Saturday, August 21, 2010

it's all about the pickles

I think in every stage of a person's life, there are lessons that you must learn. I am becoming aware that for me my stage lesson is patience. Patience in the rythmn of life is paramount as I sit with my mother through her end stage of life. It is a hard but fruitful lesson.

Now, I don't really think of myself as patient but I am more than willing to nurture a carboy of wine through its natural fermentation stage, not using chemicals to hurry things along. I love the nine-day pickle currently slowly ripening in crocks along my kitchen counter....there is nothing, and I mean nothing, commercially available that rivels these succulent pieces of cucumber, silverskin onion, and cauliflower.

The pickle begins like most. Wash and cut cukes, peel silverskins till you can't look another in the eye,and add just enough chunks of cauliflower to make a happy little family. Pile as many of them in a crock as you can (leaving room for weight to sit atop and the lid).

Boil up a pickle brine of water and salt (at a 2:1 ratio of water to salt) and pour over the unsuspecting raw veg and let the magic begin. Now this isn't overnight magic. This magic waits three days, then strain out the veg into a big bowl and pour the brine into a large pot. Bring it to the boil to kill off any wayward bacteria (straining any foam off the top). Once the crock is free of brine, put the wanna-be pickles back in, then after your brine has come to a full rollickingt boil, pour it overtop. Drape a cotton cloth over the top to let the steam out and the mixture to cool. Repeat this in three more days, then another three. On the tenth day drain the pickles into the sink, put them into a huge bowl and pour 1 gallon of water with 1 tbsp alum over the pickles. Let this sit for an hour then drain again. The alum water helps the pickles retain their crispness.

While you are waiting for the alum water to take effect (and have made a nice cup of tea), make up a pickle concotion of 6c vinegar, 8 c sugar, a spice bag with 1oz celery seed, 1 oz allspice, and one cinnamon stick, boiling these ingredients together and then pouring them over the pickles which have been put into quart sealer jars. No need to process in a water bath because the boiling pickle liquid will seal the jar as it cools. Your house will smell like an amazing delicatessan (when little, my sister and I referred to these as "stinky pickles" and would run around the house with teatowels around our faces to block the smell....)

Now I know this seems to be a lot of work for some pickles. In our immediate gratification world, it just might be. But the pleasure of opening a crisp jar of these mixed pickles and enjoying them with some cheese and crackers makes up for any length of time in creating them. But they just might make me a patient person after all, and able to withstand the difficult days ahead.