Saturday, September 20, 2008


Summer is still lingering on despite the evidence of school buses and college tuition bills. There is some hope for the fall garden: sprouts of mustard and arugula are strong - starting to eat thinnings. Radicchio transplants are also putting out some growth but it will be a little while yet before they can shoulder the bulk of a salad. Lettuce and spinach are quite small but coming up so long as I remember to water religiously during the hot dry days we've been having. The cooler nights are forgiving. All the abundant greens of spring are long gone. The masses of dandelions and garlic mustard, which I had packed into little jars and into the freezer back in April have since been found and eaten, as summer greens became sparse.

The best green this year to carry through the summer, when lettuce has already bolted, is Swiss chard. It's pleasant when cooked like any other green, and the young leaves can passably substitute for lettuce, when lettuce is scarce. In past years, I grew the venerable old Fordhook variety. Since I don't grow that much at a time, that seed packet lasted over several years in the refrigerator. When I ran out this year, I decided to try for some visual excitement and obtained Charlotte and Sea Foam chard from Pinetree Seeds. Charlotte is a red-ribbed variety and Sea Foam is a lighter bright almost limey shade of green. Grown together they make a striking contrast. Sowed in April, they are still going strong in September. Sea Foam is crinkly and more delicate so more suited to salad. But either one can be used for either cooking or eating raw.

Canning has been going on steadily since the first batch of pickles in early August. Bread-and-butter pickles, dill pickles, salsa, tomato juice, plums, chutneys. Although my favorite is dill pickles, most of my family favors the sweet bread-and-butter pickles, so I make a lot of them for gift-giving. Ever since I discovered the recipe in Putting Food By, I've never bothered to try a different one for the sweet pickles since everyone loves them. Actually the authors of Putting Food By credit Isabelle Downey's Food Preservation in Alabama for the source of the recipe. My old Bantam paperback edition of Putting Food By has gotten pretty tattered and falling apart over the years, so my daughter recently found a higher quality trade paperback edition of the book from the Stephen Greene Press in a used bookstore. But lo! It doesn't have the best recipe ever for bread-and-butter pickles, so I will reproduce it here before it turns to dust:

Bread-and-Butter Pickles

  • 6 lbs medium cucumber
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced onion
  • 2 large garlic cloves, left whole
  • 1/3 cup salt
  • 2 trays ice cubes or crushed ice
  • 4 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 1/2 tsp celery seed
  • 2 T mustard seed
  • 3 cups white vinegar

Slice unpeeled washed cucumbers into 1/4" slices . Add to large bowl, along with sliced onions, garlic and salt. Cover with ice; mix well and let sit at least three hours. (When I leave it up to 24 hours, I put in in the refrigerator.)

Drain off the liquid and remove the garlic. Combine sugar, spices and vinegar and heat just to a boil. Add the cucumber and onions; simmer 10 minutes. Pack loosley in clean, hot pint jars, leaving 1/2" of headroom. Adjust lids; process in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes. Makes 7 pints.