Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What would MARTHA do?

While at work today we ended up having a short discussion about pickles. The usual comment is to “ASK MARTHA”. In this case Martha is me. It seems that the young ladies that I work with figure that I can do anything and know the answers to almost everything that is either kitchen, garden or do-it-yourself based. For a guy of my stature, 6’3” and around 280, I think that the title is a stretch but I will except it. It goes along with the other title of “Shrek Hands”.

The topic of discussion today was pickles. I remember growing up helping my mom make her wonderful polish dill pickle in a large 25-gallon crock. What was in the recipe eludes me to this day but I do remember putting in a crusty slice of german rye bread and then weighing everything down with a large plate. Summers would be spent reaching into the crock and pulling out a pickle and munching on it. Eventually mom would be happy with the batch and then the remaining pickles ended up in jars. They were great from the jar but the "dip and eat method" from crock just seemed to add a little more fun to the experience. With the knowledge that I have gained, I now realize that these pickles were made in the fermenting style of making pickles.

I have tried to grown cucumbers for pickling in my limited garden space but my results are lest than stellar. I don’t know if it is tied to the decrease of bees to pollinate the flowers or if it my lack-luster and carefree approach to gardening. Either way, I ended up at the local produce market today and bought a few pounds of nice small French cucumbers (about 5 to 6 inches long).

The rest of my shopping list included white vinegar, ginger root, dill, garlic bulbs and pickling spices. After a quick search on the Internet I came up with at least a half dozen recipes for basic dill pickles. As my usual approach to cooking is , get the basics and then modify them to my own needs.

Some of the pointers that I found very useful and thought I would incorporate were the use of nickel size slices of ginger root, slightly crushed whole gloves of garlic, soaking the cucumbers in an ice-water bath and slicing the cukes into spears to speed the process along. With my finished product in mind I began the process.

I decided to work on a small scale and only put up two quarts of pickles. I placed my jars in a large pot of boiling water to sterilize them. In the bottom of each jar I put in two nickel sized slices of ginger, two crushed cloves of garlic and a couple sprigs of dill. I quartered my cukes and then packed the jars tightly and then topped then off with a couple more slices of ginger, crushed garlic cloves and another sprig or two of dill. I brought 2 cups of white distilled vinegar to a boil along with 2 to 3 tablespoons of pre-packaged pickling spices. I ladled this into the jars until they were filled. A skewer came in handy to get any air bubbles out of the jar and then I put the jars in a pot of boiling water for a few minutes before sealing the jar lids tightly.

I did have to add a little of the boiling water to top off the jars, 2 cups of vinegar was just a little shy of filling up the jars. I made sure to get a good portion of the boiled pickling spices in each jar and then toped each jar with a nice pinch of course salt.

I have a problem with being patient and that is the main reason I decided to go with the spears rather than the whole cucumber. It seems that you can get pickles ready to eat in a few days rather than a week or so if you use the whole cucumber. It was also easier to fit them in the jar when they were cut into spears. I also gleaned from the internet that the flower end of the cukes should be sliced off to keep your pickles from having problems with the enzymes that may or may not be present.

Well, I have two jars of pickles put up and I have to say that after being in the jars for less than and hour they are actually looking like pickles. The color has changed from a bright shiny green to more of a muted green and I just know it is going to be hard to wait a day or two to try my pickles.

One last note on the dill pickles is that once they reach the flavor and texture that pleases you then you need to refrigerate them.

I did end up with a few cukes left over and since Ron (my partner) does have a taste for old-fashioned bread and butter pickles I thought I would try to make some for him as well.

This time I sliced the cucumbers into coin shapes (you just have to love a food processor for this step). I also sliced a large white onion. I mixed the cucumber and onion together in a large bowl. On the stove I incorporated 2 cups of distilled white vinegar, 2 cup white granulated sugar, ¼ cup of coarse salt and about 3 tablespoons of pickling spices. I brought this to a boil and then when everything was dissolved I poured it over the cucumber and onion mix. This was sealed in a cover plastic container (I only had so many jars) and then placed in the refrigerator.

I have to admit that it only took about an hour before the bread and butter pickles had the taste I remember as a child and Ron gave them a thumbs up as well.

I am think that I will be coming up with my own pickling spice mix though. The one I bought has something that resembles crumbled bay leaves and the texture/feel in your mouth leave a lot to be improved upon.

I will leave an update on the response to the dill pickles in a few days. This was a spur of the moment follow-up to a random conversation at work today. When it is all said and done I probably spent more to make pickles than it would have cost to just but them at the store but then money wasn’t the issue. I may complain at work about the “MARTHA” handle but in reality I kind of like it. I like to be able to do anything that comes my way and I appreciate that fact that the people that know me really think that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to.

Remember to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. It is also good to remember to share what you have, weather that be your knowledge, the produce from a garden or the fruits of your labors. The Golden rule often pays great dividends.

As always, comments are greatly appreciated.

Friday, June 12, 2009

We are now a TWO COMPOSTER family...

I am sorry for the delay in updating but work has been all consuming for a while. I also tend to shut down a little bit when the weather turns cold and the sun doesn’t shine as much as I would like.

I have been using my Envirocycler Composter for a few months. I have decided that to get the most out of my composting experiences I needed to get a second composter. Since it takes about 3 to weeks after putting food scraps in I either was running into storage issues. I was also over-filling the composter and making it hard to tumble. The hoarder in me is having a hard time letting the smallest scrap of vegetable scraps going into the garbage.

I was at COSTCO recently and saw a composter tumbler that just seemed to have everything going for it. It was on sale and reasonably price thru Costco on line. The cost was 199.99 plus tax for a final total of $217.49.

The Envirocycler and the ECOmposter do have different compost volumes, 52 gallons for the Envirocycler and 71 gallons for the ECOmposter. The BIGGEST difference was that the Envirocycler is basically ready to go out of the box and the ECOmposter with base has 586 pieces that need to be assembled. It took me three nights to put it together but on a scale of 1 (EASY) to 10 (DIFFICULT) this would be a 3. The directions are very easy to follow, the tools needed are minimal, and a lot of the steps are repetitive. The hardest step for me was putting the two halves together due to the 32 tabs that need to line up. I must say that it did give me a very good sense of accomplishment to get it completed without having to ask for help.

I have been using the Envirocycler a little over 6 months now and I have found a few issues with it. (1) The door/hatch will let some compost leak out when I am rotating it. I don’t know if it is due to the way it connects to the drum or the fact that it is a single point attachment and a single point hook. I would like to see a better hinge design. (2) If I do over fill it the compost becomes hard to keep centered when tumbling, likes to drift to one side or the other and then the rollers get a little clogged with the compost that leaks out from the door. (3) The final issue I have is with the compost tea part of the build. The cap for the tank is very poorly fitted. The cap is very loose and the thread that are supposed to hold the cap are not very precise. This in conjunction with the way the tank is formed makes it a little hard to empty the tank without having a lot of the compost tea sloshing around when I try to pour it out.

With all of these faults that I have pointed out ( and I have to admit that these are just issues that I have encountered) I would still say that the Envirocycler is a very good product. Would I purchase it again… I think that I will see how the ECOmposter works and then I would make a final decision.

I did buy another tumble composter in the past. It was made out of a recycled 55-gallon plastic drum and tumbled on a horizontal axel. It was just one step up from homemade and I feel that technology has come a long way. I look forward to being able to give an informed review on my new composter soon.

This looks like it is going to be a good year for my avocado tree this year. Lots of small fruit and the fruit seem to be staying on the tree this year. Also have fruit setting on my orange and lemon trees.

In the garden plot itself are zucchini, garlic and tomatoes. This year I am mainly growing tomatoes grown from seeds collected from COSTCO tomatoes. May have a little bit of fusarium/verticillium wilt. I guess that next year I will getting plants labeled VF at the nursery to overcome this issue. I did grow a type of tomato last year called Juliette (a grape tomato) but was unable to find it this year in the nursery.

I have been going on line and saw directions for an upside-down hanging planter. I know have another tomato plant growing in the back yard and we will see how it does. I kept seeing the ads on late-night television for a very similar product and I kept debating about buying the product but just couldn’t bring myself to order it and pay SHIPPING & HANDLING. That phrase always bothers me, S&H.

Ron is getting ready to get out of school for Summer Break and his band is getting a few gigs so he is having fun. BubbaJam is the band and I go along and help hump some of the equipment… just call me a roady. Nobody in the group really drinks but they usually get a meal as part of the deal and I have a habit of going anywhere for free food.

We have been doing our part to bring clutter under control at the homestead… freecycler and Craigslist are getting a lot of use. Ron still get a thrill every time he puts a listing on Craigslist… it is almost like he clicks the stopwatch and sees how long it takes to get a reply. The one thing we have found out is that if something doesn’t sell on line the first time you list it you need to have patience and repost it again, and again as needed. Some stuff has lasted 15 minutes before a buyer was found and other things have take a couple of weeks to a month but eventually stuff sells.

We don’t have travel plans for this year… staying close to home, garden and band gigs. Our household is very happy with Obama and even with everything that is going on with the economy we still feel better and happier than we were at this time last year… what a difference a day can make and a President… so much for my political rant.


Comments are always welcome.