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Savoring the Seasons: These Southern women are known for their award-winning offerings

  • Preparing dill pickle ingredients can take some time. Jenn, Lea, and Jenn’s mother have all won ribbons for their pickles at Kentucky’s McCracken County Fair. PHOTO COURTESY Jenn Thompson

  • LeaBeth Wentworth putting grape leaves in pickle jars. PHOTO COURTESY Jenn Thompson



For The Recorder
Tuesday, September 05, 2017

When imagining what I’d bring home from my trip to Michigan this summer, I didn’t know I’d meet Jenn Thompson and LeaBeth Wentworth from Paducah, Ky., and win their pickles in an auction. Getting to know Jenn and LeaBeth reminded me that all across the country, people support local farms and grow and enjoy their own food. And, just like displays of canned goods made by our neighbors in this weekend’s Franklin County Fair, there are county fairs in every state where neighbors compete with pickles and canned fruit. Jenn, Lea, and Jenn’s mother have all won ribbons for their pickles at Kentucky’s McCracken County Fair.

When I’ve asked Franklin County friends for dill pickle recipes, they were reluctant to share them. Jenn and Lea shared theirs in part because I’m far enough away not to compete at the McCracken County Fair!

Here are some stories and pickle production advice from Jenn:

Our pickle recipes vary. As old-school Kentuckians, we admire and cherish the holy word — the “Ball Blue Book of Canning.” Myself, I use the book to make sure my salt ratios are right for a batch. The rest I wing, or write down my variations in the margins. What worked, what didn’t.

We grow our own cucumbers, and we each have our favorite varieties. LeaBeth loves Armenian yard-long cucumbers for dill pickles. They are huge and make the crispest and most unusual looking pickles! Lea consistently wins grand champ and blue ribbons for them in the McCracken County Fair in Paducah. I like sumter pickles for my sweets. I don’t enter my sweet cuke pickles in the fair, because usually Momma makes all the bread-and-butter and sweet pickles since she doesn’t like dills! I make pumpkin pickles and won a red ribbon. LeaBeth’s watermelon pickles beat me that year, with a blue and a grand champ purple. Momma’s lime pickles won a red two years ago and Lea’s won a red ribbon this year. Momma prefers straight 8’s for relishes and lime pickles. Compact and powerful, they stand up to a hot Kentucky summer.

Momma doesn’t really get into the County Fair like LeaBeth and I do. But, we grab her stuff and enter it anyway. For someone that doesn’t “want” to enter, she sure will tell us “No, not that jar, this one!”

When we are short on cucumbers, we buy from a farm friend that has a Kentucky Proud stand. We know his farming practices. (Mary’s note: Kentucky Proud is Kentucky’s “buy local” program.)

How many jars we put up depends on how busy we are, if we have a lot of cukes, and people wanting them. We give some to family. I gave some last week to a cousin that mowed the field for me while I was vacationing. Pickles as currency works. We give them away as Christmas or holiday presents. A friend gets my pickled banana peppers every year for Hannukah. We make a flat or so every year to give away or auction. Momma’s church has an auction every year for missions and our home canned things go pretty high. We also give them to women’s groups we love. Lea and I live next door to my parents on our farm. Right now in our well-house, there are hundreds of jars of fruits and veggies the four of us use for groceries.

Lea’s dills are wonderful for a few reasons: A 12-hour brine/soak, all homegrown ingredients, down to our own garlic we grow. We don’t know what kind it is, it was growing on the farm when Momma and Pops bought the place almost 50 years ago. We don’t use alum. We use grape leaves from our arbors to keep the pickles crisp. One leaf to every jar. Not only do they keep the pickles crisp, they are beautiful.

Don’t be afraid of home canning. It’s the best way to eat, especially if you have folks in your family that are allergic to certain foods. We have a friend who loves dill pickles but most store-bought pickles have garlic in them. So, we make her a garlic-less batch. You’re not going to get botulism and die! Remember, salt is a preservative. Low-acid foods need some acid thrown in. I use lemon juice from my New Orleans friend’s backyard lemon tree for my banana rings. Get creative! Yeah, you’ll have a few flops. But, it’s like riding a bike, take off those training wheels and go!

This week we’re making ...

Quicker Kosher Dills: By LeaBeth Wentworth, Paducah, K.Y. (adapted from “Canning for a New Generation” by Liana Krissoff)

Makes about 8 pint jars or 4 quart jars

Ingredients

6 pounds pickling cucumbers (3 to 4 inches long)

1 C. pure kosher salt

3½ C. cider vinegar (5 percent acidity) *I use white vinegar

Fresh dill

8 cloves garlic

16 tsp. pickling spice *I use mustard seeds and black peppercorns instead

8 dried hot red peppers, or 8 tsp. grated fresh horseradish (optional)

Fresh, untreated grape (or scuppernong) or black currant leaves (optional)

1 T. sugar (optional)

Directions

Cut off blossom end of each cucumber. Cut into spears or leave whole. In large bowl, combine ¾ C. salt with 1 gallon water and stir to dissolve. Add cucumbers and let sit at room temperature for 8 hours or overnight. Drain and rinse well.

In nonreactive pot, combine vinegar, 4 C. water, sugar, and remaining ¼ C. salt [Note: Don’t add salt to the vinegar and water. After soaking in brine, the rinsed cucumber spears are plenty salty]. If pasteurizing, bring mixture to 160 degrees to 180 degrees on candy thermometer. If processing, bring to full boil.

Ladle boiling water from canning pot into bowl with lids. Using jar lifter, remove hot jars from canning pot, carefully pouring water from each one back into pot, and place them upright on folded towel. Drain water off jar lids.

Working quickly, put a few dill sprigs in each jar and divide garlic, spices, dried peppers, and grape leaves among jars. Pack cucumbers in jars as snugly as you can without damaging them. Ladle hot vinegar mixture into jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Use chopstick to remove air bubbles around inside of each jar. Use damp paper towel to wipe rims on each jar, then put flat lid and ring on each jar, adjusting ring so it’s just finger tight.

Return jars to water in canning pot, making sure water covers jars by at least 1 inch. If pasteurizing, bring water in pot to 180 degrees, and keep it there, adjusting burner as necessary, for 30 minutes. Any time water spends below 180 degrees must be added to pasteurizing time so water is at 180 degrees for total of 30 minutes. If processing, bring to full boil and boil for 10 minutes.

Remove jars to folded towel and do not disturb for 12 hours. After 1 hours, check that lids have sealed by pressing down on center of each. If it can be pushed down, it hasn’t sealed and jar should be refrigerated immediately. Label sealed jars and store.

Local food advocate and
community organizer
Mary McClintock lives in Conway and works as a
freelance writer, editor, and book indexer. Send column suggestions and recipes to: mmcclinto@yahoo.com.