The old phrase goes, "monkey see, monkey do..." Last week I read the NYT article on the new hipness of canning, and I felt a wave of nostalgia that brought me to this week's extracurricular project: pickle making. I have a stash of memories involving my family and making things in clean, glass Ball jars that were just so delicious. And half the fun was putting them in the jar, the best part being the sucking snap of the seal at the moment the jars reached the right temperature.
My family recipes are not for the exotic asparagus of the NYT article; they are for pickles, relishes, jams, and grapes. On my great-great-aunt's farm, one point in a triangle of my grandparents' home and my aunt's house, there was an old grapevine, over a century old, and I loved to pick the grapes from the vine. They were sweet and somewhat leathery--nothing like grapes from the grocery store. My father would collect them, store them in jars with sugar and water. Then after months, you could pull out the sweet grapes and eat them, and the water became a grape juice cocktail. When the old farm was sold ten or so years ago, my father took some cuttings from the old vine, and he now has his own vine growing over a homemade trellis on the deck.
I am far from the grapes, but there are plenty of cucumbers to be had. Yesterday I went down to Shaw's and with a little help from the produce department, I picked out fifteen fat juicy cucumbers. Here's the recipe:
Sweet Brown Pickles, from the kitchen of Grammy Kitten
- 3 to 4 quarts of cucumber chunks
Put the cucumber pieces in a large kettle, and add 4 to 5 tablespoons of salt. (In the old days, we used Morton's. For this batch, I used fancy schmancy sea salt from Williams Sonoma.) Cover the kettle and shake to evenly distribute the salt. Leave for several hours so the salt will absorb the excess water from the fruit--I leave it overnight. In the morning, the cucumbers will be floating in salt water.
Dump the cucumbers into a collander and drain the salt water. RINSE THOROUGHLY. You do not want salt in this recipe, so rinse and rinse again. I rinse, then let them drain in the sink, rinse again, about four or five times. Taste a piece to make sure they are throughly de-salted. When they're clean, put the cucumber chunks back in the (also rinsed) kettle.
Put on a low heat. Add:
- 2 cups of cider vinegar
- 2 lbs of dark brown sugar
- 1 tsp ground cloves
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp nutmeg
Once they're cooked, get out your jars, rinsed in hot water. (You can boil them if you want to be strictly by-the-book, but I just run them under the tap. Ladle in the pickles with an even amount of the juice into the jars, add the flat lid and the screw lid. (Now for the fun part.) Let them sit on the counter, and as they cool, the dissapating heat sucks in the flat lid in a vacuum seal. (I just heard mine pop!)
Now you can't eat these pickles right away, they need to cure. So put a label on them (file labels work fine, or you can usually buy labels from the hardware store that sells the jars), with either the date you made them, or a date three months later--which is when they are ready to eat. They are lovely with meatloaf or steak, or any red meat, but feel free to try them with whatever you want.