Deep Sea Potato Diving and a Special Summer Pickle


It was so hot today, I don’t know what I was thinking digging out a thirty-foot row of fingerling potatoes. But they needed to come out, and I needed to put in some fall beets. So I went at it, and got one of the rows of Australian Crescent Fingerlings out.

At one point, I was so sweaty (and looking down at where I was digging–bending and picking out the potatoes), that my glasses filled entirely with the sweat that was pouring off me. It was like salt-water diving for potatoes–kind of blurry and slow-moving with the humidity and heat.

When I got them all out, I considered for a moment my options: I could leave the row open for a day or two to let it “mellow,” which is really a fancy word for not wanting to keep working in the heat. But the soil would have dried out, and the baby toads were already moving in.

I would assume that toads have a well-developed sense of smell, or some other sensory apparatus for detecting freshly-turned soil (or moisture), because as soon as I got down the row aways, they started gathering in the moist loam. I realized that if I didn’t finish working the soil and re-plant right away, I’d be cultivating on top of a bunch of toads.

I have skewered a toad or two before with my hand cultivator, and it’s awful. So, not wanting to re-create the experience, and wanting to get another crop in, I finished the job and planted a double row of yellow and striped beets, with a little chard to finish out the second row (that keeps the planting all in one genus and species for rotation purposes).

I don’t know that beets are the best crop to follow potatoes, but that’s what needed to go in, and in my experience, beets are a bit more forgiving than carrots, which I also need to get in–the next row over is carrots as well, so I didn’t want to double up a crop so close together. The fact that broccoli is still producing side-shoots on the other side made it a bad place for any brassica.

I was laughing as I was putting in the rows in order to seed the beets–the toads kept on coming–bouncing into my furrows and glorying in the fresh, moist soil. Then I set about the work I’d originally come to do: harvest for a special summer pickle.

My friend Amy brought this pint of incredibly good pickled mixed vegetables to a brunch at my house last summer, and I called her to get a recipe. I had everything I remembered eating out of that jar in my garden, and then some.

Special Summer Pickle

Special Summer Pickle

Here’s what went into the jars:

Spices: dill seed, powdered ginger, peppercorns, dried lemon peel, mustard seed, a bay leaf and a few dried hot red peppers, plus a clove of elephant garlic.

Veggies: Purple Dragon carrots, green cherry tomatoes, red onions, sweet peppers, summer squash, chunks of young cucumbers, hungarian hot peppers, yellow beans, cauliflower, reconstituted dried tomatoes from last year’s garden, small okra pods.

The Brine: 9 cups water, 9 cups vinegar (a third of which was cider vinegar), one cup pickling salt, 1/3 cup brown sugar.

All the veggies yielded a canner full (7 quarts) of pickled product, plus I made a couple pints of just spiced green cherry tomatoes, onions, green beans, and squash chunks to use up the excess produce.

I don’t know how it’ll taste (and won’t for at least two months and maybe longer), but it looks gorgeous! I’m exhausted now from all the heat and work, but I thought I’d better post this. If this pickle tastes as good as it looks, I don’t want to forget how I crafted it!

[P.S.–a little more info on the process. Pack the jars with the clean, prepared spices & veggies. Heat the brine to boiling. Fill veggie-packed quart jars with the hot brine, leaving 1/2″ headroom. Use a knife blade pushed down along the inside edges of the jar to release trapped air bubbles.

Afix warmed-in-a-saucepan caps to jars, and tighten bands 1/4 turn past where it starts to catch. Put jars in water bath canner and process at about 185 degrees (a simmer, not a full boil) for 15 minutes. Remove jars, cool overnight–you should hear that little satisfying “ping” when each jar seals. Remove bands the next morning–with a good, strong seal you should be able to pick up the jar by its non-banded cap and not have it open. Refrigerate any jars with bad seals.]

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