Making Kosher Dills - להכין חמוצים כשרים
As many of you know (or not) I am trying to write a cookbook. But I am really struggling. Struggling? Why? Isn't it just a bunch of recipes and pictures? How hard could that be?
Well, yes. It is a bunch of recipes and pictures. And if you have already prepared the dish, (or whatever) it at least once, what is there to stress about? Write it down, take a picture and be done with it. I have done that. But I am stuck.
If you want to roast a chicken you can go online and find upteen different ways to to get what you want. What to buy. How to do it (with video if you like) and what to serve it with and sometimes even, who might enjoy it. You can even order a service that provides pre-measured ingredients and all you have to do is "Add..." So ,who needs another cookbook?
Well, I guess I do. I don't cook and spend ridiculous numbers of hours in the kitchen because I need to eat. (Well of course, I need to eat and I eat my own food). But I cook because I need to. I need to cook for my soul. I need to make it and to share it - whatever it is - and I believe there are others out there like me. And I need to write the cookbook that I would want to read.
The recipes are important, of course. And the directions - all the directions that our collective mothers and grandmothers failed to include, or purposely omitted, on those stained and yellowed recipe cards. But what I eat and more importantly what I chose to make and share, is more about the backstory. The shortage of buttermilk that led to the use of sour cream, that led to yogurt that led to labane. How the dish came to be. How it was made. Who made it and xxxxx
So I made a decision to jump in and begin my story, the story that will start my book, with one of my oldest memories from my childhood. The memory of my mother washing and stuffing cucumbers inside jars and making kosher pickles.
In the basement of our house was a root cellar, sometimes called the fruit cellar depending on what was stored in there at the time. The cellar was under the stairs and it was tucked in behind suitcases and old trunks and my grandmother's treadle sewing machine. There was a plain wooden door that opened into a dark room lit by a single light bulb. Nothing inside but rough shelving and a dirt floor that kept it cool. This is where my mother stored all the preserves, the potatoes, the turnips and the onions. This is where she kept the wine she made in a ceramic pot at Pesach. But this is not where she kept the pickles.
The pickles had special status. They were kept in another cupboard that was slightly warmer than the cellar but cool enough to preserve the contents. Why she did this, I may never know but this is where the jars went after they the cukes had "turned" - after 5 days of sitting on the kitchen counter.
We didn't call them kosher pickles. They were simply pickles as opposed to "sweet pickles" you could buy in a supermarket. These were the pickles that went with everything and we didn't need to remind ourselves that they were kosher since we kept a kosher house.
Some people think that the "kosher" name comes from the fact that they are made with kosher or rock salt. Some people say the "kosher" refers to the fact that they are served with kosher-style food - corned beef, brisket, and the like. The tv version of Jewish life. Some people think the "kosher" comes from the fact that they were sold in Jewish neighborhoods where everyone kept kosher.
My father's explanation and the one that makes the most sense to me is that these pickles were made with salt and not vinegar. They were made with salt was so that they could be eaten all year long. The reason vinegar is a problem is because vinegar is fermented. And on Pesach fermented foods are forbidden. Therefore "kosher" pickles are really "kosher for Pesach". They are good to go at any time.
I find this explanation compelling because it makes practical sense and it speaks to the lengths our parents and grandparents went to, to integrate our traditions and preserve a way of life. For me it became a food map for living.
Here is my very short recipe for kosher dills:
For each 2 quart sealer:
As many kirby cucumbers as will fit
2 level tbsps kosher salt
2 cloves garlic, peeled (more if you like)
1 tbsp pickling spice
1/2 red chili
Dill with stalks
Wash cucumbers very well or soak in cold water for half an hour to remove dirt
Cut off ends
Thoroughly wash sealer jars
Pour boiling water in the jars and leave five minutes to sterilize them.
Soak lids in boiling water for five minutes
Pack jars with cukes. You may need to lay the jar
on its side to maximize number
Jam dill into jar on one side
Add salt, garlic, spice and chili
Fill jar with cold water up to 1/2 inch below lip
Seal the jars with the lids
Turn the jars upside down and leave on the counter for 24 hours
Turn jars over and leave for 4 days
If cucumbers change from dark green to olive green - it is working
Store in a cool place or just eat them.