Grandma Jo’s Dill Pickles

The truth: I am an amateur.  However, it is pretty safe to say that I developed a bit of an addiction with preserving all of my garden harvest last year.  Really, how could I let all of that fresh produce go to waste? It all started with my grandma’s dill pickles and ended with my kitchen looking like a disaster zone…a bit of a dysfunctional, yet highly productive mess.

My grandma is the best cook around, not joking.  She can make ordinary taste delicious and the disgusting taste edible.  The best part is that she shares her goods and her recipes, which is how I came across the most delicious dill pickles my mouth has ever tasted…I’m talking, eat half the jar in one sitting, good.

So, if there one thing I believe in, it’s passing on those great recipes, especially the fairly easy ones, for all to enjoy.  Here it is…the recipe and the process for Grandma Jo’s Dill Pickles.

Grandma Jo’s Dill Pickles

In the jar:

4 lbs. cucumbers (rinsed & sliced)

14 heads of fresh dill (big head of flowers & some green leaves with each head)

5-6 peppercorns

Bring to a boil:

1/4 c. pickling salt

2 3/4 c. white vinegar

3 c. water

Prepare jars & lids.  Put cucumbers, peppercorn, & dill into jars.  Pour boiling mixture on top leaving a little space (1/4 in).  Place lids on jars and attach ring.  They should seal within an hour.  If they don’t, try reboiling the liquid and repeat process.  Store in your refrigerator.

Now, for the tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way to make this easy…

Everything of course can be purchased at your grocery store, however, if you want it garden fresh, you need to make sure a bush cucumber plant (or two) and dill are found in your garden plot.Image  Actually my dill is planted along my garage in the backyard mixed in with the landscaping.  The one thing you need to know about dill is that it spreads year to year.  I thought I understood that when I planted it last year, but didn’t fully grasp the concept until this year when I found 5 or so extra dill plants growing around the ones I planted last year along with a random one or two growing next to our driveway (which is on the other side of the garage)…so yeah, it spreads.  However, they are easy to pull out and get rid of if they land in a not so desirable location.  Plant the dill, it’s worth it.

After those two ingredients, I’ve used a variety of different kinds of peppercorns and then just got the vinegar and pickling salt at my nearest Wal-Mart.

So, here’s my step-by-step, tricks, & tips…

Step 1: Place all clean jars into your empty dishwasher.  Push the sani-rinse button (if you have that option) and hit normal wash.  This is how I sanitize the jars before filling.  I don’t even add detergent.  I just count on hot water to do my sanitizing.  My dishwasher takes quite a while, so I have to do this step first thing.  Now, the downside you can see in the picture is that my normal dishes take a backseat to the jars and fill the countertop.  I’ve come to accept that a productive kitchen is never a clean one;).  Welcome to my home.Image

There’s the “Sani-Rinse” button (3rd from the right…has to be pushed 1st).  Push that and then my “Normal” wash to get those jars ready…

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Step 2: Gather those ingredients and wash the garden fresh.  My kids eat dirt, but I don’t really care to, so I scrub the cucumbers pretty well and rinse the dill. Image

Step 3: Fill your stock pot with the vinegar, pickling salt, & water.  Cover & turn burner to med-high to get it boiling. (Yesterday I multiplied the “bring to a boil” ingredients by 5 to fill 22 pint jars and use 12 1/2 lbs. cucumbers…liquid use can vary based on how full you fill the jars with cucumbers.  My advice: stuff pretty full.)

I didn’t get a picture of my ingredients boiling, but here’s a shot of a lot of the equipment I used.  My 8 qt. stock pot is in the back left, 2 qt. saucepan in the front right, the two green ones are my canning tools (funnel and magnetic lid grabber…clearly the technical term;), and then a scraper to stir, dish to keep peppercorns easily accessible, and ladel to dish out the liquid.Image

Step 4: Slice cucumbers.  The best thing I purchased for this purpose is Pampered Chef’s Ultimate Mandolin.  Image  It slices evenly, the quicker the better, and there is almost no way to slice a finger as long as you are following the directions.  It makes the process quick and easy.  I start by slicing off a little bit of each end, then cut each cucumber into 3rd, maybe even 4ths if it’s a large one using about this much at a time…Image  Stab the cucumber with the mandolin grabber (see picture of mandolin)…put it in place and slice away.  All slices I place in a large, easily accessible bowl.  This is 12 1/2 lbs. of cucumber :)…Image

Step 5: Start your small saucepan of water simmering to sanitize jar lids.  Don’t place lids into the water yet as they should only sit in there a few minutes.

Step 6: When jars are sanitized, water is boiling, and cucumbers are sliced, it’s time to get going.  Place 4 jar lids into your simmering water one at a time.  ImageGrab 4 hot jars out of the dishwasher, place cucumbers, a few at a time (so they lay flat), into the jar until almost full.  Add peppercorns and dill.  ImagePlace jar funnel onto full jar.  Use a ladel to scoop boiling brine into the jar slowly & carefully until liquid brine reaches about 1/4 in. from top of jar.  At that time, use your magnetic canning tool to grab a jar lid out of the simmering water and place onto your full jar.  Screw on jar ring and set aside to seal.  You will hear a pop when it seals.  Repeat with all jars until cucumbers are gone.  Image

Once they have cooled off, into the fridge they go for 3 or so weeks when you can take them out and gobble them up.  Enjoy!

One small minor note: Although the jars I used are super cute AND they were on sale :), I found that I maybe should’ve saved them for another project as they don’t stack on top of each other, which means 22 jars are now filling prime real estate in my refrigerator.  Well, now I know :).

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Giving Thanks and Creating Traditions

November is here and the countdown to my favorite holiday is on.  With the opportunity to eat lots of delicious food and take time to reflect on all of God’s blessings, who couldn’t love Thanksgiving?  For as long as I can remember we always did Thanksgiving with my dad’s family.  It was full of the best food taste buds can imagine and lots of family to fill my grandparents basement.  We gave thanks to God for our blessings, dug in to our completely overstuffed plates, because you couldn’t leave out any of the tasty dishes, and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon with family, complete with a few napping people on the couches because the food coma had kicked in.  As my family has grown up and gone our separate ways, we’ve come to appreciate the memories of Thanksgiving at Grandma & Grandpa’s.

I’ve taken on Thanksgiving the past few years (with the help of my mom!) and, of course, had to make sure all of the best dishes like my grandma’s infamous chicken noodles and my great aunt’s date nut tapioca pudding were included.  I’ve loved every minute of it and hope the love has shown through each dish, every decoration, and each new/old tradition.  But as growing up goes, things change and people go their separate ways and new traditions are formed.  Last year I started the countdown to Thanksgiving with my kiddos.  We did the Thanksgiving alphabet book.  

It was great for my 3 & 1 year old as it helped with learning the alphabet, letter recognition, sound association, etc.  All I did was make a page for each letter on the left side of the book and a blank page next to it on the right.  Each day counting down to Thanksgiving we took the next letter, figured out something we were thankful for that began with that letter, drew a picture of it on the blank page next to the corresponding letter, and wrote the word of each picture…partly for the practice of writing letters, but more importantly so we could for sure recognize the pictures for years to come.:)  The kids loved it and by the end we had multiple pictures for each letter.  And, I love that it’s a keepsake that is easily stored.

This year, I’m a little late getting on the ball, but today I found a great idea at Make and Takes…great blog, btw.  

My turkey is made, feathers cut out, and we’re set to start giving thanks tomorrow.  I think I’ll write a verse about giving thanks on the turkey instead of “Happy Thanksgiving,” but other than that mine looks pretty similar.  Thanks for the idea Make and Takes!

And, because of my late night blog surfing and Dresses ‘n Messes, I have my idea for next year AND the time to plan it out!  I love the way it takes it to the next level and gives the opportunity to teach service to others along with realizing all your blessings.  Maybe we’ll actually get started November 1st.:)

I’m excited each year to share with my kids our reason for celebrating Thanksgiving.  Because of the love put into each Thanksgiving growing up, we’ve all missed our big family Thanksgiving and it looks like this year we’ll have the opportunity to get together with some of the family and enjoy each other’s company.  Every part of me, especially my eyes that will forever be way bigger than my stomach, can’t wait!

The Ultimate S’more

Like I mentioned in a previous post, we had some friends come up from Kansas City earlier this summer.  Because I love to have company, especially this group, I tried planning everything down to having every grocery purchased so that we wouldn’t have to make a trip with our soon to be outnumbered adults in the kid:adult ratio.  When searching for all the right meals so that kids and adults alike would have a great time, I came across an idea for the ultimate s’more and decided we just had to try it.  Because I knew this would be beyond rich, we did get the regulars of graham crackers, mallows, and Hershey’s, but this recipe was just one I could not pass up.  Here is what you need for the ultimate s’more…

-2 chocolate chip cookies (go for homemade!)

-1 Reese’s Peanut Butter cup

-1 fire roasted marshmallow

Set your peanut butter cup on one of your cookies on a plate/napkin so it’s ready to hold your marshmallow.  Roast marshmallow over the campfire on your best roasting stick.  Then, set it on your peanut butter cup and squish together with your other cookie.  Prepare your mouth for chocolatey goodness and proceed to gobble up as much as your taste buds can handle.

Savor.  For some, it was one bite, for others of us, it was the whole thing.:S  Not exactly a diet recipe, but something you must try once in your life!;)  It’s things like this that produce happiness in life;)…ha ha.

Homemade Ice Cream

We have finally gotten out our ice cream maker in the last few weeks and it has been put to work.  The recent fruits of its labor include fresh mint chip, cherry lime, and snickerdoodle ice cream.  A couple of the basic recipes come from this book.  It’s one of those cookbooks you look through and just drool.  It has your standard recipes.  But, the thing I love is that it also has more nontraditional and gourmet recipes to spice things up.  We made a watermelon mint sorbet last year.  And, I’d really like to try the rhubarb and ginger sorbet sometime soon.  However, we savored the fresh mint chip & cherry lime this year.  The mint, straight out of my backyard, and cherries from our friends Jon & Maile who have cherry trees in their yard made these recipes sublime.

The snickerdoodle ice cream recipe, however, I got from my friend Lisa, sent in a thank you note from their visit to Nebraska a month or so ago.  You can’t get a better thank you than that!:)  It is by far the best, because it’s the EASIEST!  Here’s the recipe…

SNICKERDOOLE ICE CREAM

-1/2 c. baker’s sugar (you can use regular sugar, but the more fine the sugar, the smoother it will be)

-1/2 c. brown sugar

-1/2 t. cinnamon

-1/8 t. nutmeg

-2 c. heavy whipping cream

-1 1/2 c. half & half

-1 t. vanilla

Mix the first 4 ingredients in a medium sized bowl.  Pour in the last 3.  Mix well.  Pour into your ice cream maker and operate following it’s instructions.

20-30 minutes later and you’re eating deliciously creamy homemade ice cream.  Gotta love summer!

Sweet Sweet Corn

This is one of my favorite times of the year.  It’s pretty much a holiday in my book…Sweet Corn Season.  It ranks up there with the best.  It’s to the point that I can’t even look at corn in a can, let alone eat it.  It just doesn’t compare.  So, this year I thought I’d do a little documentation of what I do on this “holiday.”

For the last week I have been picking, shucking, cleaning, boiling, grilling, or eating sweet corn.  That’s just how it has to be.  If you’re from a farm, you know what I’m talking about.  You eat it until you just can’t eat it anymore, and then you put up the rest to be eaten in the winter when you’re dreaming about this time of year once again.  So, after eating quite a bit, I put up some sweet corn on my own and then spent an entire day of quality family time putting it up all together…so you can see both processes.

Here is my agnerd hauling our harvest…corn gets super heavy:).

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This is about the cleanest this little girly was all morning.  Later on she managed to get mud everywhere, including inside her eye!

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And, here’s my little farmer.  He would live out here if he could.

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Time to enter in and start picking.

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The perfect carrying unit is still up in the air…this one is not even close (a recyclable Sam’s bag), but it did the job.  I’ve used brown paper bags, laundry baskets, plastic Wal-Mart sacks…but my favorite is the newspaper carrier bags that my dad has.  They provide the least strain on your back!

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So we get the best crop, there’s a little protection on our field…a radio (inside that cooler) and an electric fence.

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Here’s half of the harvest I’m taking home.

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Looking good…peaches and cream…YUM!

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But there’s always the bugs.  Because we don’t spray our sweet corn, you get to be pretty friendly with these creatures.  You can’t see them very well in this picture, but there are about 5 little clear wormies eating my corn.

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And then there’s this guy.

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He kept my kiddos entertained for quite a while while I shucked corn in our backyard.  He even took a ride in the back of the sandbox firetruck.

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After shucking (pulling off the husk), it’s ready to be cleaned.

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Cleaned and into the boiling water they go…

After about 5 minutes or so, the corn comes out and gets dumped into an ice cold bath to stop the cooking process.And then, we’re ready to actually cut the corn off of the cob.  Everyone has their method, but here’s what I’ve found works best for me.  I have to have two tools: Pampered Chef’s Kernel Cutter and an angel food cake pan.
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Find the right angle and slice away with the angelfood cake pan catching the goods.  Turn the tool around and use the plastic part to get off all of the excess/juices, etc.  I did modify my system slightly from the picture below and it made the job even easier when doing this with our family.  If you take the inside of the cake pan out and put it inside a large bowl, it catches all.  With just the cake pan, every once in a while, the corn would fly out.  Maybe I’m just a crazy corn cutter, but the large bowl made the job easier for me.

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After it’s off the cob, you can scoop 2-4 cups into quart size freezer bags (based on how much you’d eat at a time), flatten them out, label, and freeze for your later enjoyment.

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Now, here’s the real deal.  9 hours, 8 adults, 7 kids, a whole set up, & 157 bags of corn.  That’s how we did it with my agnerd’s side of the family.  Here are the pictures…

A bag full of corn too heavy to carry.

Shucking away.

My son’s abandoned shoes…left for the joys of mud.

Oh the mud!

This trio found “secret passageways” and all kinds of exploring to do while we picked corn.  Gotta love cousins.

Our strategy for hauling from field to shop.  This large tank is on a trailer pulled by a pickup.  Gotta love the multipurpose leaf rake.;)

Washing it clean and removing the silk.

This is about 1/5 of what we put up…maybe even less than that.  You should’ve seen all the corn!

It takes all the help you can get:)

I forgot to get a picture of actually blanching the corn, but that step would fit in here…then on to cutting off the cob.

Filling the bags.  Even my 3 month old niece gets in on the process.

Stacking to take home to the freezer.

The remains…

This is what we all felt like doing by the end!

And here’s a few of the beautiful faces that helped out along the way…

Salty Chocolate Caramel Turtle Cookies….Mmmm

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These are our treat of the day.  After my agnerd volunteered me to make cookies for his meeting tonight I decided that your run of the mill chocolate chip just wouldn’t do.  After searching a little online I came across this blog for a delicious cookie to make your mouth water.  My 3yo will tell you they are worth it, as he has already eaten one and snuck two while I was not looking.  Enjoy.