Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Andrea Chesman: It’s a Book!

The Pickled Pantry is here! And now my summer truly begins. I am planning to take my show on the road and bring dilly happiness to folks at bookstores, festivals, farmers’ markets, and cooking classes.

Over Memorial Day weekend I pickled a case (that’s 48 pounds) of pickling cucumbers into dill chips, bread and butters, and curry chips. I have 60 pint jars of pickles aging in a corner of my dining room. Then I bought another 5 pounds of cukes and made a gallon of half-sours, which I hope to be ready by Sunday when I take part in the Grand Opening of Phoenix Books in Burlington, Vermont.

People often ask how long it takes to write a cookbook like this, which has about 150 recipes. The answer is usually, “All my adult life.” If the book covers a subject I care passionately about — cooking vegetables, making pickles, preserving — then, truthfully, I’ve been at it since I left my mother’s house, a long, long time ago.

Pickles got me started as a cookbook author. As the newly anointed cookbook editor for Garden Way Publishing, which specialized in books about gardening and other self-sufficiency and homesteading skills, I was looking for someone to write a book about pickling. When I couldn’t find anyone, I said to the publisher, “Heck, I could write it myself.” That book was Pickles and Relishes: 150 Recipes from Apples to Zucchini, and it was published in 1983. Then Garden Way morphed into Storey Publishing, but I went freelance rather than relocate when the company moved. My next book was Summer in a Jar, which included jams as well as pickles. That publishing company was bought out by a Christian publisher with no interest in cookbooks. But I was off and running, writing and editing cookbooks as a freelancer, writing for magazines, gardening, cooking, and raising a family.

Those first preserving books are out of print. The Pickled Pantry combines the very best of those original recipes with new ones. Kimchi, anyone?

All along, through busy summers and leisurely ones, I had one quest: to make the perfect dill pickle. Have I succeeded? You be the judge.

No-Fail Half-Sour Dill Pickles
Makes about 2 quarts

Vinegar gives a kick start to the pickling process in these quick and easy pickles, guaranteeing success. If you’ve never tried fermented pickles, this is definitely the recipe to start with. You can multiply this recipe as many times as you like, but these pickles are best enjoyed at 1 to 2 weeks, so it makes sense to do small batches as the cucumber season progresses.

4 cups water
2 tablespoons pickling or fine sea salt
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
8 cups whole pickling cucumbers
1 dill head or 6 sprigs fresh dill
4 garlic cloves, peeled

  1. Heat the water and salt in a saucepan, stirring until the salt is fully dissolved. Add the white vinegar, and let cool to room temperature.
  2. Slice 1/16 inch off the blossom end of each cucumber.
  3. Pack a clean 2-quart canning jar or crock with the dill, garlic, and cucumbers, in that order. Pour in the brine. Weight the cucumbers so they are completely submerged in the brine.
  4. Cover the container to exclude the air. Set the jar where the temperature will remain constant: 65 to 75°F (18–24°C) is ideal.
  5. Check the jar daily, and remove any scum that forms on the surface.
  6. The pickles will be ready in 2 to 3 days, although full flavor will not be reached for a week. If your kitchen is reasonably cool, you can leave these pickles out for up to 2 weeks. If the brine starts to become cloudy, refrigerate immediately to prevent spoiling. The flavor of the dill and garlic will continue to develop. The pickles will keep for at least 3 months in the refrigerator.
Kitchen Note
If your cucumbers are large, you may want to cut them into spears rather than leave them whole. Spears will pickle faster and more evenly than whole cucumbers.
Excerpted from The Pickled Pantry by Andrea Chesman © 2012
All rights reserved

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