Pickles are a part of late summer that stretch the season's joy through the year. They offer a way to turn excess garden produce into piquant treats -- and they've been made for centuries to sharpen the dull edge of winter food.
If you've been shy about pickling because so many recipes make it seem so drawn-out and complicated, this may be the year to try it. The ease -- and the speed at which your shelves fill up -- might surprise you.
Kosher Dill Pickles. This first recipe, for that old favorite, came from a great gardener who used to be post-mistress in Ringoes, New Jersey. She doesn't process her pickles, but if that bothers you put the finished product in a water bath for 10 minutes.
Boil together 1 quart white vinegar, 6 quarts of water, 1 cup pure salt (not iodized) and 1 cup sugar.
Place clean cucumbers in hot sterilized jars with 1/2 clove garlic, a piece of dill, 1/2 teaspoon mixed pickling spice, and a bit of powdered alum, the size of a pea, in each jar.
Pour the boiling syrup over the cucumbers until they're completely covered. Seal. And let them sit six weeks to turn into pickles. Process right after sealing if you prefer, but people have been pickling with this old-fashioned method for years.
Mixed Pickles. The next two recipes represent a neat and handy way to make use of dribs and drabs of all kinds of garden vegetables. In the first, the choice is yours. The second calls for the ingredients of a classic piccalilli.
MIXED: Take six pounds of mixed vegetables and chop them. Mix them with ice cubes in a large bowl, and refrigerate for 3 hours. Make a syrup of 1/2 cup pickling salt, 2 cups honey, 1 teaspoon turmeric, a quart of white vinegar and a cup of water. Add 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves, 2 teaspoons celery seed and two tablespoons mustard seed.
Bring to a boil and boil 3 minutes. Add the drained vegetables and boil another minute. Pack into hot jars, seal, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 to 15 minutes.
PICCALILLI: Chop 3 1/2 to 4 pounds each of ripe and green tomatoes, 3 medium-sized onions, 3 ripe and 3 green peppers, a large cucumber, and 2 bunches of celery. Sprinkle with 2/3 cup pure salt, and let stand 12 hours or more.
Drain well and add 3 pints white vinegar, 2 pounds brown sugar, 1 teaspoon mustard and one teaspoon pepper. Cook slowly for an hour, pack into clean, hot jars and seal. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
DILLED BEANS. This last recipe is a great way to use some of those prolific garden beans. The pickle comes out as nice as those expensive little jars of dill beans sold in gourmet shops. Feel free to mix yellow, purple and green snap beans -- just make sure all are at their prime and close to uniform size, for visual effect.
Wash 4 pounds of beans, cut the ends off, and pack them, standing if possible, into clean, hot jars. Put 2 tablespoons dill seed and 3 peppercorns into each jar. Combine 3 cups white vinegar with 3 cups water, and 1/3 cup pure pickling salt, and bring to a boil. Pour the boiling syrup over the beans, to within 1/2 inch of the jar tops. Seal, and process in a water bath for 10 minutes.