Vegetable gardens are now as richly productive as they are going to get and the urge to preserve the bounty is in full swing.
We’ve had some let downs this year, largely, we believe to the scorching heat and desert-like dryness of summer’s start. Our zucchinis, despite making never-ending flowers, produced only one fruit. The hens were disappointed. The carrot, beet and pumpkin seeds never took. So they were replanted in early July, babied and are now doing great. The potato plants grew big but produced no flowers . . . and are still green. I am afraid to grub in the dirt for tubers as, if there are none, it will mean a year of buying them. Our cauliflowers grew huge . . . but only one head. All in all, an odd year.
With canning time here I went through supplies a few weeks ago and it has taken until late August to finally get everything together. It seems the rush at the nurseries this spring has resulted in a lot of new canners, so many supplies are limited.
With dills and bread’n’ butter pickles done and lined up in the cold room on the shelf below the jams and jellies, I needed, and couldn’t find, pickling spices. None of the stores I visited had any. Hard to find this year I was told again and again. Even in our corner store I was told the usual plastic pouch in a cardboard box are almost impossible to find this year. Then I was presented with a 1.3 kg (almost 3 lb.) jug of pickling spices! Now this quantity will probably last me 10 years, maybe more but, as our friendly village grocer pointed out, it keeps. Yes it does. So we now have this massive jug taking up room in the pantry for the next decade.
The recipes I make are, for the most part, those of my 102-year-old mother-in-law, possibly from her mother. More than 40 years ago my husband obtained the instructions to his favourites and they are what I still make, the aforementioned pickles, and corn and tomato relishes, some batches made with all red tomatoes, others with all yellow. I still recall the instructions that came with these recipes: The cheesecloth ball of spices to cook with the tomato mixture should be the size of a calf’s testicle (to be polite). Being new to the country, this required a trip to the barn before making it right the first time.
All of her recipes have two things in common. No alum is used and every recipe was sure to win first prize at the Williamstown Fair when I entered them.
Another relish my husband really liked was a green tomato, cauliflower and small onion mixture in a curry sauce. It was a bone of contention between him and his mother when she had no recollection of ever making it and thus no recipe. This year the mystery has been solved.
On a whim I looked up the known ingredients and discovered a relish described as Australia’s favorite pickle! Australia? How did an Aussie pickle make it to that tiny kitchen on the 4th Concession?
The mind works in strange ways. A couple of nights later I woke up thinking of stories my husband had told me of one-time neighbours of theirs. They had bought the old King farm and run an intensive beef operation of 100-head of Black Angus cattle from calving through to market weigh well before intensive farming was heard of around here. He often worked for them. The operation was closed and the farm sold when her father suddenly died and they returned home to run the family cattle ranch . . . in Australia. It would not have been unheard of for him to bring home a jar or two of Australia’s favourite pickle would it?
A dozen jars have joined our regulars on the shelves waiting to be tried this winter with homemade cheddar cheese and crusty breads while snow swirls.
Angela Dorie is an agricultural writer and a Jersey farmer near Cornwall.