Tom grew up in Milwaukee, bartended in Wauwatosa in the '70s and moved here in 1984.
Commentary, observations and musings about the outdoors, life in general and maybe Tosa politics and personalities will be the order of the day. He savors a lively debate as much as terrific cooking.
Last summer I went on a tour of a lighthouse and happened upon an itemization of the perks that the US Congress alloted keepers employed by the Light House Service back in the 1800's. Aside from lodging there was an annual salary of $600. There were also consumable provisions including sacks of potatoes and onions. A barrel of salted pork, sacks of flour, dried beans, sugar and salt. Coffee, tea - and of all things - barrels of vinegar.
Which reminds me - what do you call a cat that drinks vinegar?
A sour puss.
What on earth does somebody do with barrels of vinegar?
Since I've been canning up a storm recently I now have a reasonable notion about the connection to all of that vinegar. Back in the 1800's preserving your own food wasn't a hobby - it was a way of life. I suspect that the light house keeper, the Missus and the children supplemented the light-keeper's munificent salary and government provisions with fish, game and homegrown produce.
Here's the clue. Aside from vast amounts of water a couple of the principle ingredients used in preserving food are vinegar and salt. I swear I have been going through enough vinegar lately that I should probably be purchasing it by the barrel-full.
In a single day last weekend I packed a dozen quarts of spicy, garlic dill pickle spears. Big ones that fill the entire length of a quart Ball jar.
That same day I picked enough tomatoes to make eight quarts of salsa. Chock-full of garden tomatoes, green peppers, sweet onions, diced carrots, garlic, a couple of jalapeños and plenty of herbs and spices. Ordinarily, I call it Garbage Salsa since you sort of make it as you go (or until the pot is filled to the brim). Inasmuch as the Packers are returning to the Super Bowl the salsa has been rechristened - Super Bowl Salsa.
Speaking of football - do any of you readers know what the Minnesota Vikings have in common with a stolen automobile?
They don't have a title.
In any event I have pickles in abundance so I figured it was time to make a humongous batch of the signature crispy-crunchy sweet pickles. Everyone gets a pint of sweet pickles during the holidays this year. Replete with a festive bow on the lid.
Here is an easy to follow recipe for making sweet pickles with some crunchy snap. Just scale it back proportionately if you wish to reduce the volume.
Start with a sink-full of freshly-picked, scrubbed and rinsed pickle-size cukes.
Oops. These are dill-spear-size cukes so visualize something half the size.
Slice your pickle-size cukes and toss into a five gallon food-grade plastic bucket. Everyone should have a five gallon bucket. My recollection is hazy but there is a possibility my bucket originally held cat litter. It also appears to be food-grade so maybe not. I use it to brine meats and fish, haul butchered venison and assist in pickle-making. I even made sauerkraut in it one year. In a pinch you can sit on it in your deer stand and keep your thermos, lunch and toilet paper inside where it won't get wet. Like I said - they're indispensable.
The secret to really crunchy pickles is liming them. Combine one cup of pickling lime with two gallons of cold water and mix thoroughly. Add to the bucket. Add additional lime and water until your cuke chips float freely in your pickle barrel.
Snap-on the lid and put it in the cellar overnight.
The following morning drain your limed cukes in the sink. They'll be nice and crispy but you have to soak them to remove the excess lime. Fill the sink full of slices with cold tap water and drain. Repeat three more times. Leave your slices to soak in cold water until noon - 3 to 4 more hours.
Next - make your brine.
This is really easy - combine equal parts of sugar and vinegar. Stir and heat to a boil. For a humongous batch like this add a 1 1/2 oz. bottle of pickling spice and a couple of tablespoons of kosher salt. Maybe even some more pickling spice.
Put all of your cukes into the large pot of the boiling brine. Turn-off the heat, cover and let it set for the balance of the day. At least 5 hours - Preferably overnight.
Assemble all of your jars, lids* and rings and heat the soaked chips to a slow boil. Cook for a half-hour. Stuff your jars with the cooked chips and add the syrupy brine leaving a half-inch of head space. Install a sterilized lid and screw-on a ring. Since this is a hot-pack method of pickle-making keep a low fire under your pot and your lids should seal just fine. When in doubt process in a boiling water bath for an additional 10-15 minutes. Remove and allow to cool. When the lids 'pop' your jars are sealed and your cukes are officially pickles.
These pickles are awesome. You're going to want to put these on top of almost any sandwich you make. Particularly a crunchy peanut butter, grilled cheese or tuna sammich. Want to spice them-up? Add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes to a jar.
A friend of mine put vinegar in his ear.
Now he suffers from pickled hearing.
* A word about the jars and lids. Sterilize your jars by immersing them in boiling water or running them through the dishwasher on the 'sanitize' cycle. Lids are easy - in the microwave heat a Pyrex measurer full of water to a boil. Drop your lids in the hot water. Fish them out with a sterile tongs.