“They say that Dianah Darden would attack all that had to be done with the energy of a whirlwind. And there were so many things that had to be done for a family the size of hers – curing the meat in a smokehouse, making the soap, boiling clothes for laundry, and baking. But canning and preserving were the things that gave her the most satisfaction. She felt that the the whole process just seemed to pull her into the rhythm of the universe. She’d plant her seeds in the spring, pick and prepare the vegetables and fruits from the earth in the summer and fall, and serve them in the winter.”
Close your eyes and imagine you’re standing in the center of your kitchen. Now take away your microwave. You don’t have a food processor or blender. There’s no powerful KitchenAid, George Foreman grill, or fancy automatic bread maker. You have an oven, but there’s no beep when it reaches 350 degrees. You might have an icebox if you could afford to pay the ice man to deliver. So really, you have no fridge and you definitely do not have a freezer.
Dianah Darden of Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine, an African American culinary history published in 1977, would have been the age of our great great grandmothers. She lived before the industrialization of our diets with megamarts, frozen food aisles, and microwavable meals. No farm to table movement need exist because there was no alternative to local diets. Fresh foods were always eaten when the weather permitted and then extra was packaged to last the winter.
|Farmer’s market kirbies – always perfect, despite their blemishes.|
Pickling is one of the oldest methods of food preservation and is found in every part of the world. Put simply, pickling is the process of adding acid to vegetables in order to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. This is accomplished either by fermenting with weeks of curing in a salty brine to produce lactic acid or by quick pickling by marinating and storing the vegetables in an acid/vinegar solution. Antimicrobial herbs and spices, such as mustard seed, garlic, cinnamon or cloves, are also added to season and naturally preserve. Vegetables, fruits, jams, jellies, and salsa can be stored for up to one year once the jars have been “processed” by boiling to seal.
While most chores for every day life in Dianah Darden’s time are happily tucked away in history, natural food preservation remains relevant in the city and countryside alike. Processing the summer harvest from your garden or farmer’s market can be an easy and fun return to culinary traditions and a real way to eat local foods year-round. Just imagine how awesome it will be to mix up monotonous winter vegetables with your very own pickles!
|The latched jar went to the fridge. The quart jar was split into pints so I could submerge in the boiling water to seal.|
Spicy Quick Cucumber Pickles
adapted from Food52
Makes about 3 quarts of pickles
10 kirby pickles
8 cloves minced garlic
3/4 tablespoon dried dill
3/4 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes (less if you can’t take the heat)
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
1 tablespoon whole brown mustard seeds
3 tablespoons sea salt (avoid iodized, it will discolor the pickles)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 cups water
Wash jars, lids and bands in hot, soapy water. Keep warm until ready to use to avoid breakage when filling with hot foods.
Slice pickles 1/2″ thick for nibbling or 1/8″ thick for sandwiches. Divide evenly in jars with minced garlic, dried dill, and crushed red pepper flakes.
In a small pot, combine peppercorns, mustard seeds, salt, sugar, vinegar, and water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat then lower to simmer for about 3 minutes to dissolve salt and sugar. Remove from heat and cool for about 15 minutes.
Pour brine over cucumber, making sure to submerge the vegetable.
If you are going to eat them within a month, screw or latch the lid tightly and refrigerate for at least a day before tasting.
If you are canning for long term storage, remove any air bubbles by sliding a small non-metallic spatula inside jar and gently pressing food against the opposite side. Screw the bands over the center sealing lid. Submerge jars in a large pot with at least 1″ of water to cover. Boil pints for 5 minutes and quarts for 10 minutes. Remove from water and cool on counter top for at least 12 hours. Press on center lid to make sure it will not flex up or down. Also, I highly recommend reading more on canning to make sure your long-term canning method is safe.