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.
One of my fondest memories from childhood is of the big family garden behind our garage.
Dad built a cold frame and topped it with an old storm door. He showed me how to sow the seeds for the garden while winter still threatened an icy blast.
Those seeds germinated into tiny plants which were subsequently transplanted into the garden.
Bernie - from up the block - owned a rototiller that all the neighbors were allowed to borrow for getting their gardens ready to plant. I remember the first time I was allowed to use it - it took-off on me and ran across the yard like a thing possessed until dad chased it down. Yeah. Once the clutch was engaged off you went - without a kill switch.
After that I was entrusted with the vast responsibility of wielding a hoe much taller than me to keep the weeds at bay.
Lettuce, tomatoes, onions, green beans, sweet corn and other truck were always on the family's summer table.
Summer turned to September - canning season.
A big production was made of driving to the farmer's stand on the corner of 76th Street and Good Hope Road (the northern edge of civilization back then) to purchase apples and pickling cucumbers. The only other establishment was Claude Manning's simple tavern on the opposite corner.
I can still recall the steamy kitchen as dad sterilized glass jars, mom slicing pickles, me picking-thru and rinsing the dill and the smell of brine cooking on the stove top. Dill pickles and bread and butter pickles were processed, canned and consumed until the ritual was repeated a year later.
Fall afternoons had Macintosh apples cooking with the smell of cinnamon and clove wafting through the house. Cooked apples were turned through the grinder by hand to make homemade applesauce - the brown kind - not like the tasteless, pale, homogenized stuff you purchase in a grocery.
Sigh. Mom is gone and dad isn't always himself lately. We didn't even make picked beets together this year.
But I digress.
It is pickle time.
Pickling stuff allows for all sorts of creative expression. Periodically I'll hand-select the largest and most handsome of garden green beans and pickle them in my secret garlic dill brine. They are awesome in a Bloody Mary. Besides, who doesn't appreciate receiving a home-canned curiosity at Christmastime?
Last year I made dill and Kosher dill along with sweet pickles. The sweet pickles were tolerable - but not outstanding. I've discarded what remained in favor of this new recipe.
I have only a couple of humble pickle vines in the garden but they've been good producers.
Start with a big pile of cukes and allow yourself two to three days to complete everything.
Rinse and scrub. Slice and soak in a food service pail (plastic or stainless - never aluminum) along with two gallons of water in which two cups of picking lime has been dissolved. If you like - include a double handful of small sweet onions.
Cover and store in a cool place for 24 hours. Drain and rinse. Soak in cold water and drain. Do this two additional times. Soak in cold water for three additional hours and drain.
Blend together in a large kettle the following:
2 quarts of vinegar
8 cups of sugar
1 T Kosher salt
1.5 oz (give or take) of pickling spice
Optional: a T of crushed hot peppers.
Heat the ingredients and stir until dissolved.
Add the big pile of sliced pickles to the syrupy brine. Cover and allow to sit for 5-6 hours or overnight.
Bring the pickle mixture to a slow boil for 35 minutes. Stuff the jars with pickle slices and add the cooked brine leaving a half-inch of head space. Seat the lids, screw-down the bands and heat in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Remove and allow to return to room temperature. The lids will "pop" as they seal.
I ended-up with 15 pints and had to increase the brine and spices by 50%.
Interested in a bold serving suggestion? Slap some of these zesty slices between the halves of an ordinary peanut butter or grilled cheese sandwich. Yum.