September 7, 2012

Preserving Memories: Canning Asian Pears and Gardener's Pickles


SEPTEMBER IS PICKLE SEASON, AS BACK-YARD GARDEN'S ACROSS THE NORTHERN HEMISPHERE OVER-DELIVER AND RALLY - OH, WHAT TO DO WITH IT ALL.


Pickling connects us with the past - a time when there was no refrigeration, no ice box, no supermarket. Pickling was essential, and it is not only deeply connected to our survival, for many of us, it connects us to our first experiences with the garden, often in our childhood.  I tend to become very nostalgic during this time of year. Memories of mushroom picking,  boiling Concord Grapes for juice and snapping bushels of wax beans for canning are memories one can never forget. 

In this old kitchen, which was my mother's and my grandmother's before that, I can't help but think about home canning and pickles, for both were a yearly project every September. I can only carry on the tradition here in smaller quantities, but the sharp smell of vinegar, spices and salt boiling on the stove brings it all back home. It begins during these early September days when the mornings are cool with dew, and the evenings sultry and humid - buckets of cucumbers begin to multiply on the back porch, summer squash end up in unusual places around the yard and tomatoes begin to pile up in every spare basket on the deck and in the kitchen, attractive fruit flies - dare we toss anything away after all of the work invested, we gardeners eventually explore the fun and rewarding task of canning and preserving, even if it is just a few jars of pickled vegetables.





KOREAN PEARS FROM THE PEAR ORCHARD OUT BACK, MORE THAN ANY HUMAN CAN EAT IN A MONTH, MUST BE CANNED, OR FED TO THE TURKEY'S



This weekend we spend most of the time making three different types of pickles and, in canning a couple of dozen of quarts of the Asian Pears which we harvested last week. Some of my earliest memories involve making pickles with my parents in our kitchen so I guess that I can't help but to haul out the pressure cooker and jars, which has become a tradition every September.  My sister visited us Saturday, and she shared some laughs remembering how as children, my brothers and her would spend so much time helping our parents can. In recollection, it may seem almost romantic in these days of home farming and in our world of tiny, more manageable raised bed, but back in the 1960's and 1970's, it was a job.

As children though, it did, at first, seem fun - spending time with mom and dad, our version of Family Game Night, but like any long task as a child,  after a few hours, it all becomes far too tedious and laborious - all of that careful slicing of the cukes loses it's novelty after 20 minutes.  - my first knife skills being put to test under supervision of my mom "Slice the cukes paper thin" " Not thick, like your sister does". 

ASIAN PEARS NEED TO BE CANNED CAREFULLY, NOT LIKE REGULAR PEARS, REQUIRING THE ADDITION OF ACID (Lemon Juice and Ascorbic acid) AS WELL AS EXTRA SUGAR AN HONEY. I ADDED SOME SPICES TO SOME, AND ALSO CANNED SOME WHOLE WITH STEMS AS GIFTS.

 Once the cucumbers were sliced, we would help my father fill these old, faded red metal (now, beautifully vintage) Coca Cola coolers with ice and salt, to cure the pickles for a few hours before my mother would start pressing and draining them, as we moved on to skinning onions - the worst part of the project. Not nearly as bad a horseradish grinding season in November, but close.



CULTURAL DIVERSITY EXPRESSED THROUGH GARDENER'S PICKLES
LEFT, Giardiniera - an Italian interpretation of mixed gardener's vegetables with oregano, garlic and includes lots of peppers and celery. RIGHT, Jardiniére, a French version of gardeners pickles, seasoned with allspice and garlic, and includes thyme and summer squash.


Tomatoes were often canned out back, on the outdoor fireplace that we used as a grill. I imagine that tomatoes were processed here as long as the fireplace had been there ( built by my uncles with a date of 1938 carefully scratched into the concrete). Giant enamel tubs filled with steaming water sat on the grates as dad piled oak logs underneath. We children sat at a picnic table, again, with sharp knives waiting to skin tomatoes. Our hands scalded and wrinkled after what seemed like hours of skinning scalded tomatoes as my older brothers rotated bringing peeled tomatoes back to the house so mom could process them for canning. We all looked forward to later in the season, when tomatoes would be too rotten or damaged to use for whole canned tomatoes, because these could simply be ground and processed into ketchup, tomato juice ( a water version more like tomato water) and tomato sauce. This was long before salsa made it on the scene.  



ARMENIAN PICKLES, NOT PROCESSED BUT FRESH INCLUDE BEETS WHICH TRANSFORMS THE ENTIRE CONTENTS OF THE JAR INTO A BEAUTIFUL RED COLOR


This week I focused on the pears, and garden pickles - mixed garden pickles, Italian Giardiniera ( Italian mixed garden pickles with more peppers, and seasoned with fresh oregano and garlic, Jardiniére, a French version of mixed garden pickles, made with tarragon, white wine vinegar, pattypan squash and celery, and a pink Armenian pickle ( for Joe, since he is Armenian), made with radishes, green grape tomatoes, bay leaf from our topiaried bay laurel trees, cinnamon and beets. These are refrigerator pickles that will be ready in one months time, and the French and Italian pickles were processed in a hot water bath. All three recipe's are from THE JOY OF PICKLING by Linda Ziedrich, The Harvard Common Press.


3 comments :

  1. hopflower9:52 AM

    Those jars are absolutely beautiful. I think I favour the pears with their creamy look and the star anise; but I would not turn down any one of the them. Delicious!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Looks DELICIOUS. My wife does occasional canning. This summer she made blackberry and peach jam with our son and his girlfriend.

    ReplyDelete
  3. You are so lucky Jason, maybe your son's girlfriend will carry on the tradition.

    ReplyDelete

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