Of the Earth: Remembering the ‘Dill Crock’

  • Euell Gibbons’ “Dill Crock” recipe starts with a layer of dill on the bottom of a gallon-sized glass jar, but numerous other vegetables are piled on top. Courtesy image/Stocking Up

  • Euell Gibbons, who is known as a master of wilderness foraging, published “Stalking the Wild Asparagus” in 1962, a book that soon became a best-seller. Contributed image


For the Recorder
Published: 1/1/2019 3:00:08 PM

Many thanks to reader Jane Dunning of Shelburne Falls for sending along a generous remembrance of Euell Gibbons and his “Dill Crock,” a recipe that evokes the techniques outlined in our recent column on fermentation.

“Well, look at this, will ya?” I said to my son, Nick. “Somebody sent me something on Euell Gibbons.” Nick spends a good deal of time in the California outback and is both a qualified guide and a pretty decent cook.

Not a glimmer from Nick, however, when it came to Euell Gibbons.

“Aw c’mon,” I said. “He was the master of the ancient art of wilderness foraging. He once said you could eat most of a pine tree (a claim that always made my incisors ache). He was often on TV. You remember ... He did Post Grape-Nuts commercials.”

Still nothing, but at least now Nick was scrambling through Wikipedia so that he wouldn’t have to listen to me ramble on about things that actually happened a good 15 to 20 years before he was born. Gibbons died in 1975 at age 64 of an aortal aneurysm, unrelated to his eating habits.

“Oh, yeah ...” Nick said finally, “sounds cool.” He’s a good son.

This is why reminders like Dunning’s are so important. If nothing else, they help give older people like us an excuse to send younger folks to Wikipedia. Anyway, I’ll let Dunning tell the story:

“For the youngsters in our midst, Gibbons achieved ‘Thoreau-esque’ folk hero status during the 1960s and 1970s through best-selling books such as ‘Stalking the Wild Asparagus’ and ‘Stalking the Healthful Herbs,’” Dunning wrote.

“For years, I have followed Euell Gibbons’ instructions for a Dill Crock,” Dunning continued. “It originally appeared in ‘Organic Gardening’ magazine and was later republished in the preserving guide ‘Stocking Up’ (by Carol Hupping). It is a wonderful project to start in the spring when the farmers’ markets begin their local offerings. ... Bunch onions, rings of red onion, garlic and dill, pepper rings, small hot peppers, cucumbers and cauliflower are among my favorites.”

Gibbons described getting started with a gallon-sized glass jar and an abundant harvest of Jerusalem artichokes.

“Packing a layer of dill on the bottom of the jar, I added several cloves of garlic, a few red tabasco peppers, then some cored and peeled Jerusalem artichokes, plus another layer of dill,” Gibbons wrote. “With room still left, I looked around for other things to add. The winter onions had great bunches of top sets, so I peeled a few and made a layer of them. Then I dug up some of the surplus onions and used the bottom sets — shaped like huge cloves of garlic — to make still another layer. I then put in a layer of cauliflower picked apart into small florets, and added some red sweet pepper cut in strips, along with a handful or so of nasturtium buds.”

Gibbons then covered this concoction with a brine made of three-fourths of a measure of salt to 10 measures of water, along with ¼ cup of cider vinegar.

“Set a small saucer weighted with a rock on top to keep everything below the brine,” he added, “and then let it cure at room temperature.”

“After two weeks, I decided it must be finished. The Jerusalem artichokes were superb, crisp and delicious. The winter onions, both the top and bottom sets, were the best pickled onions I ever tasted,” he wrote. “The cauliflower florets all disappeared the first time I let my grandchildren taste them, while the nasturtium buds make better capers than capers do.”

Like the local folks who presented the Green Fields Market workshop on fermentation last fall, Gibbons seemed to see fermentation as a form of personal expression.

“Any size crock can be used, from one gallon up. I use a 10-gallon one and wish it were bigger,” he wrote. “Never try to use a set recipe for a dill crock, but rather let each one be a separate and original ‘creation.’”

“What is good in a dill crock? Nearly any kind of firm, crisp vegetable. Green beans are perfect, and wax beans also very good. These are the only two things cooked before being added to the brine, and they should be cooked not more than about three minutes,” Gibbons wrote. “And small green tomatoes are great. Nothing else so nice ever happened to a cauliflower.”

Such a concoction is certainly easier to digest than a pine tree.

Wesley Blixt lives in Greenfield. He is a longtime reporter and is the author of “SKATERS: A Novel.” Send him recipes, stories and suggestions at wesleyblixt@me.com.

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