Saturday, July 3, 2010

Stupid Pickles Better Be Worth It

Last week Alexus sent me a web link that has occupied and intrigued me for days. As so simply, yet artfully, described on the site, Smith Magazine "is a home for storytelling. We believe everyone has a story, and everyone should have a place to tell it." The Six-Word Memoir Project, in both book and e-zine form, is manifestation of this creative mission. From this page, you can check out recent submissions (updated daily) or browse by categories like "Family, Love, Wrong, Life, Thought, Art," etc: What would you say if you had to condense one day, one month, one life into six words?

In addition to the title, I might think, or maybe even whisper, these...
Glad we went for ice cream.
Things don't happen for a reason.
Going home made me happy again.
Willie is a bully but funny.
Isabella makes me think I could.
Sing Indian Outlaw with me loudly.
There will never be enough time.
Very few people really know me.
Curtains don't have to be perfect.
I won't look back and wonder.
Should've included littering on unawesome list.
My friends have such different lives.
I miss regularity but need flexibility.
Others will always question my decisions.
I wish I really enjoyed exercising.
Coffee is better at others' homes.
My mind can never sit still.
Realizing my family isn't the norm.
It's okay to feel crazy sometimes.
A few notes about my sure-to-be-mediocre Bread and Butter Pickles...

* I found the recipe on the wikiHow page, not in a great, great grandmother's recipe book that would in theory be tinted yellow by age and stained with remnants of deliciously fattening goodies that had escaped a cast iron dutch oven.
* The cucumbers were a community effort. A few did come from my raised bed, but they now happily coexist in three pint jars alongside prize winners from Andy's garden and where ever T.J. found his.
* The recipe I provide below is directly from the web page. However, I tweaked mine a bit. I started with 8 cucumbers and adjusted the remaining ingredients based on what I thought seemed appropriate ratios. The end result was 3 pint jars of pickles.
* I didn't have celery seed, so in addition to the turmeric and mustard seed, I used a pickling spice and a store-bought Bread and Butter Pickle mix. I probably also did a few other things that I can't remember right now.
* Make sure you have tongs with which to lift the jars in and out of the hot water. After I, and the dishtowel that I used to transport the pickles, turned a jar over in the pot, Mom decided that she would just got back to her house and grab some lifter-tong-things.
* I'm glad I tried this. It was definitely rewarding to see the finished product on my counter, BUT, unless they are pretty damn good, I'm not sure I will be doing pickles again anytime soon. If so, I will make sure that I have enough cucumbers to do more than three jars.

6 quarts pickling cucumbers, thickly sliced
1 quart onions, sliced
*First soakbrine of 1/2 cup salt to 4 quarts water to cover

Pickling liquid:
6 cups vinegar
6 cups sugar
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 teaspoon mustard seed

1. Obtain pickling cucumbers. Grow your own, or ask around at produce stands or farmers' markets in late summer. Pickling cucumbers are smaller than most salad cucumbers, perhaps 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter and 3 to 6 inches long. Plan that 6 to 7 medium pickling cucumbers, or about one pound, sliced, will yield about 3 cups. Thus, for six quarts of sliced cucumbers, you will need about 8 pounds of cucumbers.

2. Wash the cucumbers thoroughly and slice them thickly, about 1/4 inch thick. Do not peel them. Measure the sliced cucumbers until you have about 6 quarts. Cut out any bad spots as you go.

3. Slice the onions. Leave them in half-rings, or if you prefer, aim for bite-sized lengths.

4. Prepare brine for the first soak using 1/2 cup of salt for every 4 quarts of water. Cover the cucumber and onion mixture in this brine. Let the mixture soak for three hours.

5. Sterilize at least a dozen canning jars by boiling them in water for 10 minutes. If you prepare them ahead of time, store them upside-down on a clean towel, covered by another clean towel.

6. Drain the salt water out of the onion and cucumber mixture and discard it.

7. Prepare the pickling liquid. Bring the vinegar, sugar, and spices to a boil in a large saucepan or pot. Then, add the drained vegetables to the mixture and bring the combination to a boil.

8. Prepare the seals. Boil about an inch of water in the bottom of a wide saucepan. Remove the saucepan from heat and place the jar lids individually into the water. Let them sit for a minute or two. Do this immediately prior to use.

9. Pack the cucumbers and onions into the sterilized jars. Leave 1/2 inch of head space (space between the top of the food and the jar rim). Pour the hot pickling liquid over the vegetables, leaving 1/2 inch of head space. Stir the pickling liquid as you go to keep the spices mixed in.

10. Remove any air bubbles from within the jar using a knife (ideally a long, slender plastic one, to avoid harming the food or the jar).

11. Wipe the jar rim with a damp, clean cloth to remove any residue. Use a lid wand to lift the seals out of the hot water. Center the seal on the rim of the jar. Screw on the ring so that it is snug but do not over-tighten. (The idea is to contact the wax sealing surface firmly without displacing it altogether.)

12. Place the filled jars in a water-bath canner or a large stock pot, using a rack to prevent direct contact between the bottom of the pot and the jars. Fill the canner with hot water until the tops of the jars are at least an inch below the surface of the water.

13. Bring the canner full of water and jars to a boil and boil for 15 minutes, adding more time if you are at high altitude.

14. Remove the jars from the boiling water and place them on an old towel in a sheltered area to cool overnight. The next day, check the seals by pressing down in the center. The seal should not move up and down or make noise when pressed.

15. Notice that if the jars are sticky, wait until they have cooled completely, at least 24 hours. Clean the sealed jars with dish soap in room-temperature water and label them with the contents and the date. Allow the jars to dry thoroughly before storing them.


  1. Your pickles look awesome! I canned pickles for the first time myself last year. The sweet pickles I made turned out great, but the dill pickles not so great. Hope you enjoy all your hard work!

  2. Thanks, Dema! If they turn out to be even decent, I'll share with you and Lindsey!

  3. Glad you went for ice cream.
    Took a new job teaching freshmen.
    New bikes will always feel faster.