12 April 2010

Family recipe Monday: pickles

We are all ready for the farmer's market to start up again this year. This being the northern part of the Great Plains, the season of productivity starts later and ends earlier than the season in the southern extent of the plains (aka the tropics of the Texas Panhandle), where I grew up. My colleagues in the tropics of DC and the Southeast are gleefully writing about tilling gardens and planting containers full of lovely greenery. Yesterday, I was looking at three-foot-high piles of snow left over from the last storm that hit the Black Hills. This is just what spring is like up here. Last year at this time, we were only halfway through the blizzard run for the month. The container plantings will have to wait a bit.

In the meantime, I am pulling together the various pickling recipes from the Simple Gifts files. Here are some I'm planning to try this year, in addition to the various crabapple, wild plum and other preserves that worked well last year. Here's one from my aunt Melba's mother, from Louisiana.

Slack lime pickles (sweet)
1 gallon cucumbers, sliced
1 cup slack lime
2 gallons water

Slice cucumbers and soak 24 hours in lime water. Wash and soak 1 hour in clear water. Drain well.

3 quarts vinegar
8 cups sugar
2 T salt
1/2 box pickling spice

Cook pickles 1½ to 2 hours, or until tender in vinegar, sugar, salt and spice. Put in jars and seal.
--Mrs. Royal D. Campbell (Melba Campbell Johnson’s mother)

Note: slack lime (or slaked lime) is the same as pickling lime. Up here, we can get it at the feed store, in pickling season.

It seems that everyone in the family had a different recipe (and even a different name) for the mixed-vegetable preserve that my grandmother called chow chow. This one could be mild to outright scary, depending on your choice of hot peppers.

Chow chow
1 gallon green tomatoes
5 large onions
1 large cabbage head
1 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ green (bell) pepper
12 hot peppers
1 ½ tsp. each cloves, cinnamon, ginger
1 T salt
3 to 4 apples
4 cups vinegar

Chop green tomatoes fine. Salt and let stand overnight. Press out juice and add other chopped ingredients and cook 20 minutes. Can. To double: use 1 peck green tomatoes, 10 large onions, 6 cups vinegar, 3 cups sugar, 1 T of each of the spices, 2 T salt.
 --Vada Brooks Johnson

Notice that doubling the recipe does not necessarily meaning doubling all the ingredients. If you are following the casserole philosophy of one to keep, one to share, you will find that you need to be careful about the doubling proportions in spicing and canning. In this recipe, for example, you already have enough peppers for taste and heat before you begin doubling. Trust us on this one.

Here is a classic from the 1950s. Red food coloring, cinnamon sticks AND Red-Hots cinnamon candy are used for an unexpectedly zippy preparation. I have to admit that I have not tried to make this one, myself...

Cucumber rings (Lois’s pickles)

1 gallon cucumber rings, peeled, sliced, and centers cut out
1 ½ cup pickling lime
8 ½ quarts water

Combine and soak 24 hours. Drain and wash enough to get rid of all lime. Combine 1 cup vinegar, 1 T alum, and 1 small bottle of red food coloring. Add to cucumber rings and add enough water to cover. Simmer 2 hours and drain off. In another pan, mix 2 cups vinegar, 2 cups water, 10 cups sugar, 8 sticks cinnamon, and 1 10-oz pkg. Red-Hots candy. Bring to a boil and pour over rings. Repeat a second day. Heat all to a boil on third day and seal.
--Gladys Brooks Strickland

More on this subject next week. Happy Monday.

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