Pickles!

Pickles!

The pickling cucumbers arrived in the grocery store this week. It’s a pretty short window so I bought 6 litres right away and added pickles to the to-do list. Said list is rather long this week since we are getting ready to go camping and I’m running all over the house, muttering “binoculars…head lamps…towels…rain pants…”.

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Last February there was great consternation in the house when we ran out of homemade pickles. I’ve been making them for several years, after the teenager (who was then 7 or 8) suggested making pickles as a fun summer project. It was fun and the pickles were delicious, but I didn’t realize how much the family loved them until last winter they were all gone.

I find making pickles quite a bit easier than making jam. The only tough part is waiting a month to sample your wares.

Wash and sterilize your jars. I used large 1 L jars this year since the cukes were big. I have also used wide-mouth 500 mL jars and those work well too.

For 6 litres (2 baskets) of cucumbers, I mixed together:

6 cups of vinegar (at least 5% acetic acid); I used pickling vinegar
6 cups of water
6 tbsp pickling salt (it’s important to use non-iodized salt when pickling, so the pickles don’t turn dark or the brine cloudy)
2 tbsp sugar

I heated it on the stove while I washed and cut up the vegetables. It’s not necessary to cut them up, if they fit in your jars properly while whole, but you do have to cut off the blossom end or the pickles can get squishy. I cut a little slice off both ends, just for symmetry. I quartered mine, and last year I did length-wise slices.

Put jar lids in a bowl of hot water to soften.

In each jar, put one head (the flower, gone to seed) of dill and 1 tsp mustard seed. Or you could use pickling spice if you like. I have lots of dill in the garden. I planted it one year and it has self-seeded enthusiastically ever since. If you don’t have fresh dill, used one tsp of dill seed.

I myself do not like garlicky pickles, but you can also put 1 or 2 cloves of garlic in each jar if you do.

Then ram those jars as full of cucumbers as you can make them. The boiling water bath cooks them a bit and they shrink, so don’t worry that you won’t be able to get them back out when it’s time to eat. I had an assistant with very small hands and she was able to arrange the cucumbers entirely to her liking.

Pour the hot brine into the jars, leaving about a centimetre at the top. Put the lids and screwcaps on and can them in a boiling water  bath for 20 minutes, making sure that the water has come back to the boil before you set the timer.20160722_123607 We had a mishap in the canner; one of the jar bottoms came clean off. This happens sometimes if there is a fault in the glass. Oh well. We made 7 jars, so we still have 6 left.

Remove the jars and allow them to cool overnight. Label and store for a month until you can eat them. I am going to try to make more after our camping trip, since I don’t think 6 jars will last the winter.

A note on crispness:

If a crisp pickle is important to you, it’s a good idea to soak the cucumbers in a salt solution overnight. You can use iodized salt for this step. You need a really big bowl, or several smaller ones.

Cut up the cucumbers however you like. Make a solution of 8 cups of cold water and 1/2 cup salt, stirring to dissolve the salt. Add 8 more cups water and pour it over your cucumbers. Place in a cool place overnight. Usually in pickle season this is my fridge. When you are ready to make your pickles, drain and rinse thoroughly.

One of my favourite preserving books, and my go-to for pickle-making, is The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving. This is another gem I found while browsing in the library while the children were very small. At one point we went to the library every day after school; I was pregnant with Little, and I had a two-year-old and a five-year-old whose appetite for going to the library was boundless. It was winter and that pregnancy made me very dizzy. The children were happy, I could sit down, and we all found lots of wonderful books. Hurray for public libraries!

The recipes in this cookbook are excellent, with all the classics and some quite interesting combinations as well. I was delighted when reading the book to discover that it was Canadian, and moreover that the authors knew Ottawa. This almost never happens. The only other book that comes to mind is Mother-Daughter Knits, in which one of the knitted coats is deemed appropriate for wearing to skate on the Rideau Canal, our very own UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A Quick and Yummy Supper

A Quick and Yummy Supper

Or, my mother’s former neighbour Bernice’s lentil salad. It’s been really hot here in Ottawa and my desire to cook has waned. On days like this I like to throw together Bernice’s lentil salad and serve it with pita and some lettuce. Sometimes I mix it with rice for GF carbohydrates, and sometimes I eat mine with Mary’s Crackers while everyone else is eating pita.

This salad has a laughably easy version, and an easy version.

Easy: combine 3 cans of lentils (rinsed); rind and juice of one lemon; 1/4 cup olive oil; big handful parsley, chopped; one minced garlic clove; salt and pepper. Let it sit in the fridge, covered, for a couple of hours, then serve.

Laughably easy: combine 3 cans of lentils (rinsed); one minced garlic clove; salt and pepper; slosh in some bottled lemon juice and olive oil. Serve.

The easy version is very popular at summer potlucks. The parsley makes it look like you actually did proper cooking.

Serviceberry Jam Changed My Life

Serviceberry Jam Changed My Life

The serviceberries are ripe and we’ve been picking them for jam. We have an understanding with the birds that also love them, the cedar waxwings and cardinals and robins: they get the berries at the top of the trees and we get the berries at the bottom. Serviceberries, Amelanchier spp., are also known as Saskatoon berries. We have four trees. I planted three shrubby ones down the side of the house when the teenager was one year old. He was having a nap, I had just finished writing my doctoral dissertation, and I was exhausted. I remember thinking that the act of planting tiny little trees (about 30 cm high) was an act of faith. Now the teenager is quite a bit taller than me and the serviceberries are up to the second floor of the house. When Middle was one, I ordered another serviceberry in tree form from the city of Ottawa and it was planted in front of the house.

In the spring the trees are covered in tiny white blossoms. The bloom time lasts only a short time, perhaps a few days, so one really has to focus on the beauty while it is there.20160512_092006 (1) The fruit ripens in mid to late June, and one also has to focus on the harvest so that the birds don’t eat all the berries on the bottom half of the trees as well. Raccoons also enjoy them. One evening about two years ago, the spouse discovered a mother and four babies munching away. They were adorable, those little chubby raccoon babies. We’ve spent several evenings picking recently and the trees are still loaded with fruit. I made a batch of jam on the weekend and the second batch is underway.DSC05691

So here is how you make serviceberry jam.

1. Plant trees when your children are very small and arrange your life so that you have time to pick the berries and make jam.

2. Then make jam.

How we arrived at step 1: One year, I did not pick the fruit and I did not make jam. Little was four, and I had taken a contract doing publicity for a local classical music festival. The contract was for 20 hours a week. It started near the end of May, and ended near the end of July. I raced home on my bike to get the children off the bus until their school ended, and then our niece looked after them for the rest of the time. From the time we started having children, we always thought that I would increase my working time gradually as they got older and ramp right up to full time once the youngest was in school. The plan was starting to take shape.

The job at the music festival was pretty fun. I worked with a bunch of smart, funny and like-minded people in a busy office. I laughed a lot and worked hard and got a closeup view of the tiny budgets of Canadian arts organizations. Visiting artists would come into the office from time to time, and on a memorable occasion, the Vienna Piano Trio came in and kissed every woman working there. Life at home was not so fun. I got up early, ate, hung the laundry on the line that I had put in the washer the night before, and the spouse and I got the children organized. We biked downtown together and parted at Ottawa U with a kiss every morning. Sometimes if the morning had been rushed, I came home at 3:30 to a kitchen still full of breakfast dishes. I struggled to concentrate on what to cook for dinner with the music festival still in my mind, and three children who wanted cuddles and attention. After the children went to bed, we did the housework together in a haze of tiredness. On the weekend, we went grocery shopping and to Costco. In short, we lived the life of countless other working couples. And I was only working half-time.

I am an assiduous gardener, and I wasn’t watering my flower pots daily any more. I kept planning to pick the serviceberries, and other work and fatigue always got in the way. By the second week in July, all the other animals had eaten them up. I was so sad. What, I asked myself, is the point of growing fruit for jam if one has no time to be in the garden or the kitchen with the children? 9780006647553I didn’t say anything about my sorrow, because I was finally being liberated and making money outside the home, instead of wearing an apron all the time and reading Mog books aloud over and over again. (This one’s our favourite).

One evening, we both broke down and confessed that we hated the new regime. I missed the children; other people were reading to them, and hearing adorable conversations, and taking them to the pool. I loathed doing housework in the evening and on the weekend, and the spouse did too.  We didn’t have time to sit together and just be. Everyone was grumpier. The spouse had been reluctant to say this for fear of oppressing me and ending my self-actualization. I had been reluctant to say that I didn’t actually feel that self-actualized. We both agreed that our quality of life as a family had declined.

We talked that evening, and on others, about our philosophy of life and family, about having time together instead of more money. Our dream would be to each work three days a week, and be home the rest of the time. That way each could have some self-actualization and each could also have some serious cuddle time with the children; each could enjoy coming home to a nice meal and a perhaps not-that-tidy house. In the absence of that fantasy, we decided that one and a bit incomes was as far as we were willing to stretch, even though student loans still glowered at us and the children’s university fees still loomed. Project Life in the Slow Lane was born, and with it Project Frugality.

We were reminded of our reasons for this decision every time during the following year that we spread jam on our toast and it wasn’t homemade serviceberry jam. The next June came and I was out there picking berries with the spouse and the children, and making jam. I’ve been making jam yearly ever since. Last year I made 24 jars and it lasted the year.

And now step 2: I’m in the kitchen now, in my apron, and this is what I do:

Put 9 250 mL mason jars and their rings in dishwasher on quick wash (on my Bosch it lasts 28 minutes). Usually I only get 8 jars of jam, but having jam and no jar to put it in is no fun. Put lids in a bowl of hot water to soften.

Wash the serviceberries and put a couple of handfuls in a  bowl. Mash them with my Oma’s wooden potato masher. Put mashed berries in measuring cup until there are 4 1/2 cups.

Mix berries, 7 cups of sugar, 1/4 cup of lemon juice and one knob of butter in large stockpot.

Bring to a boil on the stove, stirring frequently. Once you have a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, add two packets liquid pectin (I use Certo or Bernardin). Stir constantly for one minute.

Take the jam off the heat and stir and skim to remove any foam. The butter should help to reduce the incidence of foam.

Fill jars with jam, leaving 1/4 inch at the top. I use a jam funnel to reduce mess. Wipe rims of jars, place lids on jars, screw on bands. 20160703_152249

20160703_162055Process jars in a boiling water bath. If you have a big stove you can have your huge pot of water ready for the jars as soon as they are filled, but my old Jenn-Air has a grill on one side and thus only one large burner is available at a time. I thus boil the jam and the jars sequntially. If you have a cavernous canner with a rack, use that, but I have also used a stockpot.

Lower jars carefully into boiling water. When water returns to a full boil, set timer for 10 minutes. Remove jars carefully and let them cool overnight. This year I treated myself to a jar lifter, after 22 years of making jam. It cost $11.95, I believe, at Canadian Tire; why did I wait so long?

The next morning you can label your lovely jam!20160703_164702