31 July 2010

Dill-icious home-made pickles

Today, my mom and I set out to pack a peck of pickles. Or a baker's dozen of quart jars. I'm not even sure what a peck is...

We've long planned this summertime event. The last time we made pickles was August 1986. I was nine, immeasurably blonde and tan from all-day-every-day swimming sessions. I'm guessing I wore something neon, maybe some jelly bracelets, Aqua Socks, and leggings. Wham! was likely on the stereo.

Today, 24 years later, I'm not so much blonde (nor tan; summer, come on!). There was no Wham! on the stereo -- instead, mother-daughter chatter rang through the kitchen. We still had a blast. And I did wear leggings.

In assembly-line fashion, we set up stations: jars (cleaned and sterilized in the dishwasher), 1/4"-thick rings of onions, peeled whole cloves of garlic, plumes of dill (trimmed down from tree-size stalks), a collection of spices (pickling, red pepper flakes, mustard seed among them), o-rings for sealing. And, of course, cucumbers. Brine (apple cider vinegar, pickling salt -- no iodine included, and water) bubbled behind us on the stove; a smaller pan of water cradled simmering lids, ready to seal our treasures.

We layered, seasoned, and packed the contents, ladling in the brine then screwing the lids on tightly. The cucumbers looked so verdant in their sour, warm bath.

And then we waited for the "ping!" of the lids' indicator button sinking in, heralding that the seal had taken.

As we pickled, my mom told the story of the recipe's history. She first made these pickles in 1970 -- an annual tradition that would be repeated until 1986. Through those 16 years, my mom penned studious notations about the statistics surrounding her canning process: the date, how much the cukes cost per pound, how many jars made.

In 1975, the little cucumbers cost a mere $.10/lb. By 1984 they were up to $.31/lb (And probably purchased at the Yakima Fruit Market in Bothell, where we'd frequently pick our produce. I fondly recall wandering through the aisles and rising on my tippy-toes to peer into bins of seasonal loot.). This year, we paid $1.99/lb at the Market -- a whopping 642% percent increase. I'm already thinking that we should plan to grow my own to stave this cost, as we did in '86 (Though our yield was only a slight 2 qts that year...).

Another jarring fact: At the apex of her pickling, my mom made 47 quarts of the little devils. 47 QUARTS.

I recall eating a lot of pickles as a kid -- now I have more context as to why there was always a jar open.

Alas, today we made only 13 quarts. Nearly one-fourth of that peak, but enough to send me home weighed down with a box of jars that will line my shelves for at least a month to cure before we dive in. I already can't wait until next year.

23 July 2010

Summer so far

As we headed into the new fiscal year at my dayjob, I learned my hours were to be reduced to 32/week. I think everyone feared this news would be upsetting -- but I can't stop smiling.

I'd been secretly hoping to go 80% at some point. Imagine what I could do with one extra day a week...read a book, watch The Price is Right, bake pies, freeze popsicles, brine pickles, swim in the lake...

All of these scream summer to me. The kind of summers I used to cherish -- no work, no school, just long stretches of sun and fun and none to do.

So far, I've done a pretty good job (though the first few weeks were filled with several errands and daytime appointments as I eased in). I hope to find more of this in my future:

Yogurt popsicles from Orangette; I fell instantly in love with these last summer during a Delancey pre-opening party and dear Molly has finally posted the recipe

And this:

Mom's favorite Lemon Supreme cake, dolled up something fierce for a fancy bday with sugared violets from my backyard

Perhaps more road trips on I-90 E, with a swing through Cle Elum/Roslyn (Pioneer Coffee Co. + Dairy Queen are requisite pit stops):


Also hoping to spend many an afternoon lazing in the backyard under a canopy, a light breeze lapping my hair as I drift in and out of sleep between chapters in a good book. I've just finished Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet-- lovely!

Up next, I'm thinking of:
My Life in France
The Great Gatsby
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

What do you recommend?

Also, still need to find a hammock...