I grew up on kosher dills and stories of my great-grandfather’s crocks of sauerkraut that bubbled in the attic all through the winter. When I asked my grandmother how to make pickles, she said to put the cucumbers in a crock with water and dill and add enough salt until it is just before you gag. Turns out, I gag easily. Without enough salt to kill spoilage bacteria, the cucumbers were a stinky, slimy mess in no time.
I learned how to make pickles from books and talking with older Vermonters. I was part of the back-to-the-land movement, and I think the neighbors got a kick out of the young hippies who asked endless questions and didn’t seem to have much in the way of commonsense.
Today the DIY movement has sparked a revival of interest in all kinds of food preservation—pickling, canning, freezing, root cellaring. While access to land is a far more challenging problem than it was when I was younger, access to quality fresh fruits and vegetables, directly from the farm, has never been easier. It makes sense to put by food in the summer for enjoying throughout the winter.
I have a new book out this summer called The Pickled Pantry. It contains recipes and instructions for all manner of pickles—fresh-pack, fermented, freezer, refrigerator—and even recipes that incorporate pickles, like kimchi fish stew.
Over one weekend I pickled a case (that’s 48 pounds) of pickling cucumbers into dill chips, bread and butters, and curry chips. I take these pickles with me when I do workshops on making pickles or when I go to book signings at book stores. I have 60 pint jars of pickles in a corner of my dining room. Which, of course, points out one of the big issues with food preservation: storage.
People often ask how long it takes to write a cookbook like this, which has about 150 recipes. The answer is usually, “All my adult life.” If the book covers a subject I care passionately about – cooking vegetables, making pickles, preserving – then, truthfully, I’ve been at it since I left my mother’s house, a long, long time ago.
The thing about self-sufficiency, working with nature, making delicious food: There’s always something new to learn. I’m still at it. If you’d like to see what I’m cooking and preserving this summer, please check out my website, www.andreachesman.com, and visit my Roots and Leaves page, where I post pictures, recipes, and comments about what I am up to.
Andrea Chesman presented workshops at the Seven Springs, Pa. MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR.