My Dad, like any good “coalcracker” could never pass up a bargain. Although my family spent a lot of time together, occasionally we found ourselves going separate ways on Saturday afternoons. Dad had been running some errands and Mom and I had returned home to find he was not yet there. Being “the good old days” before the age of everyone having a cellphone at their beck and call, we idly wondered where he was.
Turns out he decided to go to a local farmers’ market and met up with a farmer anxious to rid himself of an over-abundance of produce he was left with at the close of business rather than haul everything back to his farm. Pop proudly told us of his “score” as Mom and I held our collective breath, tentatively peering into the trunk of the Buick as Dad popped the lid.
Inside was a huge basket of pickling cucumbers, all beautifully green and bumpy, and “only a buck!!” “Wow…” is all Mom managed to get out. I, on the other hand, burst into hysterical laughter. Pop looked at both of us like we had two heads and absolutely no sense of a bargain when we saw one.
“I’m making pickles”, he announced. As he hoisted the basket of cukes from the trunk and started up the walk toward the kitchen door, Mom and I dutifully followed side-by-side up the path. “He’s making pickles”, I said, grinning. Mom just rolled her eyes, shrugged her shoulders and said, “I have the feeling we’re making pickles.”
And make them, we did. Pints and pints of pickles. Out came the Ball canning jars we inherited from my Nana. Hot sudsy water splashing about, we set to work sterilizing them. As we lined up these sparkling soldiers all in a row, Dad set off to buy gallons of vinegar and pounds of sugar and a big bag of ice from the local Mom and Pop store. Upon his return with the necessary ingredients, Mom and I washed the cukes, cut off the ends, then handed them off to Dad who sliced them in numbers too high to keep count of using an old mandolin we found in the back of a kitchen cabinet.
Nowadays, I use this compact, easy-to-use, easy-to-store Kitchen Aid Adjustable Hand Held V-blade Mandolin Slicer. I love the ability to adjust for multiple thickness of slices, the comfortable handle, and the safety guard for holding and slicing small items.
Soon, the double bowl stainless steel sink was filled with layers of cucumber slices, onions, and ice. Several hours later, three very tired, but very accomplished pickle makers stood in that cramped, almost no counter-space coal region kitchen admiring our work. We had never made pickles before and it would take a week of them being allowed to sit before we cracked open a jar to see how they turned out.
One week later, the three of us gathered around the kitchen table and opened a jar of “DAD’S” pickles. Oh, my goodness…those pickles were the best I’d ever tasted. Crunchy, sweet yet with a vinegar tang, perfectly spiced…where had these been all my life? That year started our annual pickle making event that we kept up until my Dad became so ravaged by Black Lung and all it affects he could no longer stand long enough to participate in the process and could barely breathe in the hot, cramped kitchen.
Our family pickle making adventures ended a few years before both my parents passed away, but several years ago, I came across the recipe we had used from an old Pa. Dutch cookbook and the memories of those good times we shared working side-by-side came flooding back. I went to a market one day, brought back a bunch of pickling cucumbers and announced to my unsuspecting husband, “I got a bargain — and we’re making pickles!”
These pickles should be processed in a hot water bath using the correct processing times for your altitude.
A visual guide to water bath canning
I like this enamel-on-steel Granite Ware 9 Piece Canning Kit that includes everything you need to start canning your own foods, including a 21-quart canner, canner lid, 7-jar rack, 9-inch colander, lid wrench, funnel, tongs, jar lifter, and magnetic lid lifter
For the jars, I prefer to use basic pint regular mouth jars from Ball.
Another important piece of information for safe home canning is obtaining a correct seal. To familiarize yourself with this, you should read Cooling Jars and Testing Jar Seals.
Crisp Pickle SlicesCourse: Pickles and Relishes, Side DishesCuisine: Pa. Dutch, Coal RegionDifficulty: Intermediate
Sweet with a zesty tang, these homemade pickles make good use of an abundant crop of cucumbers.
1 gallon medium pickling cucumbers
8 medium onions, sliced thin
2 sweet red bell peppers, cut in strips
5 cups white sugar
3 cups white vinegar (5% acidity)
3 garlic cloves
1/3 cup pickling salt or kosher salt with no anti-caking ingredients added
1 Tablespoon yellow mustard seed
2 teaspoons celery seed
2 teaspoons turmeric
- Wash cucumbers. Cut a thin slice off each end and discard (do not peel). Slice into thin slices (about 1/8 inch thick).
- Place in large bowl and add sliced onions, pepper strips, and whole garlic cloves.
- Sprinkle 1/3 cup pickling salt over the mixture and toss together.
- In large pot, combine sugar, vinegar, and spices. Bring to boil. Add the vegetable mixture to the boiling liquid and bring to boil again.
- Pack pickles fairly tightly into sterilized pint jars, fill with the liquid to within 1/2 inch from the rim, wipe rims, screw on caps.
- Process in a hot water bath with boiling water covering the jars by about an inch above the tops for 5 minutes adjusting for the time recommended for your elevation.
- Carefully remove the processed jars to a towel covered surface and allow to cool. The jar lids will “pop” as the vacuum seal takes effect while cooling If a jar does not pop on its own, gently press down in the center of the lid. If this lid does not stay down on any of the jars, they may be safely stored in the refrigerator. Enjoy these jars first!
- Allow to set at least one week before serving. Best if chilled before serving.
- Makes about 7 to 8 pints.