My German grandmother had a large, gray crock in the basement of her Milwaukee bungalow, filled with smelly vinegar and lots of small cucumbers.
When I was a young girl in the 1950s, I didn’t realize that she was carrying on the tradition of her German ancestors by making dill pickles.
Many immigrant Midwestern housewives like my grandmother grew their own vegetables and preserved them by pickling or canning, simply because they lived on a very tight budget.
I bought my first “Ball Book of Canning” and a box of Ball Jars in 1990, and proceeded to teach myself how to make pickles, jam and canned tomatoes when I lived on a small farm in Upstate New York.
Often, our vegetable crops would start producing all at the same time and we would have a kitchen full of ripe tomatoes and bumpy cucumbers.
In the light of our nation’s recent food crisis, it has occurred to me that others might like to learn about this hundred-year-old food processing method. In a recent New York Times article, writer Tim McKeough interviewed publisher Deborah Balmuth, of Storey Publishing in Pownal, Vermont, which has been publishing pamphlets and how-to books since 1970.
McKeough wrote: “As do-it-yourself activity surges during the pandemic, some of those seeking a guide to greater self-sufficiency may find their way to Storey Publishing.”
If you would like to sample a variety of fermented and pickled products, rather than make your own, Happy Pantry in Carlsbad is a must-see shop and production facility.
Mark and Rebekah Stogsdill are a husband-wife team with many years of experience in the restaurant field. They began their food business, Happy Pantry, after researching age-old preserved food products, such as German sauerkraut, Asian kim chi and Slavic beet kvass. The kvass is produced in a process that was introduced in Slavic countries in the Middle Ages.
Now, in the Happy Pantry kitchen, the beet kvass contains probiotics, which are said to promote “healthy gut health.”
According to Happy Pantry’s owners, “One way to promote a healthy gut is to consume probiotic, rich unpasteurized fermented foods and beverages.”
Bethany Dawson, product manager at Happy Pantry, explained, “The resurgence of fermented foods, such as the kombucha that we produce, can be helpful in promoting a healthy immune system, and provide an alternative to soda and coffee drinks.”
The shop is located at 5611 Palmer Drive, Unit B in Carlsbad and products can be ordered at their website or by calling 858-449-4666. Their products are also available at local farmers markets.
If pickled preservation production is something you would like to try at home, I recommend that you start off with a simple refrigerator pickle. These cucumbers are preserved in salt and vinegar mixture and do not need to be processed in the traditional hot water bath canning method.
But if you have tried this recipe and are ready to go on to the next step in food preservation, I recommend you buy “The Ball Book of Canning,” which is available in many hardware stores or online. This handbook, which was originally published in 1900, arrived hand-in-hand with the first production of the Ball Mason Jar.
Not much as changed in the cookbook, with over 350 recipes for jams, preserved vegetables and fruit and meats, but the recipes might bring back fond memories of picnics or a trip to your grandmother’s kitchen.
EASY REFRIGERATOR PICKLE
This pickle recipe only takes about 15 minutes to prepare, and makes perfectly crisp and delicious pickles. Be certain to wash cucumbers well and remove stems. Small pickling cucumbers or English cucumbers work best for this recipe.
• 1 1/2 cups water (use filtered or bottled water)
• 3 tablespoons white vinegar or apple cider vinegar
• 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher or pickling salt
• 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
• 5 cloves garlic, peeled
• 6 large sprigs fresh dill, 2 TB dill seed
• 1 bay leaf
• (optional) 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more/less to taste
• 1 small pickling or English cucumber, sliced into rounds or spears
• Add the water, vinegar, salt, peppercorns, garlic, dill and bay leaf to a large quart Mason jar.
• Add the sliced cucumbers to the jar. Then place the lids on the jar and shake to combine.
• Refrigerate ideally for at least two days before eating, although you can totally dive in before that time. The pickles will keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to one week.
Please contact me at [email protected] if you would like more recipes or have questions about food preservation.
Jano Nightingale is a Master Gardener and horticulturist and works on community gardens in North County.