backyard fire pit, and star-gazing.

This year July will be different since we are planning a large-scale home addition (doubling the size of our living quarters) and we are also planning a long-awaited vacation to Alaska with Avalon and Lukas. My husband reminds me so much of my father and he can build anything. I am excited to watch our living space grow and eagerly await the memories that we create as a family.

It is almost February, and the snow continues to gleam – a white and frosty landscape as far as the eye can see. Until then, our porch awaits. A character in our story. A graceful reminder of when people lived their lives outside. The reason why John and I fell in love and are committed to work hard together to create a life worth putting all of our eggs into one basket. ❤

Remi and Meesha our loyal companions.

Putting all our eggs in one basket. ❤