Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Russian Dill Pickles

Whenever I think of my mother-in-law, I picture her in the kitchen: stirring something in a pot or sitting at the kitchen table slicing vegetables or fruit. As the second oldest of 12 children, she was well prepared to raise her own family of 6 children. Growing up in Agenda Township in Ashland county, Wisconsin, she and her sister Agnes not only helped out at home but served as cooks at their father's lumber camp. Later, they worked in Grandpa John's restaurant in Butternut, WI.

I recall Ida telling how disappointed she and Agnes were when they couldn't continue their schooling as their father needed their help at the lumber camps. Ida was always self-conscious about her perceived lack of education and penmanship.

Ida's father, Johannes Hoefferle was born in Austria and her mother, born in Grundy county, Illinois, was a first generation American. John Hoefferle immigrated to northern Wisconsin with his siblings and married Rose Schaper in 1907. 

Ida's family Prussian heritage and that of her German husband insured that many of their children's comfort foods would lean towards pork, sauerkraut, pickles and fruit desserts. 

Late summer traditionally was a busy time for Ida; "putting" up jars of pickles, including pickled beets; jars of fruit to be used for pies during the winter months and choke cherry syrup. Of all the comfort foods that Al recalls from his childhood, the one he has missed the most are his mother's homemade pickles. It has been a number of years since I have done any preserving but the sight of pickling cucumbers and fresh picked dill at the local Farmers Market found me returning home with ingredients for a batch of Ida's Russian Dill pickles.

While I didn't realize it at the time, I have a family treasure of having Ida's handwritten instructions for her pickles. I don't recall how it came to be that we were given the recipes but they have laid in my recipe box for years until recently. I know that they were written during "pickle season" as I recall her saying that she would measure out the ingredients and write them down since she rarely measure anything on the dishes that were her family favorites. When I pulled the recipes out of the box I was dismayed to read the instructions "...with dill and a little alum and pickling spice in each jar." Ida was not known for her portion size - her idea of  a little was always generous to say the least. After searching other pickle recipes, I settled on a 1/2 tsp of pickling spice and an 1/8 tsp of alum. 

It seems that alum has gone out of favor with many pickle recipes and I debated on whether or not to use it but in the end decided Ida used it for a reason and was true to her recipe.

I made a small batch of the Russian Dills, in the event I needed to adjust the ingredients. It was a very long week's wait before we opened the first jar: Ida must have been guiding my hands as the sweet dill taste with the crisp crunch was exactly as he remembered.

We now have a number of jars of Russian Dills along with garlic dill and pickled green and yellow beans in our downstairs to carry us through the winter and I understand Ida's satisfaction of seeing the jars filled with the green and white spears resting on a head of dill with spices working their magic. Bread & Butter Refrigerator Pickles with red peppers are being enjoyed as well.

Another recipe handed down from Ida are Cherry Dill pickles; for the past two weeks chunks of cucumbers, dill and choke cherry leaves have been marinating in a brine of salt water. Later this week I'll follow her instructions for making the brine and pack the pickles in jars with additional dill and leaves. Let's hope they are as successful as the Russian Dills.

Copyright (c) 2011 Cindy Bergeron Scherwinski


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