Thursday, August 14, 2014

My Quest for the Perfect Pickle

Pickles have always been my nemesis. The first year I learned to can, I put up nearly 15 quarts of pickles. They were “bread and butter” pickles which makes absolutely no sense to me because why would pickles be associated with bread and butter? Once upon a time did people eat butter and pickle sandwiches? All that aside, bread and butter is not sweet and sweet is what these pickles were, plus mealy and more of a brown color than green. I worried with every bite that they’d gone bad. I had a new baby at the time and like most new parents I was stricken with a paranoia that everything was out to kill me or my babe. So I placed the jars in a neat row above the bulkhead in my kitchen and they stayed there for nearly five years until we moved. They looked really nice up there and people often commented on how clever and quaint I was to can pickles. Luckily, no one ever asked to taste those pickles.

In our tiny kitchen at our next house there was no bulkhead so when I finally came across the jars (packed by the movers three to a box with insane amounts of paper and bubble wrap), I promptly opened them up and dumped their contents in the compost bin.

I took another shot at pickles a few years later and created beautiful dill pickles that were so bitter they left an aftertaste that didn’t go away until hours after I’d dumped the last jar in the compost. The next year I tried a new recipe and the pickles turned a completely unappetizing watery brown color which was fine since they had no taste at all. So the next year I went out and bought a kit. (Yes, they do make pickle kits.) The pickles looked gorgeous, but once again they were mealy and super sweet. I didn’t dump those jars and pulled them out on occasion to make egg salad, but they certainly weren’t the pickles I’d been dreaming of. (Yes, some people do dream of perfect pickles.) I’m fairly sure I still have one of those jars in the back of my cabinet.

I moved on to sun pickles, refrigerator dills, and sweet pickles marinated in an old fashioned crock to mediocre results. A few years ago I tried using the recipe out of the Ball Jar cookbook which is my go-to cookbook for all my canning adventures. The pickles turned out so salty they became a family joke. My oldest son was about 14 at the time which is just the right age to eat something for the sole purpose of freaking out the people around you. He ate several to prove he could, but then decided he liked them. “They’re so bad, they’re actually kind of addictive,” he said. I decided he had a salt deficiency and finally hung up my pickle hat. (No, there is no such thing as a pickle hat.) I was really good at applesauce, salsa, pizza sauce, pepper jelly, and tomato-basil soup. Who needs homemade pickles?

My decision to quit pickle-making was affirmed when I discovered the pickle stand at Eastern Market. Oh, those pickles! Sweet-hot, Garlic-dill, Jalapeño, so many wonderful crispy delicious pickles! Never mind that they cost $8 a quart and I had to drive nearly 30 minutes to reach the stand which was only open on Fridays. Problem solved.

And then this summer a new pickle stand opened at Central Market, the market I frequent weekly. Lancaster Pickles makes delicious, fresh pickles and gives free samples. The owners were friendly and fun to talk to. One day while making my purchase of fresh garlic-dills and Sweet horseradish chips, I shared my pickle problem with them. I told them of my salty, bitter, mushy attempts. Kate, one of the owners (and a serious pickle master. And Yes, there are such things as pickle masters.) asked me a few questions and then gave me a five minute tutorial on how to make crispy, delicious pickles.

I hurried home, picked my cucumber vines clean and set to work. And guess what! YES! Finally – crispy, delicious, perfect pickles! Now, before I share the secret with all of you, you must promise me that you’ll stop by the Lancaster Pickle stand at Central Market. Say hi to Kate – she is my hero.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Excuses, excuses.....

It’s Friday and I still haven’t written my post for this week. Here’s why…

My tomatoes have been stricken by the blight…..


And then I found this nasty guy (girl) covered in eggs ready to eat what’s left of them.
 So I’m canning as fast as I possibly can.


The Japanese beetles haven’t let up….


Even though the Assasin bugs are out in force. 
(Assasin bugs might look nasty but they are one of your best allies in the war on Japanese beetles.)

The cucumbers are growing prolifically and I’ve finally found a way to make crisp pickles after nearly 20 years of trying! (Hoping to post about that next week!)
This morning I found this Siamese cucumber.


Everything seems to be ready at once in the garden. The potatoes are ready to come out of the ground.


The carrots should have come out a few weeks ago!


And I have more beans than I know what to do with.


So please forgive me for being a slacker blogger. If your garden is anything like mine, you don’t have time to be reading my silly blog anyway! 

Friday, August 1, 2014

CAMP ACHTERBERG: Day Five

Today’s camp was a compromise. First we went for a hike and a picnic around Lake Redman and then we went to the movies, and finished with a hilarious game of ping pong (in which the camp director was pinged and ponged as she sat nearby writing this). See? Everybody gets what they want. 

I must confess that I'd hoped for more participation and more nature in our week, but I'm learning that as my kids get older, they find spending time with Mom and the natural world less magical and more of an ordeal they must endure if they want a ride to their friend's house. I know we are incredibly lucky to live on our beautiful hillside, but sometimes I think my kids take this privilege for granted. For instance, we have three horses that spend most of their days as lawn ornaments because my children have no interest in riding. Yet, thousands of kids squander every birthday wish and falling star hoping for a horse of their own. I worry that until my kids no longer have constant access to woods and fresh air and animals they won’t appreciate what they have. But maybe that’s the way it’s always been.

Enough parental angst, back to camp. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

CAMP ACHTERBERG: Day Four

Camp got off to a rough start today with a total lack of camper enthusiasm (except our senior camper who is always game for my adventures). The start of the day was delayed to allow for extra laying around doing nothing time, yet still we encountered resistance. We chose our activities in the hopes of coaxing the girl camper out of her lair, but she admirably resisted our efforts in favor of completing her summer course work (how can a mother argue with that?). After a long yes-I’m-coming, no-I’m-not agony, my two most faithful campers got on board and we set off for the Central Market in downtown York.

We snagged an excellent parking spot with 47 minutes left on the meter and considered that a good omen. Our first stop was Cherie Anne’s Designs where we purchased refreshing smoothies and iced tea and visited with some of my favorite downtown personalities. Next we stopped in Kimman’s gift shop after spotting an amazing $589 cooler that looked like a VW Bus. The price tags were much too rich for us, but we enjoyed reading the clever signs – “Inside every old person is a young person wondering what the hell happened.”

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

CAMP ACHTERBERG: Day Three!

We were up and out early for our big day at camp. Today’s schedule lured in two more resident campers despite the fact that revelry sounded before noon. We set off for the city of Baltimore at 9:30am. While I had hoped for lively conversation en route, three out of four campers were otherwise occupied with ear buds and/or books. Undeterred, my most faithful camper kept me entertained and helped navigate.

One of the reasons I love the Walters Art Gallery is that it’s free. The other reason is that I always find a parking place right out front – and today was no exception. There was even 47 minutes left on the meter! As we entered the museum I challenged the campers to find the weirdest thing and the funniest thing in the museum. One brother immediately tagged the other and said, “Found it!” Too early for that kind of humor apparently.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

CAMP ACHTERBERG: Day Two!

Today’s camp started with wild raspberry picking! The camper who grumbled the most about the adventure actually beat all the other campers up the hill to the raspberry patch on the side of the neighbor’s soybean field and out-ate the rest of us. I’d had plans to scout out some other local raspberries, but yesterday on our way home from geocaching we spied a group of Amish teenagers combing our road for berries. Alas, we had to be satisfied with our small find.

We spent the rest of the morning continuing work on our craft projects. Some campers have begun additional projects and late this afternoon the craft table caught the eye of a camper who has ignored all our other activities.

After lunch a new camper joined us for a stream hike/swim/wade/run/splash/slip! One of our older campers tagged along on shore and captured much of the action. Here's a picture play-by-play -