Thursday, June 24, 2010


When life gives you cucumbers - you make pickles!!! I went just a tad overboard on planting cucumbers this year. Last year it was the currant tomatoes, this year it is definitely cucumbers. So far we've made tzatziki, asian cucumbers, quick pickled cucumbers, had cucumbers on our salads and finally given away loads of cucumbers to friends and colleagues. Still we have plenty. But, it's good to have plenty. :-)

My grandmother in Sweden makes two different kinds of pickles every year that are delicious. One is a dill pickle and one is a bread&butter type recipe. This was my next mission with all the cucumbers; make pickles like grandma's!

The dill pickles were made with a brine solution of water, mustard seeds, dill seed, salt and spirit vinegar. We have imported spirit vinegar from Sweden which is a 12% vinegar. I have tried making another batch using american vinegar which is 5% and re-calculating the recipe to get the same % of vinegar acidity and the same amount of liquid. They will be ready in early August and if they turn out - I will post the recipe!

The dill pickles are layered with fresh dill and grape leaves. Grandma uses black currant leaves. They supposedly have an enzyme in them that keeps the pickles from going soft.
The bread and butter pickles are first sliced, layered with dill and mustard seed and then marinated in a vinegar-salt-sugar brine. Yum! Here is the recipe:

Pernilla's Bread & Butter Pickles (adapted)

2.2 lbs small pickling cucumbers
2 tbsp yellow or brown mustard seeds
plenty of dill, preferably dill crowns (flowers) as well

1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 1/4 cups water
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup salt

Wash and slice the cucumbers - discard blossom ends. Place the cucumbers in glass jar(s) layered with the dill and mustard seeds. Mix together the ingredients for the brine until the sugar and salt has dissolved - this brine should NOT be boiled. Pour the brine over the cucumber slices. Marinate for 3 weeks. The jars should be kept in a cool dark place.
I used large glass jars (see below) for the first 4-5 days and weighted down the cucumbers with glass jars filled with water. After 4-5 days, I transferred the cucumbers (plus brine plus extras) to smaller jars and kept them in the fridge until the 3 weeks were up. Mainly because it's so doggone hot down here this time of year and I was afraid they would go bad.

My grandparents (like most older farm houses in Sweden) have an earth cellar and so neither recipe call for the actual process of canning. I ended up test-canning two jars of the dill pickles, and they turned for the future, those pickles will be kept in the fridge. We eat them fast anyway!!! :-)

Sorry for not blogging a lot lately, but work and life has been hectic. Our garden is keeping us busy and soon I will have some posts on that. Sean and I had some overdue vacation time in New Mexico with his family as well, and I will post some pictures soon.

Hope your gardens are boutiful as well!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Strawberry Jamfest 2010

This year I made some wonderful strawberry jams using new recipes (for me). I found some new great blogs about canning and one of them is called Saving the Season written by Kevin West whom I've come to admire as a writer and blogger and whose recipes are absolutely delicious.
I made two of Kevin's recipes for strawberry jam. One was a regular no-pectin and low sugar recipe that was so wonderful I don't even have the words to describe it. I am doing my best to hoard each precious pint and half-pint that I canned and not give them away to (only) well-deserving friends. I've not been very successful because I want to hear people say "Oh, mmmmm, oh, wow, oh, mmmmmm" and so on......
The second recipe is for balsamic vinegar and black pepper strawberry preserves. It just sounded so different and delicious that I had to give that a try. The black pepper is only hinted at when you taste it and the vinegar provides almost a more adult flavor. I wouldn't pour this on my Kefir for breakfast, but I would eat it with some good cheese, crackers and I might even bake with it. Here are the recipes and links to Kevin's webspace:

Basic Strawberry Jam

Strawberry Preserves with Balsamic Vinegar and Black Pepper

I started out with 2 and a half gallons of strawberries from my local farmer at the Bush n'Vine farm just about 2 miles from where I live. That bucket of blueberries sneaked into my photo, but they got dumped into the freezer for now while I ponder what to make with them (other than these for sure, my favorite!)

Then we move on to the sugar. It's the season for the gigantic bags of sugar again. Kane is making sure it stays put and doesn't get carried away by cats or something.
The only other thing you need are a couple of lemons, and then balsamic vinegar and black pepper for the second recipe.

Kevin does not believe in pectin. And neither do I least not for strawberries. I don't mind it being a little runny, just one less thing I have to clutter up the berries with. :-)

The recipes were both very easy to follow - keep in mind that the second recipe calls for soaking overnight though. I made mine in batches so that I wouldn't mess up the recipe by doubling anything. All in all I had 4 batches of each type of jam/preserve. Can you imagine how great our house smelled???!!

So if your local farmer or farmer's market still has fresh strawberries - go out and get them and make this recipe. I promise you won't be sorry. I'm not sorry. I'm only slightly miffed that I didn't buy like 10 gallons and make more. But then, I'd still be chopping strawberries right now....

So - have you canned anything yet this season?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Garden Crazies

I love living in the south! I love having vegetables already! Ahem, well...remind me of that again when it's in the 100s and humid, humid, humid and my hair is all least the garden doesn't care about my frizzy hair. :-)

Our garden is going crazy this year. Crazy in a good way and I just hope we can keep up with it. Here are a few photos of what we've harvested so far:

Cueball zucchinis that are growing next to the compost bin (courtesy of me tossing the bad ones over the fence from the garden in the "general direction" of the compost bin and then promptly forgetting about actually putting them ON the compost pile...oups.)

New potatoes - All Red, All Blue and Carola (yellow). Wow were they good. We've been handpicking a TON of Colorado potato beetle larvae and the plants that these potatoes came from were pretty much eaten up. So I figured they could be sacrificed. I think now I will have to dig up some more! New potatoes are the best. Heike eats them with creme fraiche, basil and lime....I will have to try that next time!

The bush beans are going absolutely nuts. I eat them, I blanch them and freeze them and still there is more! The Chinese yard longs are starting to come in as well.

I think I got a little too excited about the cucumber plantings. They are growing like weeds and even stretching their prickly tentacles over the beans and over towards the tomatoes. That's where I draw the line though and they get whacked. Noone messes with Lena's tomatoes!
So this weekend I think I'm going to try my grandmother's recipe for pickles. I've picked about 50 of them over the past week. Still there is more!

Next up in my contest to catch up on my blogging (work has been very hectic) will be some photos of my jamfest 2010. Strawberry jam was on the agenda (not sure how the blueberries sneaked in above, but they are on sale now at the local farmstand so they will be next!)....and I found a new recipe that I want to share with you. Coming soon....
Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Our Memorial Day Hike

Here we are on the ridge of the Linville Gorge in western North Carolina. We had a great, short trip and got to spend some much needed together time and time away from all the must-do lists that come with a home and large garden.

We started our hike from the parking lot at Wolf Pit Road. Loaded up all the gear (why do our packs seem to get heavier with each trip???!), and trudged up the mountain. The first mile or so was not fun. I thought I was in decent shape, but I could only do 10-15 steps and then I had to stop and breathe. I suppose Jillian's workout tapes don't include 30 jumping jacks with a 40 lb backpak on a 30% incline. Well, they should.
Kane was a trooper, very sure-footed and sniffing every bush, log, rock and tree. I was a little worried about bears, but I had found a new fellow blogger, Sam, and after reading her hiking story at Linville Gorge, I felt better. If she could do it - I could do it! Luckily we did not see any bears, but we certainly smelled them in a few areas. Peeee-eeeewww!
After we made it up the mountain, there were some beautiful views and a nice breeze on this otherwise humid and hot day. We found a shady spot under a rock outcropping and sat down to make some lunch.
For lunch I had found an organic corn and green chili soup (just add water) and we added some couscous to make it a little more filling. We had decided early on to NOT purchase the ready-made freeze-dried outdoor food, but instead try to bring real food, as light and easy to cook as possible. We both agree that the food we had on this trip was great. We have a book on outdoor cooking from Sweden and I found another website called where you can find recipes and how-tos.

We found a gorgeous little camp site on a ridge a little ways off the main trail. It had a fire-ring, and some cleared moss-covered areas perfect for cooking and for our tent. Kane loves camping. He take pride in carrying his pack (his own food and water), he loves to sleep in the tent, he alerts us to other hikers that come near our camp (but once he gets to "meet" them, he is all love!)

Bringing food for Kane gets a little tricky since he is on a raw diet. I don't exactly want to carry raw chicken with me on the trail (see note about bears above, then add possible mountain lions, foxes etc.) So I found this dehydrated raw diet called Honest Kitchen that you mix with water.

You can tell he likes it from that food "moustache"! :-)

My husband, the camp pyro. It did scare away most of the flies and mosquitoes though. :-)

Dinner was pancetta and chicken tortellini (frozen so it thawed as we hiked) with a cream sauce (milk powder and water + a few drops of olive oil) flavored with salt, pepper and nutmeg. WOW!

Next time - we will strive to make it a little (read A LOT) further...All in all with the blueberry bushes, the mountain laurel and the rhododendron in bloom - it was a beautiful weekend! (This is where I don't mention the rain on the hike back that had us soaked through with water squishing out of our boots 20 minutes into a 4 hour hike. You can bet I was glad we had that stash of dry clothes in the car!