Playing with Fire; or, How to Roast Grapes

In preparation for what promises to be a week straight from the fiery sandblasted surface of Mercury (OK, I may exaggerate a bit, but it’s supposed to get hot again this week), we hauled out the grill on Sunday afternoon to get some batch cooking knocked out for the week.  Because there’s nothing so amazing as arriving home from work, sweaty and hot and tired, and finding that dinner is waiting for you in the fridge in all it’s cool, already-cooked glory!

And you know how sometimes you get an idea in your head, and it just needs to happen rightnowthisveryminute?  No?  That’s just me?  Well OK then.  Anyhow.  Sunday afternoon found me staring at a bag of grapes and a freshly preheated grill.  I think we know where this is going, no?  Yes–the grapes were heading straight for the grill!  I don’t know if anyone has ever done this before (though I can’t be the first to decided that sweet grapes could use a liitle smoky undertone!), but it needed to happen in my back yard!

We have one of those grill baskets that’s essentially a sheet of metal with holes drilled through the bottom to keep smaller food pieces from falling through the grill grate–it was perfect.  I kept the grapes on their vines (well, I tried to anyway, some of them rolled off, as grapes are wont to do, but I barricaded the would-be escapees in between clumps that were still on their vines).  Once the coals were hot, I popped my basket directly over them (I wanted some blistering, blackening, and smoky flavors!).  It took just a few minutes to cook them, just till the skins started popping open.

Now, what do you do with freshly roasted black grapes?  Well, you eat a few while they’re still hot enough to burn your fingers (worth it; so so worth it).  And then, you turn them into a salad!  I had several ears of corn that we were also planning to grill (that’s why the grill was fired up, actually!), so I liberated a couple ears’ worth of kernels, added my grapes, some crispy-fried caramelized onions, and bit of bulgur.  Sort of like tabbouleh, without the tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley–OK, not at all like tabbouleh except for the bulgur, but you get the idea!

With all the sweet flavors in the salad, I decided it needed a tangy counterpoint, so I made a quick dressing out of yogurt, garlic, mint, and lemon juice.  The I chilled everything for the few hours till dinnertime.  It was the perfect salad for a toasty summer evening!

Roasted Grape & Corn Salad with Tangy Mint Dressing

  • 1 c. bulgur
  • 2 c. boiling water
  • 3 c. seedless black grapes
  • 2 ears sweet corn
  • 1 small onion, very thinly sliced
  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 T. butter
  • 1/2 c. plain yogurt
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 4 T. finely chopped fresh peppermint
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • pinch salt

For the salad:

  1. In a large bowl, pour boiling water over bulgur; cover and let sit undisturbed for 20 minutes, till bulgur is tender.  Drain off any excess water.
  2. Using a grill-basket or whatever apparatus works for you, grill grapes for 3-4 minutes, till skins start splitting.  Remove from heat and let cool a bit before removing from vines.  Add to bowl with bulgur.
  3. Grill sweet corn, about 10 minutes on a side.  Let cool a bit before shucking.  Remove kernels from the cob with a sharp knife.  Break up any “planks” of corn into bite-size pieces.  Add to bowl with bulgur.
  4. While grapes and corn are grilling, in a small saute pan, melt butter over low heat.  Add onions and let cook, mostly undisturbed, until caramelized and crispy.  Remove from pan.  Chop finely and add to bulgur mixture.  Add chickpeas and toss bulgur and mix-ins together gently.  Refrigerate till ready to serve.

For the dressing:

  1. Combine yogurt, lemon juice, peppermint, garlic, and a pinch of salt.  Stir to mix well.  Refrigerate until ready to serve (the longer you let this sit before serving, the better!).
  2. To serve, dish up salad on individual plates and drizzle with the dressing.

Serves 6-8 as a side.

Summer Abundance

We’ve all been there, right?  Strolling through the farmer’s market grinning like a fool, arms aching from the gajillion pounds of peppers, tomatoes, and corn we’ve just scored for a pittance.  No?  That’s just me?  Well, OK.  That was definitely me a couple weekends ago, at any rate!  I scored a dozen ears of corn, 5 pounds of organic roma tomatoes, and 2 pounds of red bell peppers for a mere $10!

I had big plans for all this stuff, and I knew it all had to be used up before the next weekend because we were heading for Wisconsin Dells for the weekend (and anytime I am out of town for a few days, I like to have the fridge pretty well cleaned out so I don’t come home to an icebox full of ick!).  A daunting task, but I figured we could do it!

Well, the week got busy and we made only a small dent in our massive pile o’ veggies and then, suddenly, it was Friday night and we still had a mountain of tomatoes, peppers, and corn despite our best efforts.  A plan B was definitely called for!

I decided that the peppers and tomatoes would make a very nice marinara sauce if I threw them in the slow cooker with some garlic and Italian seasonings and let them stew for a few hours on high.  Then I could puree the mix and freeze it and have a bunch of pasta sauce ready to go!

One teeny weeny slight snag with this plan: my immersion blender has recently met its demise, and while I have a replacement on order, it hasn’t arrived yet.  The only logical solution was to scamper over to the best kitchen store in the metro and acquire a food mill.  Yes, yes, perfectly logical!  Perfectly!  John took a bit of convincing, but once I mentioned it could live in the canning kettle and would not just sit out when not in use, he was game!  (Someday, I will have a kitchen that fits more than just cups and plates.  Someday.)

So we filled the 6qt. slow cooker almost to the brim with the veggies, added spices and a few tablespoons olive oil, and let it cook for 4 hours on high, stirring a couple times so nothing stuck to the bottom.  Then we ran the sauce through our shiny new food mill (which worked slick as a whistle!!). When we were done, we had a lovely bright sauce cooling on the counter, and a pile of tomato and pepper skins to pick out of the mill.  Easiest. Sauce. Ever.  I sort of can’t believe I have survived without a food mill so long.

So that solved the tomato and pepper problem, but I still had a giant bag of corn staring up at me.  I decided to deal with it Saturday morning.  I thought about making corn chowder to freeze, but that would have required a trip to the grocery store, and I was feeling pretty lazy, so I decided to freeze the corn for future use.

I settled on frozen corn two ways: niblets and mini-cobs.  Niblets are awesome for thawing out as a quick side or adding to soup (either as a vegetable, or as thickener), while mini-cobs are great for griling or soup or any time you want tiny cobs of corn!

Now, before we proceed, let me tell you where I sit on the great “to blanch or not to blanch” fence.  I do not blanch corn before freezing.  You can, if you want.  But if you use the corn within 2-3 months, there’s no advantage to blanching.  If you plan to hold onto the corn for posterity, blanching it will help preserve the color and flavor so it will last for 3-6 months in the freezer.  So there you have it.  I plan to use this corn before thanksgiving, so no blanchy.

I have some sneaky tricks for freezing niblets.  The biggest trick is getting the corn off the cob!  For this, I use a mixing bowl with a non-skid bottom (or put a wet towel down on the table under your bowl…you don’t want any skidding as you’re sawing the corn off the cob with a giant knife!).  Then, flip a ramekin upside down and place it in the bottom of the bowl, like so:

This gives your knife room to maneuver.  Stick your ear of corn nose-down on the ramekin, and saw the corn off the cob. Be careful not to shave cob into the bowl (it’s edible, but a bit chewy!)  Use a large knife (I’m using an 8″ chef knife here…you want to have some substantial length to leverage, it’s just easier).  Soon you’ll have a bowl full of niblets!

Once you get all the corn off your cobs, you’ll want to fish the ramekin out of the bowl, then run your hands through the corn in the bowl to break up all the sheets (they look cool, but the tighter you can pack your bags, the less freezer burn you risk…plus it’s fun, and any silk you may have lazily missed picking off the cobs when you shucked them will stick to your hands!  double win!).

Then pack the niblets into ziptop bags!  I like to measure about 2 cups per bag because that’s about what John and I will eat in one go as a side dish or adding to soup or whatever, but if you know you’ll need at least 4 cups at a whack, measure 4 cups to a bag.  I find each ear of corn yields about 3/4 cup of niblets.  Suck as much air out of the bag as possible, and be sure to label it with the date!  Presto!  Frozen corn!  Use it the same as you would use store-bought frozen corn, but feel all awesome because you made it from scratch!

Mini-cobs are even easier to freeze than niblets!  Just cut each cob into 4 equal chunks (usually I trim the ends because the kernels can be a bit wonky), pack into bags, suck out the air, and label!  (And freeze, of course!)

And there you have it.  So next time you adopt way more corn, peppers, and/or tomatoes than you can quickly use, make marinara and frozen corn!

And, a bonus for making it to the end of this post?  You get to see the wonky siamese twin corn!!

The Soup to End All Soups (for now)

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with soup.  When I was small, I famously told my mother “I hate ‘toup’ and I don’t like ‘tew’ either”…I have yet to live that down!  But in the intervening 20-some odd years, I have learned that I do, in fact, like soup, and even stew, but I’m awfully picky.  No cream of condensed concoctions need apply, or processed food ingredients, for that matter.  I like soup, but made of whole, fresh ingredients, from scratch, with wuv.  Which means that sometimes I spend hours making the perfect stew (boeuf bourguignon, I’m looking at you!).  And sometimes I want soup, but don’t want to make soup.

But sometimes.  Sometimes, I am inspired in spite of myself!  Take last night…I didn’t really want to make soup.  I had every intention of just making sausage & potato hash for dinner, but then, some sweet potatoes snuck in, and brought carrots with them.  And the kale showed up and wanted in on the action.  And suddenly nothing sounded better than creamy, veggie studded, chorizo and kale soup.  So that’s what I made (considering I was already partway there, it wasn’t hard, and took less than 40 minutes total).  And it was filling and delicious and creamy and everything a spicy sausage soup should be!

Sausage & Kale Soup

  • 3/4 lb. fresh chorizo sausage, uncased (I prefer spicy, but mild will also do nicely)
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 small red potatoes, diced (1/2″ cubes)
  • 1 garnet yam, diced (also 1/2″ cubes)
  • 4 medium carrots, diced (1/2″ cubes…see a pattern here?)
  • 4 tsp. beef bullion base
  • 8 cups water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 cups chopped kale (bit size pieces)
  • 1 c. heavy whipping cream

Heat a large soup pot over medium high heat.  Add the chorizo and crumble.  Let cook 5 or 6 minutes to render fat while you chop veggies. 

Add onions and carrots to sausage and cook about 4 minutes.  Stir occasionally so nothing scorches.

Dissolve bullion base in some of the water, then add potatoes, yams, bullion, and remaining water to the pot.  Be sure veggies are amply covered by liquid, add bay leaves, and cover the pot.  Simmer for 10 minutes, till potatoes and yams are beginning to get tender. 

Add kale and stir into soup, cover the pot and cook an additional 10 minutes.  Make sure kale, potatoes, and yams are all tender and cooked to your liking; if not, cook a little more. 

When veggies are cooked, remove soup from flame.  Scoop out a cup or so of the broth and temper the cream (mix cream into the broth you just scooped out slowly so it heats up gradually and doesn’t curdle) then add tempered cream back to the main soup pot: pour slowly and stir well while adding. 

Ladle soup into bowls and enjoy with  some crusty bread.

This soup is loosely based on all the Caldo Verde recipes that have come before it in my kitchen (sausage + potato + greens + cream = soup), but this is a little bit ddifferent, and I blame the carrots and sweet potatoes for imparting little nuggets of sweet surprise that those other soups do not have.  Not that I won’t make Caldo Verde in a heartbeat, but, it’s a different soup.  And for now, this is my favorite soup.

Pure Comfort

Well, I survived the holiday season unscathed, barely. It was rough, kids. We had a death in the family right before xmas, which, I’m not gonna lie, gave me a bad case of the fuck-its. I’m better now, and we’re all moving along, but not my favorite holiday season ever. (Also, I believe I just won the Understatement of the New Year award…you can send it to my people, they’ll squeeze it in on the mantle).

I had a big “all the stuff I made for holiday gifts” reveal post planned, but alas, I was stupid and forgot to take photos of everything before I mailed it all off, so you don’t get any pictures…but I will give you a rundown:

  • burgundy and dove grey paisley scarves (one for MIL, one for SIL) made out of lovely soft wool/silk blend
  • hand-knit rickrack pattern scarf in Boston U burgundy and charcoal greys for BIL (I do have a photo of this one!)
  • dark blue tartan wool scarf for BIL
  • matching lounge-wear outfits for the neice and nephews (pants out of funky fabric, and scraps of that fabric appliqued onto long-sleeved shirts in the shape of xmas trees
  • a “fort kit” for the 7 year old nephew (giant duvet deconstructed into one large piece of fabric, clips, rope, flashlight and other fort-building necessities picked out by hubby)
  • an “art kit” with a large sewn portfolio envelope (matching the fabric from the lounge-wear no less!), notebooks, colored pencils, etc.
  • a hand-knit cowl and some bath salts for a secret santa swap (pic of this one too)
  • 44 million dozen cookies/candies/fudge/caramels to send to friends & family, plus about an gallon of Irish cream

All of that crafty business was a barrel of fun. Seriously. I’m totally doing it again next year (though I may start before November). And I may even remember to take proper photos to share with the interwebs! But I make no promises.

What I do promise is to share some comfort food with you…see aforementioned brutal holiday season, and you’ll not be surprised to learn that we have been loading up on comfort food here. Tonight is a shining example if ever there was one…pasties and mash. Yes, my Irish heritage salves the dinner plate and saves the day. If you are not acquainted with pasties, then my friend, you’re doing it wrong. That’s all there is to it. The good news, though, is that you will shortly be racing away to meet your first pasty, and it will be epic, I promise. Just read to the end before you scamper off, please?!

So pasties are individual savory meat and potato (and, if you are of heathen scandinavian extraction like my hubby, rutabaga) pies. Some cheap meat (usually skirt steak, though some will use burger), cheap potatoes, and a little butter & spices are all mixed up, folded lovingly into a flaky pastry crust, and baked till tender.  You make a small army’s worth at a go, because it is a lot of work.  Then, you freeze the little buggers and pull them out when you need a fast, hot meal. You can pop them into a 400 degree oven from frozen and have a piping hot meal with zero (and I mean zilch) effort. Someday I will post and show you how to make pasties, but it isn’t today kids, because all I’m doing is reheating them.

So that’s what is happening in my oven as we speak. Well, that and the mash, which is nothing more than pureed vegetable of choice (butternut squash, in this case), an egg or two, a splash of cream, and some cheese. If I had my druthers, I’d use parmesan, but since there was none to be found in my fridge, mozzarella did quite nicely instead. You beat the eggs to within an inch of their lives, stir them into the veggie, add about 1/4 cup of shredded cheese, maybe a pinch of mustard for some zing, and pour that into a greased baking dish, sprinkle a bit more cheese on top, and bake till firm and cheese is melty. Easy peasy, pudding and pie. No, seriously. Pudding. And. Pie.

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Venison Stew Perfected!

I’ve been eating venison stew since I was knee high to a grasshopper, but my own attempts to make it have never quite turned into the lovely melding of vegetable and meat and broth that I remember so fondly.  I’ve tried stovetop recipes, oven recipes, and even one disastrous slow cooker recipe, and they all turned out to be recipes for disaster.  Or, at the very least, overcooked meat and flavorless vegetables wallowing in watery goo.  So when I found myself craving a good fall stew, I thawed out a package of elk steak and decided to give it one last stab.  I had a few errands to run during the day, so I went with the slow cooker method so it could cook pretty much unattended once I got it going.

I scrounged the fridge for vegetables, and took stock of what I had for ingredients:

I cut up the vegetables into pretty large dice, about 3/4″ pieces, so they wouldn’t disintegrate during the slow cooking.

I also cut the venison into fairly large chunks, about 1-1/2″ cubes.  I wanted enough surface area to sear well, big enough pieces that they wouldn’t be overcooked after 3 hours or so in the slow cooker, but small enough chunks to be bite sized.

I used a 5-qt. slow cooker and it fit very nicely (I’m always tempted to use the smaller of our two slow cookers…not sure why, since I nearly always end up sizing up!).  You can see, it’s pretty full even in the bigger size:

I wasn’t sure that my method would work in the end, but I figured it was worth a shot, and I’m super happy to report that it turned out fantastically!  It was hands down the best venison stew I’ve ever made, and possibly ever had.

Slow Cooker Venison Stew

Print this recipe!

Ingredients:

  • 2 slices bacon
  • 3 T. butter, divided
  • 1 yellow onion, cut into 1/2″ dice
  • 2 large carrots (about 1/2 a pound altogether), cut into 3/4″ dice
  • 2 stalks celery, cut into 3/4″ dice
  • 4 small white potatoes (about 1/2 a pound altogether), cut into 3/4″ dice
  • 3 small golden turnips (about 1/2 pound altogether), peeled, cut into 3/4″ dice
  • 1 to 1-1/2 lb. venison stew meat, cut into 1-1/2″ cubes
  • 4 T. flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 1 lb. small mushrooms, halved
  • 1 bottle Oktoberfest beer
  • 1 c. water

Method:

  1. Heat a large skillet over low heat.  Add bacon and cook, turning occasionally, till bacon is golden and has rendered a bit of fat.  Remove bacon from pan and set aside.
  2. Add onion, celery, and carrot pieces to skillet, along with a tablespoon of butter.  Cook over medium low heat till softened, 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. While aromatics are cooking, toss venison cubes with flour.
  4. Once aromatics are done, remove from skillet and place in slow cooker, along with diced potatoes and turnips.
  5. Heat a tablespoon of butter in the skillet over medium high heat and add venison.  Cook a minute or so on each side, just long enough to sear.  Remove from skillet and add to slow cooker.
  6. Add final tablespoon butter to skillet and heat.  Add mushrooms and saute 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.  Pour in a little of the beer and deglaze the pan, then add skillet contents to the slow cooker.
  7. Add water and remaining beer to slow cooker, cover, and cook for 3 hours on high.
  8. Before serving, season with salt and pepper to taste.  Goes very nicely with crusty bread!

Squash Soup!

I’ve been craving squash soup for a while now (and thanks to my hefty squash haul from the end of the CSA season, I have lots of squash to choose from!). In the past week I’ve had a wicked chest cold, so I’ve been doubly craving soup, but hadn’t gotten around to making anything more ambitious than beans on toast. A few days ago, I roasted some squash and happily roasted a bit too much for one meal, which means I could make a really quick soup, to boot! I did some lazy googling to find a recipe, but nothing I found really tickled my fancy…some called for apples (which I don’t have on hand), some for sour cream, and one even called for cabbage (eew, I think?).  Not what I wanted, exactly.

I knew wanted something spicy and sweet and creamy, and all the recipes I dug up ended up being somehow lacking, so I struck out on my own. I started with roasted spaghetti squash, curry powder and cream, but that’s hardly a soup! For the sweet part, I relied on the natural sweetness of the squash, plus a little apple cider. For the spice, I added some curry powder plus some crushed red chili flakes. For the creamy bit, I really wanted to use coconut milk, but alas, my pantry did not have a can lurking in the shadows (a first!), so I went with some heavy whipping cream. I also wanted to use an onion (for a bit more bite), and a bit of lemon juice to perk it all up. I contemplated adding potatoes to the mix, but decided I didn’t feel like washing and boiling spuds–and cubed spuds were out of the question–I wanted a creamy smooth soup, no chunks. I also had a jar of onion stock lurking in the fridge (from a roast we made a few weeks ago). Surprisingly, it came together very easily (a good 45 minutes before I’d planned, even!), so I thought I’d take my new-found spare time to share the recipe.

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Ridiculously Easy Curried Squash Soup

Ingredients:

  • 2 T. butter
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2-3 T. hot curry powder (more or less to taste)
  • 4-5 lb. winter squash, roasted or boiled
  • 2 c. vegetable broth/onion stock or water
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 c. heavy whipping cream

Method:

  1. Heat butter in a dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, till golden.
  2. Add curry powder and cook till fragrant, then add broth and squash. Cook 5-10 minutes, till heated through, then puree using immersion blender.
  3. Taste, and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Remove from heat and gently stir in cream. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Heirloom Pickles

Growing up, there was always a pickle jar in the fridge.  And quite frequently it was my grandmother’s amazing cherry dill pickle recipe filling that jar (while they lasted!).  Since moving away form home (oh, gosh, a decade ago, already?!) my supply of cherry dill pickles has been rather scant.  Mournfully scant, if I do say so myself.  So this year (since I’ve been pickling/canning like a crazy person) I decided to make my own batch.  And it has been an adventure from the start.

A couple weeks ago, I started gathering equipment/ingredients.  First on the list were cherry leaves.  Now, living in an apartment surrounded by ginkos and oaks and the odd spruce, and not having the hottest botany skillz around, I am not really sure I’d recognize a cherry tree even if it bit me.  But I happened to be on the phone with my mom, who was headed over to my uncle’s place to pick cherries for freezing.  “Picking cherries, you say?!” I said, “Well perhaps you could pick some leaves and overnight them to me, too?”…and she agreed!  So early next week, I had cherry leaves in my hot little hands!  The proper cherry leaves even! (since I’m sure the cherry leaves of MT taste much better than MN cherry leaves…yup…for sure!)

Of course, as luck would have it, I was out of cucumbers for the first time in a month.  I know, right?  How can I, who complained so vociferously about being inundated by cukes for months, be out of cucumbers?  Hard to believe, but true…I gave a bunch away to coworkers thinking I wouldn’t have time to pickle them, just before discovering I could order cherry leaves air-mail from home.  Drat.  So I froze the cherry leaves (much like I do with lime leaves for Asian-style soups) so they wouldn’t get all funky before I could get my act together.

The next step in this process was to acquire a pickling venue.  You see, this particular recipe makes enough pickles for an army (OK, as armies go, they would probably only feed a small, pickle-hating army…but for just two folks, it’s a lot of pickles!).  My mother and aunts and grandma use 5 gallon pickling crocks, which I did not have, so my brilliant plan B was a plastic bucket from my friendly local hardware store.  I also decided to scale back the recipe so I would only end up with 3 gallons of pickles, since they were out of 5-gallon buckets.  I make executive decisions like that.

Next I solved the problem of cucumbers, via my friendly veggie vendor at the local farmer’s market.  So one bucket of cukes later, I was ready to pickle.  Which at this stage involved washing the cucumbers, layering them in the bucket with the cherry leaves and a bunch of dill seed, and pouring room-temp brine over them.  And waiting two weeks to move on to the next step.  So this is what’s been sitting on my counter for the past two weeks:

I panicked a bit when I saw some mold forming on the top, but I consulted my mom and aunt conventional wisdom, and was reassured that the pickles would probably be fine if left alone, and it was probably because I froze the leaves first and they were breaking down faster than expected.  So I covered it with foil to keep it from killing us (mold is dangerous, no?!) and made a concentrated effort to not worry about it.  This is what it looked like when we opened it.  Gross, I know.

My hubby was prepared though…

…and gasmask in hand, he gallantly de-brined the cukes for me while I oversaw the proceedings from a location staunchly upwind…

Don’t try this in your home, kids…take it outside–it reeked!

First step once the cukes had been de-brined was to wash them…thoroughly.  See  above if questions.  So I washed the cukes, scrubbing them pretty well with my trusty veggie brush.  Once they were very well washed, I tested them.  After brining, if all was OK, we should have fairly crisp cukes (though they wouldn’t taste like proper pickles yet since the syrup is added later).  So we sliced into one to check it out:

The verdict: crisp and crunchety for the win!  I was so on the fence about these pickles.  Right up until that bite, I was about 60% convinced we should just scrap the whole lot as there’s no way anything that lurked under that scummy surface should be remotely edible…and yet…I held onto this beacon of hope that all would be well, because, well, I wanted cherry dill pickles, dammit!

Once we knew we were home free, the real work began.  I started slicing cukes into 3/4″ to 1″ slices, while John poured vinegar and sugar together and got it boiling for the syrup.  We also lit a fire under the canning kettle (it takes forever to boil, so we start it first most of the time).

Once the water in the canning kettle came up to a boil, we sanitized the jars, added 1/2 tsp. pickling spice to them, and then started packing the slices in.

John has mad pickle packing skillz.  Seriously, I hate packing stuff into jars because I know if I just take my time, more will fit in, but I’m lazy and want to be done already, so I usually end up with one more jar than I planned to make.  But not John!  He packed 10 pints of pickles neatly in to 10 pint jars!  Excellent!

Once the pickles were packed, we poured the syrup over them.

The syrup in the recipe is just a 2:1 ratio of sugar:vinegar, so we started with 2 cups sugar and a cup of vinegar and realized that would fill about 3 jars, max…so we made a couple more batches as we ran out a few times.  Then we tapped the air bubbles out of the jars, wiped the rims clean, screwed down the lids, and into the water bath they went! Exciting!

When all was said and done, our kitchen table was a sticky sticky mess and we had 10 jars of processed pickles!  We had a few odds and ends left that didn’t quite fill a jar, so we poured the last of the syrup over those and tossed it in the fridge to have this week.  A test jar, so to speak!

So it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be (at any and all stages!), but it was definitely more work and anxiety than I bargained for, too!  For any hearty souls that want to try this recipe, here it is (at least you’ll know approximately what you’re in for!):

Cherry Dill Pickles

Equipment:

  • 1 3-gallon plastic bucket or other pickling venue/crock
  • 10-11 pint jars
  • canning kettle/rack/jar lifter
  • large saucepan (for making brine & syrup)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 bushel of smallish whole cukes (4-6″ in length, no more than 1-1/2″ in diameter)
  • 1 large bunch cherry leaves, washed (I’d say about 2 cups total)
  • 1/3 cup dill seed
  • 1 cup canning salt
  • 5 quarts water
  • 6 cups sugar (approx.)
  • 3 cups cider vinegar (approx.)

Scrub the cucumbers well and drain. Layer cucumbers and cherry leaves in your bucket/pickling crock, sprinkling each layer with a tablespoon or two of dill seeds.  Use the entire 1/3 cup over the course of all the layers.

Bring water and salt to a boil and stir till dissolved.  Pour (GENTLY!) over cucumbers/seeds/leaves.  Try not to displace the seasonings too much!

Set bucket in cool location (room temp or just below) out of direct sunlight.  Pick a place that the bucket can sit unmolested for two weeks–you don’t want to be moving it if you can help it.  Cover the top loosely with foil to keep dust/bugs out.

Let sit for two weeks.  Check every couple of days.  If mold forms, skim it off.  If a skin forms, that’s normal, just leave it be.

When cukes have brined for two weeks, remove from brine.  Wash thoroughly and slice into 3/4″ to 1″ wide pieces.  Discard brine.

Pack slices into sterilized jars. Make syrup by boiling sugar and cider vinegar till well dissolved.  Make more syrup using a 2:1 ratio of sugar to vinegar if needed.  Pour syrup into jars, leaving about 1/2″ headspace.  Tap air bubbles out.  Seal jars and process in water bath for 12 minutes.

Let processed jars cool overnight (don’t mess with them!).  Store sealed jars for up to 1 year, any jars that don’t seal, put in the fridge and eat within 3 months.