In a Pickle

Some things ask to be done, and it’s best to just do it. I had not planned to make pickles this week, but it’s the middle of the summer and five more cucumbers in the garden were ready to be picked (with more to come!) and there were already nine in the fridge, so it was time.

cukes to start with.jpg

I started with 14 cucumbers, sliced them up and layered them with salt in my big bowl (which is 7” high and 12” across the top). If you want to make these yourself, you let that sit about an hour. You could add sliced onions or green, yellow, red or orange peppers, or cauliflower cut up into florets, but I had so many cukes, I’m stopping there this time.

Part of cooking, part of life, is knowing where to draw the line.

Kenny Rogers doesn’t know it, but he really helped me a few years ago. I had a difficult decision to make and I kept hearing him singing in my head: You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run… Kenny knew. Sometimes you are just in a pickle about what to do and there are reasons for this choice and reasons for that. Should you hold on or let go? Stay or move? Buck up or give in? Hope for more or settle for what you have?

In the end, back then, I knew it was time to walk away. Not run, not bolt. Just walk. The voice in my head – his voice in my head – guided me not only in what choice to make, but also in the best way to do this thing that had to be done. Funny, the song doesn’t tell you what to do. It just tells you there are choices and you have to pick one. You can’t waffle, and you can’t pick them all. You think it through, you pick a route and you take it. It leads to new scenery and new experiences that you would not have on another route.

I picked the route tonight that included 14 cucumbers and it led me to nine jars of pickles! I made the dog happy too. Within seconds of opening fridge and beginning to bring the cucumbers out, she was out of her sound sleep, off the couch and at my feet. She LOVES cucumbers!

coco better.jpg

Carrots too, in case you’re wondering, and the heel of the romaine lettuce head, and peppers (the guts or the outside part with skin that we eat), and watermelon!

But we are on pickle-making now: Here are my cut-up cukes, resting, sweating (the salt will cause them to do that, really), relishing (hehe) their final unpickled moments.  cut up and salted.jpg

As soon as I am not being distracted by how many cucumber chips a small black pug can eat, or watching her adorable begging, I go get my jars. Everyone has a cabinet with jars in it, right? Mine contains the ones I’ve been saving because they are just too pretty to put in the recycle bin. Or too potentially useful down the road. If you have not been doing this, you might have to buy mason jars, which are great also, but if you had been saving jars all along…

You laugh, but jars come in very handy. You just ask the 35 or 40 jars in my basement how useful they have been, how many times they have been called to action, how integral to the operation they are, how versatile, how easy to clean, how good looking – the list goes on. If jars had feelings, mine would feel good!

Make sure your jars are clean, inside and out, and that the lids are good. By good I mean they have that rubbery ring along the inside edge which provides the seal. I keep my pickles in the fridge, and I give them away, so I am content with this kind of seal. The yummy pickles are not going to last that long.

While the cukes are sitting with the salt, and once you have your jars clean and ready, you can prepare the brine. I like a sweet-sour taste, also called bread and butter pickles. The brine is basically vinegar and sugar and spices. You can put together your own combination of spices (recipes abound) or buy something called “pickling spice.” The one I got at Yoder’s includes mustard, allspice, coriander, cassia, ginger, peppercorns, cloves and bay leaves. I am happy with this one, but you might have particular flavors that you like or don’t like or want to include more of. That is the joy of cooking – you make it the way you like it!

The basic method is

  • Cut up the cukes/other veggies
  • Layer with salt and let sit an hour
  • Prepare jars
  • Prepare brine
  • Pack salted cukes in jars
  • Pour brine over top
  • Close up jars and refrigerate

The basic proportion is for every 3 cups of cukes/veggies, make a brine with 1 cup sugar, 1 ½ cups vinegar and about a teaspoon of pickling spice. Figure out how many cucumbers you have and do the math. I find the easiest thing is to let the cukes sit in the salt for an hour or so, then stuff them into the jars. Put as many as you can fit in there. That tells you how many cups of cukes you have, so it’s easier to do the math. Then measure out your vinegar, sugar and spices into the pot and turn on the flame.in jars waiting.jpg

If you don’t have a garden or access to a farmer’s market, you can use cucumbers from the store just as well. I would use the European cukes because they simply wrap them in plastic instead of putting a waxy whatever on their skins. You don’t want that waxy stuff.

You can use brown or white sugar. A combination is good. With this batch I used up a bag of brown sugar that had gotten too hard. It dissolved in the vinegar over a flame just fine, but the proportion of brown to white sugar made my pickle brine darker than usual. If the amount of sugar seems too much for you, use less. The pickles will just be more sour and less sweet. It’s up to you. You can use white or cider or rice vinegar or a combination. The flavor you get — just like the scenery you see and the experiences you have! — comes from the choices you make. Have fun! Every time you make pickles, make them a little different. Why not?

Combine the sugar, vinegar and spices in a pot and bring it to a full boil (making sure the sugar is dissolved). The slight fuzziness you see in this photo is not blur. It’s steam rising from a fully boiling brine.

full boil.jpg

Use a 2-cup or 4-cup glass measuring cup that has a pour spout to get the brine from the pot …

dipping.jpg

into the jars filled with cukes. Be careful. The jars are so full of sliced cucumbers, it could make a splashy mess otherwise, and still might.

pouring.jpg

Oops. It did make a mess. I poured too fast. Bother.

mess.jpg

You can see that the pickling spice likes to collect at the top of the liquid. If you end up with a lot of the mustard seeds or whatever sitting on the topmost cucumber in the jar, you can spoon some of that off. You don’t want your pickles that spicy. Or maybe you do?

As each jar is filled, use a damp cloth to clean the outside of the jar and around the rim where the lid will seal against the glass. Put the lid on and set aside. Keep going until you have filled and closed up all your jars. Set the jars in a nice place and take a picture of your collection to show your friends! When they are cool, put them in the fridge.

finished.jpg

 

My galette

I never heard of a galette before yesterday, but my mom led me to think about it. We were talking about being stuck in a food rut, and that made me think about food. Thanks, Mom.

Some people, as they think about food, eat some. But yesterday was the kind of day when, as I thought about food, I wanted to make some. A week ago I bought a bag of plums — beautiful purple plums. I had a hankering for Pflaumenkuchen, a wonderful German plum cake made on a sheet pan. This is not your ordinary sheet cake, especially if you have 9×13 with gooey frosting in mind. This is a sweet yeast dough (like a giant, flatter hot cross bun without the candied fruit) rolled out to fit the big (true half sheet size) pan, then topped with sliced fresh plums and a crumbly streusel and baked till it is golden. Heaven.

Pflaumenkuchen  was on the docket. It’s very tasty, and it’s been a long time since I had it. The bag of plums sat patiently in the refrigerator all week, waiting, as perfect plums do, knowing that glory is to come. Then, surprise! Thirteen (13!) cucumbers appeared before my eyes when I went to the garden to get lettuce on Friday night.  There was nothing to do but pick them.

0715161842.jpg

You don’t need 13 cukes to make a cucumber salad for dinner. Two will do, and did. (And it is really easy to make, by the way: Grate the cukes, squeeze the water out, and mix in a bowl with half an onion, very thinly sliced. For a dressing use lemon juice, sour cream, S&P and a little sugar to taste.)

After dinner, eleven gorgeous cukes remained in a row on the counter, rejected for salad but nonetheless happy to serve. I know it is not what every person would think of when faced with this image, but what came to my mind was pickles. There was nothing to do but make more pickles. I’ve made pickles three times this season already, once at Millicent’s and twice at home. Last year when I made them with my sister Lynn, I discovered how easy and yummy they are. Thanks, Lynn!

Here I am with Millicent’s pickles. I would be surprised if she has any left.

1468764268777.jpg

Yesterday was beginning to look like a busy Saturday. I won’t get into the sewing, or the flipping of the cottage for new guests, or the long overdue brushing of Bridget. We’ll get right to the kitchen. I have a huge white Pfalzgraff bowl that I have used a thousand times. It is the only bowl for eleven sliced up cucumbers — one of which was a whopping 13” long on account of having hidden itself under massive leaves — all layered with salt and topped with super thinly sliced red onion. The salt draws out the water from the cukes and the red onion adds flavor and makes the pickles prettier in the jar. Millicent’s pickles had red pepper in with them, which is prettier than red onion in my opinion. But we work with what we have.

Whatever you do, don’t forget to put the sugar in the brine, which I almost did one time. Bread and butter pickles are not the same without the sugar, you can take my word. I remembered the sugar this time, and was grateful to Millicent for having gifted me with a jar of pickling spice last weekend in Charlotte.  So I had everything I needed, mixed together in a pot waiting for a flame: vinegar, salt, sugar and spices.

But you have to let the cucumbers sit a while in the bowl with the salt, and a person needs breakfast.

Three critical factors conspired and led me down The Road to Galette.

  1. It was Saturday.
  2. I was by myself in the house.
  3. Fine Cooking magazine came this week (thank you, John).

If it were not Saturday, I would not be sitting with a leisurely breakfast.

If I had not been alone, I would not have been reading while eating.

If that particular magazine had not come, I would have been reading something else.

This month’s issue has a wonderful article on both sweet and savory galettes, and wouldn’t you know, the featured sweet galette was “plum, ginger and poppy seed galette.” Well, well. So much for Pflaumenkuchen.

Seriously though, who ever heard of a galette? What is it? If you are a chef, you know these things. My chef friend Danny didn’t miss a beat when I told him what I was doing. “My favorite is an apple galette with a little almond paste in it,” he said. “But I love all of them.” The rest of us have a thing or two to learn. A galette is basically an open, free-form pie. You roll out the pie dough, lay it on a flat sheet pan that has a short rim to it (to catch any oozing goodness), put the filling in the middle of the dough, and bring up the sides any way you want, fancy or not (in my case clearly not). The dough holds (almost) everything in and has that tender/crispy/flaky combo going for it. In the case of “plum, ginger and poppy seed galette,” poppy seeds are mixed into the dough, adding a texture you don’t encounter every day, which pairs perfectly with the sweet plums touched with the flavor of ginger and cinnamon.

The pickles happened while the galette was baking and I was wishing for a bigger kitchen. Soon the jars were cooling and the aroma of sweet baking plums filled the house.

My galette is not as pretty as the one in the magazine, but for a first try, I was pleased. In fact I was so pleased that I immediately took a picture of it still on its baking sheet.

0716161650.jpg

Then I wanted to stage it better, so I slid the galette onto one of my favorite glass cake plates. I always loved the ring of hearts etched into the glass on the bottom of this one. In my mind, hearts = love. When you make delicious food, you present it with love to those you love. Anyway, this made a better photo.

0716161659.jpg

But it was a bad idea. I did this same thing a long time ago, but the lesson sat in a dusty file too far back in the recesses of my memory. I hereby pass along a simple rule to keep in mind in such situations: Don’t slide hot objects onto cool glass plates. Let’s just say it’s a good thing my mother, some time back, off-loaded some cake plates she no longer needed. The crack I heard a few minutes after the fateful transfer told me in an instant that henceforth there would be a shorter stack of cake plates in my cabinet. I then transferred the galette to a different, flat (metal!) surface and in we dug. Oh, how I wanted to share with everyone I love! Of course if they were all here, this one galette would not be enough. But that is a problem I would love to have.

This morning as I put the pickles in the fridge, I discovered two half-full jars of yeast, and proceeded to combine the two into one to be efficient with space. Two did not quite fit into one, however, and I had a little yeast left in one jar. Lo and behold, there was just enough for… a sweet yeast dough! I used the plums yesterday, so Pflaumenkuchen was out of the question, but while getting the vanilla for this delectable dough, the box of currants in the cabinet caught my eye.

These sweet rolls aren’t exactly hot cross buns, but with a little honey and butter, I am very happy. It’s a good weekend!

sweet rolls1.jpg