Winning Seasons


Since my first canning experience over the Fourth of July weekend this summer, I’ve made two batches of Ruth’s Bread and Butter Pickles, and they are already long gone.  I guess eating or giving away everything you’ve canned in the space of two months kind of defeats the purpose of putting up food for winter.

As it is allegedly autumn, despite the 100+ degree temperatures in Southern California, I figure that soon, good pickling cucumbers will be difficult to come by, so I’d better get in another few batches before it’s too late.  So, that’s the plan for tomorrow.  It may be a few more days before I can start another cookbook (however, since my friend Carmen requested something from the Pacific Northwest, I can tell you that Portland is next up).

In the meantime, here’s a repeat from the Junior League of Tuscaloosa’s Winning Seasons.  If you’re in the market for a pickle recipe, I can think of none finer and few easier.

Ruth’s Bread and Butter Pickles

Ruth's Bread and Butter Pickles

Ruth's Bread and Butter Pickles

4 quarts medium cucumbers (about 6 pounds sliced)
1 1/2 cups onions (12 to 15 small white ones, or about 1 pound sliced)
2 large garlic cloves
1/3 cup salt
1 to 2 quarts ice, crushed or cubed
4 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon tumeric
1 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
2 tablespoons mustard seed
3 cups clear, distilled vinegar

Wash cucumbers thoroughly, using a vegetable brush, and drain on rack. Slice unpeeled cucumbers into 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch slices.

Add onions, garlic and salt; cover with crushed ice or ice cubes, mix thoroughly, and allow to stand for 3 hours. Drain thoroughly and remove garlic. Combine sugar, spices, and vinegar; heat just to a boil. Add cucumber and onion slices and heat 5 minutes. Pack loosely into clean, hot, pint standard canning jars. Adjust lids. Process in boiling water bath canner (212 degrees F.) for 5 minutes. Yields 7 pints.

Ruth G. Kirkpatrick

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Published in 1979, the canning recipes in the Junior League of Tuscaloosa’s Winning Seasons are slightly more descriptive and helpful than those in my Junior League cookbooks from the 50s and 60s.  However, for the most part, they still assume you know the basics.  In case you don’t, or in case you missed my previous post, here are a few of them (and if you need additional help, I’m told that the Ball Blue Book of Preserving is the bible of canning).

  1. Wash your jars in warm, soapy water.
  2. Bring a giant canning pot of water to a boil.  This will take forever, or to be more precise, about 45 minutes.  Then, sterilize your jars by boiling for at least 10 minutes.
  3. Heat your lids and metal rings in hot, but not boiling water, and have ready.
  4. After loading your jars with fruit or vegetables (but especially fruit preserves), run the end of a wooden spoon through the food to break up any air bubbles, then wipe the rim of the jar with a damp, clean cloth.
  5. Center the lids on the mouths of the jars, and screw on the metal rings, just until you get a little bit of resistance.  Do not screw rings on tight.
  6. Process in boiling water for 5-10 minutes with pot lid on.
  7. If processing worked, lids will be depressed and taut.  If it didn’t, they’ll pop when you press you finger to the center.

If there is one thing I can say about my skills in the kitchen, it is that I am pretty good at timing things and as a result, am rarely frantic when I cook.  However, during my first round of canning, I was a mess.  Nothing boiled when I needed it to, some things boiled when they shouldn’t have, and for a good half hour, I was using my jar lifter upside down.  I also scalded my thumb, and was sort of crazy and mean to Brady, saying things like, “Potts, I want your help.  I don’t want your opinions.”

He was a good sport, mostly because I am unintentionally hilarious when I am crazy and mean.

Ironically, the first thing I canned came out the best.  It’s a delicious pickle recipe – tart, crisp, and sweet, and evidently, one that can be pulled off by an absolute beginner.

Ruth’s Bread and Butter Pickles

Ruth's Bread and Butter Pickles

Ruth's Bread and Butter Pickles

4 quarts medium cucumbers (about 6 pounds sliced)
1 1/2 cups onions (12 to 15 small white ones, or about 1 pound sliced)
2 large garlic cloves
1/3 cup salt
1 to 2 quarts ice, crushed or cubed
4 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon tumeric
1 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
2 tablespoons mustard seed
3 cups clear, distilled vinegar

Wash cucumbers thoroughly, using a vegetable brush, and drain on rack. Slice unpeeled cucumbers into 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch slices.

Cukes on Ice

Cukes on Ice

Add onions, garlic and salt; cover with crushed ice or ice cubes, mix thoroughly, and allow to stand for 3 hours. Drain thoroughly and remove garlic. Combine sugar, spices, and vinegar; heat just to a boil. Add cucumber and onion slices and heat 5 minutes. Pack loosely into clean, hot, pint standard canning jars. Adjust lids. Process in boiling water bath canner (212 degrees F.) for 5 minutes. Yields 7 pints.

Ruth G. Kirkpatrick

Following the success of my first canning attempt, I was feeling my oats.  But it would not be all sunshine and pickles.

Garlic Dill Pickles

Garlic Dill Pickles

Garlic Dill Pickles

Pickling cucumbers (not more than 5 or 6 inches long)
1/2 gallon white vinegar
1/2 gallon water
1 cup uniodized salt
1 teaspoon alum
8 flowers of dill
8 cloves of garlic
8 pods of red pepper (optional)

Place cucumbers in clean container with very hot water. They should be hot through and through; add more hot water if necessary. Bring to a boil the vinegar, water, salt, and alum. In each of 8 quart jars, put a dill flower, a clove of garlic, and a pod of pepper. Fill jars with hot cucumbers and pour boiling liquid over them. Seal. Process in a water bath canner for 5 minutes (212 degrees). Makes 8 quarts.

Mrs. David Hefelfinger (Virginia Mauney)

These pickles came out, um, not so good.  They were mushy, which I could overlook, but they were also very, very salty.  It was all I could do to finish half of one.  I could say, halve the salt, and maybe it would have worked better, but honestly, I don’t know if even half a cup of salt would be too much in this case.  I will have to keep experimenting, because I do love me a dill pickle.

However, the bread and butter pickles were so good, it will be hard to get me to make anything else.

And with that, the great canning experiment of 2009 comes to an end.  At least for a little while.  I may have to make some more stuff, if only because I have yet to find a place in the apartment to store my big canning pot and it’s still sitting on top of the stove.

bounty

Over this Independence Day weekend, on the heels of our visit to the nation’s capital, we at the Potts-McCoy house engaged in activities most American:  listening to Dodgers games on the radio, eating hot dogs, watching ridiculous movies from the Nicholas Cage oeuvre, circa mid-90s, and putting up pickles and preserves.

I like to think that Thomas Jefferson would have been pleased.  Or at least entertained.

This weekend, I taught myself to can and in the process, learned many valuable things, including:

  • When you buy $80 worth of canning supplies from a housewares store, sales clerks and customers alike will gather around you to discuss pepper jelly and the virtues of water bath versus pressure canning, and be sweet enough to ask all about what you’re making, and assure you that you’re not going to screw it up or send anybody to the hospital.
  • It is possible to have a conversation about pickling cucumbers even if the clerk speaks no English and you speak no Korean, and that a clerk willing to have that conversation probably runs a pretty good produce stand.
  • If your mom isn’t around to help you, it is crucially important that you have a self-sufficient Oklahoma farmgirl friend available for Gmail chats at critical, time-sensitive moments, and a husband with speed-Googling skills willing to shout instructions into a frantic, steamy kitchen, should Okie friend have the nerve not to be signed in and standing by to avert a crisis.
  • The rubber end of the jar lifter goes in your hand and the curved one goes on the jar (this took far longer to learn than it should have).
  • Canning is really, really fun, and makes you feel like some kind of 21st-century Rosie the Riveter badass.

Recipes, pictures, and more valuable lessons learned to follow.

When last I posted, I spoke of grand plans to do some Junior League cooking while on vacation with my family.  Technically speaking, this was possible.  We had a condo on Virginia Beach, a kitchen full of utensils and pots, access to a grill and fresh local seafood, and a copy of Tidewater on the Half Shell.  However, the sun was shining, the waves were tasty, my niece and nephews were cute and fun, and the last thing I found myself wanting to do on vacation was cook.  So, I didn’t.

Apologies to the Junior League of Norfolk-Virginia Beach, but cooking can happen anywhere, anytime – even regional cooking.  Watching a 3-year-old discover that the ocean exists only happens once, and it is pretty fun to watch.

After a few days at the beach with my family, Brady and I ventured on to our nation’s capital, where I made my pilgrimage to the Julia Child kitchen at the National Museum of American History:

Julia Child's scary kitchen implements

Julia Child's scary kitchen implements

And while there, we went through the ongoing exhibit Within These Walls, which tells the story of five families who lived in an Ipswitch, Massachusetts house over 200 years, through their furniture, household appliances, and other personal artifacts.

The part of the exhibit on the Scotts, who lived in the house during World War II, focuses on their kitchen, and their ration books.

The objects in the bottom right corner are compressed balls of tin foil.

The objects in the bottom right corner are compressed balls of tin foil.

And the exhibit gave me an idea.

So, this week, I’ll be cooking from the Junior League of Tuscaloosa, Alabama’s cookbook, Winning Seasons (1979), because it has a large and extensive pickling and preserving chapter to draw from.  Most Junior League cookbooks include a token 4-6 canning recipes, but Winning Seasons has page after page of delicious-sounding pickles, relishes, and jams, most of them cherished family recipes.

Now, you may ask, “Mary, have you ever canned before?”

And the answer to that is, “No.”

However, when I was little, my parents did, and I was forced to help.  My grandparents own a working farm that’s been in the family for over a century, so when I was growing up, my canning job was usually to go out and weed and/or pick the vegetables and/or fruits that would eventually be canned.  I was kept far away from the parts of the operation that involved boiling and pouring things that were boiling.

So, one still might ask, “Mary, do you know HOW to can?”

No, but I’ve seen it done.

As far as I can tell, it involves:

This +

This +

This +

This +

Would you trust this woman with your nation's Victory Preserves?

"We'll have lots to eat this winter, won't we, Mother?" Um... sure, kid +

= PROFIT!!!

= PROFIT!!!

Right?

Seeing as I spent $80 today on jars, pots, funnels, lifting devices, and pickling cucumbers, I suspect there will be a lot of canning going on this summer.  And, not to take the suspense out of it or anything, but if this goes even remotely well, people are probably going to be getting a lot of pickles and jam for Christmas this year.

Don’t complain.  When the zombie apocalypse comes, you’ll be grateful.

And, if next week, I haul all of that stuff to the curb, and vow never to can again, you’ll have a good laugh at my expense.