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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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.

Creamy Cucumber & Dill Dressing ~ Homemade & Plant-Based

95“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” 
― Henry James

I am so thankful for a relaxing Independence Day weekend. Mike and I basked in the glow of family, friends, laughter, and sunshine. We spent many hours on the water and were sad to see the weekend come to an end.

Even though I had the best of intentions, I ended up overdoing it on chips, picnic food, and beverages. The heat and sodium really impacts my body so the past couple of days I have been making sure that I am staying hydrated with plenty of water, fruit, and vegetables.

Did you know that cucumbers contain properties that help bring down water retention? Not only are cucumbers comprised of over 90% water but they are also great for our skin and joints because they contain the vitamins A, B, and C and the minerals potassium, magnesium, and silica. Cucumbers aid in digestion and are such a crisp and nourishing addition to salads. Yesterday, while gathering groceries, I added six large cucumbers to my shopping cart (sadly the cucumbers that I planted a long way off from harvesting). This morning I woke up craving cucumbers, so for breakfast I had a salad with cucumbers, romaine, red leaf lettuce, tomato, green bell pepper, avocado, and topped with a plant-based Creamy Cucumber and Dill Dressing that I whipped up. It was  fresh and delicious and really hit the spot after an indulgent weekend. Cucumber and dill make the perfect combination and this recipe will be fantastic with summer’s abundance of crisp cucumbers in the supermarket, the farmers market, and if you are lucky ~ in your garden.

11

CREAMY CUCUMBER & DILL DRESSING

  • 1 large cucumber with seeds removed (2 cups. Use a spoon to scrape out the seeds)13
  • 1/2 cup of unsweetened almond milk (If you consume dairy you could swap this out for plain Greek yogurt)
  • 1/2 cup of raw nuts of choice (I used a mix that included cashews, almonds, macadamia, and walnuts) The nuts help give the dressing body and thickness without using the chemicals and additives found in store-bought dressings.
  • 1/4 cup lemon or lime juice (I would recommend lemon but I used lime since that is what I had on hand)
  • 3 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar (any vinegar would work but rice vinegar tends to be more mild)
  • 1 Tablespoon onion
  • 1 clove garlic (1/2 if is is a large clove)
  • 1/4 cup fresh dill (dried would work and I would suggest adding a bit at a time and taste test)14
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional ~ sprig of fresh mint and chives (I add to everything in the summer since I have both in my garden. Mint works well with cucumber)

Blend well and chill in a jar or cruet.  I recommend serving the dressing cold.

This recipe makes 2 cups so if you do not eat salads often, you might want to make half of the recipe.

I buy raw nuts in the bulk section of our local co-op. However, I also purchase raw nuts t from Target.

I buy raw nuts in the bulk section of our local co-op. However, I also purchase raw nuts t from Target.

This dressing will keep for up to a week or longer (because of the vinegar and citrus)  in the refrigerator.

It tends to thicken while stored so you might want to thin it out with a bit of water or more vinegar or citrus juice.

I did not add any oil to the dressing. When I dressed my salad this morning I measured out 2 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil so I could get exactly the serving of oil that I desired.

I always make sure to plant fresh herbs in the summer. Mint and chives are perennials and will come back each year.

I always make sure to plant fresh herbs in the summer. Mint and chives are perennials and will come back each year. Mint can be invasive so you might want to plant it in a pot and bury in the ground. I do not mind it flourishing and have ours planted in a corner flower bed.

I love the cucumber dressing on top of sliced cucumbers. What a perfect summer salad.

I love the cucumber dressing on top of sliced cucumbers. What a perfect summer salad.

This was my breakfast. In the summer I  love starting my day with something light and refreshing.

This was my breakfast. In the summer I love starting my day with something light and refreshing.

Homemade dressing ~ free of additives.

Homemade dressing ~ free of additives.

If you are interested in other homemade plant-based dressings, here are some that I featured in previous posts:

Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette

Orange Dill Vinaigrette

Tangy Ranch and Zesty Avocado

In this post, I use homemade hummus and my twist on tabouli for salad dressing: Israeli Feast

These salad dressing recipes and recipes from other posts can be found at my Produce with Amy Pinterest board.

I hope you enjoy the Creamy Cucumber and Dill Dressing as much as I do.  It would make a great dip for vegetables and it is similar to Greek tzatziki sauce and would be terrific on a sandwich or wrap.

It is a perfect taste of summer and a great way for us to fill our  plate with this season’s freshest produce. July is here for us to savor and appreciate and choosing healthy foods will give us the energy and stamina we need to stay active and productive. Have a great week!

Creamy Cucumber and Dill Dressing

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