The possessed “Enchantress” is a supervillianeous who, starting in the 1960s, appeared in DC Comics. Hovering over a pickle crock while casting a spell in my laundry room last month, I might have qualified but not a drop of ill will was involved. Puny in power, the spell sounded more like reassurance channeled from my Mother – a few bars from Skidamarink as I considered the brew.
I was into a pickle.
It all began with that sliver of a gherkin, the one that provides a sour squirt by which most American children are introduced to fermentation. My first pickle-woke was in middle school together with my next door/bestie, now Dr. Susan Gray. For several years we celebrated New Year’s Eve with a shared bowl of Vlasic hamburger dills as we listened to the top 100 countdown by Casey Kasem.
We stumbled to bed with an acidic hangover and came to with a mouth ulcer or two. Years later my college roommate now Lynn Anderson, Nu Beta of Chi O Recruitment Advisor, and I begged the cook at the Cherokee Drive Inn in Jackson, Mississippi for the recipe of our favorite cold beer appetizer, fried dill pickles. It ended badly in a novice frying disaster.
Somehow from the beginning it registered that canning and fermentation mattered. One grandmother canned the pears from her side yard and the other would never serve a meal without sliced cucumbers and onions steeped in vinaigrette. My mother processed her favs each summer – Billy Mills’ Bread and Butter Pickles and Pickled Okra. I stood in as sous-chef.
Later I was schooled by my mother-in-law. As her son D recalls canning and pickling constituted a social event. She and her pals got together and “put up” a lot of food, divided the goods and had cocktails as a reward.
For many years my infantile pickle dreams were curbed by a cherished community mixture called The Polk Pickle. Armed with a crock from Ace Hardware and a gallon of Mt. Olivet Sour Dills, Polk cookbook (Provisions and Politics – page 133) followers layered slices of sour dills to cure in a LOT of sugar and some garlic. Yes people overindulged, and as a result, cultural addiction to The Polk Pickle set in.
Recently burdened with a plethora of cucumbers from The James K Polk Home (jameskpolk.com) garden, a young historian exclaimed that said famous pickle recipe “doesn’t even employ a fresh cucumber.” Not only that, but the commercial sour dill used as the primary ingredient is increasingly extinct in local grocery markets.
Moving on. With confinement on my hands, I recalled the joy I experienced last summer while testing Zucchini Relish for Sheree Rose Kelley’s newest Servin’ Up Summer. https://www.shereerosekelley.com.
Enchanted for sure. The pay off was a dozen pint jars filled with jewel tones glistening from our pantry. I found that a plate without the spark of a sweet and sour condiment is truly less than it could be.
Details of stockpiling summer freshness set up a revival in me which called on an ever present love of dill. Not alone here. Americans consumed more than 2.5 billion pounds of pickles each year. So during Sad April, I planted a quantity of Long Island Mammoth Dill Seeds which I ordered from the Monticello Shop – monticelloshop.org.
Meanwhile I dreamed of the kosher dill. Hopefully you have been there. The huge, briny, crunchy, salty dream that really only a Jewish deli can deliver: Eleven City Diner in Chicago – elevencitydiner.com.
I looked it up and realized that the attempt would be a fun proposition. A mad scientist at work sort of activity. Perfect I thought for home-schooling and though my grandchildren were not about, I decided to expose myself to what granddaughter Pepper refers to as “a whole new world.”
With my Polk Pickle crock and pounds of pickling cukes via http://thefarmandfiddle.com, I set to curing. It turns out that the method I pursued is called lacto-fermentation. And bingo – there is a happy surprise. The experiment enhances nutritional aspects of veggies and preserves the vitamins and minerals; however there is one colorful detail. Since there is no vinegar – tada, a film of bacteria forms on the top of the whole shebang.
Part of the Enchantress’s duties are to check the pickles daily for what condition their condition is in. An interesting footnote involves moving the mold aside as it naturally occurs on the skin of a growing cucumber!
My pickle practice entailed the layering of whole cucumbers in salty water, garlic bulbs and (weirdly) grape leaves or black tea leaves and lots of blooming dill. The cucumbers were weighted down and covered tightly. I found it simpler than trying to follow @allisonholker and sir_twitch_alot’s dance moves on Instagram.
So dancing on to a full fledged pickle took an entire month and while not a complete success (I lost a few), the ones that survived were winners. Really divine.
As a novice I learned a lot about how our ancients preserved their food. And from what I’ve heard Southern Middle Tennessee was big on another fermented vegetable which I will attempt when seasonal cabbage comes back around. Sauerkraut!
In order to cross that bridge, I’ll sign up for an online class. (Who knew that the most revered fermentation teacher in THE WORLD lives in Cannon County, Tennessee?) https://www.nytimes.com/video/opinion/100000003819616/sandorkraut-a-pickle-maker.html
Even though cooking is dear to me, I’m not much on swabbing the deck so I took notice that my inner mudpie maker loves the messy, pungent and impreciseness of fermentation.
Meanwhile, please accept this more straight forward recipe as a party favor.
A Peerless Pucker of a Refrigerator Pickle
Now that you are primed for a homemade pickle, here is a simple quickie for you! The Enchantress will not be called upon. The outcome is as much a part of summer as tomatoes on white bread or corn on the cob.
*A perk: the pickling liquid can be used for other veggies like carrots and beets.
6 cup pickling cucumber (about 2 pounds), thinly sliced
2 cups onion, thinly slice
1 1/2 cups white vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Place 3 cups of cucumbers in a medium bowl; top with 1 cup onion. Repeat with the remaining 3 cups cucumber and remaining cup of onion.
Combine vinegar and reaming ingredients in a small saucepan; stir well. Bring to a boil; cook 1 minute.
Pour over cucumber mixture; let cool.
Cover and chill at least 4 days.
- Pickles may be store in the refrigerator for up to one month. Fat chance.