04 August 2005

today's project..

Canning pickles! We've had a very generous crop of cucumbers this year from our mass of vines and need to do something with them before they begin to turn on us. Since I'm rather fond of bread and butter pickles, I think I'll work up a batch today and can them in pint jars.

My Mennonite Community Cookbook just says "seal jars," though I know that with the kind of jars I'm using, they'll need to be submerged in a boiling water bath for enough time. Does anyone know the right amount of time for sweet pickles in pint jars? I'm thinking 15 minutes should do it.

I also want to put in a plug for Mary Emma Showalter's Mennonite cookbook. Not only are the recipes terrific (especially for someone like me who was raised with a fondness for Pennsylvania German cuisine), but the book also has all kinds of extras.

For instance, her "Household Hints" include the following:

Pour melted paraffin on the cut end of cheeses or dried beef to keep them from molding or drying out.

To make yellowed [presumably ivory] piano keys white again, rub them with a cloth dipped in cologne water. Be careful not to touch the black keys.

Add 1 tablespoon of castor oil or 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the roots of your ferns every 3 or 4 months to promote their growth.

To prevent clothes from sticking to line on a cold winter day, wipe the line with a cloth moistened with vinegar.

Among "Miscellaneous" recipes we find the following:

Homemade Laundry Soap
16 pounds meat scraps
3 pounds caustic soda or lye
7 1/2 gallons water
2 pints salt

Dissolve caustic soda in water in an iron kettle. Remove 1 1/2 gallons of solution in a stone joar. Add meat scraps to remaining solution and bring to boiling point. Cook until scraps are dissolved, approximately 2 hours. Add the 1 1/2 gallons of solution during the cooking period. Add 2 pints of salt and blend into mixture. Dip mixture into another kettle to cool or allow to cool in kettle in which soap cooked. When cold and hard, cut in block of desired shape and size.

Of course, every modern household has a large iron kettle (think: cauldron) and a several gallon stone jar at hand. I suppose one could get the meat scraps from a butcher.

One of the most interesting features of Mrs. Showalter's book is the list of food needed for a barn raising with 175 men, found as a handwritten note in her own great- grandmother's recipe book:

Food for a Barn Raising
115 lemon pies
500 fat cakes [i.e., doughnuts]
15 large cakes
3 gallons applesauce
3 gallons rice pudding
3 gallons cornstarch pudding
16 chickens
3 hams
50 pounds roast beef
300 light rolls
16 loaves bread
Red beet pickle and pickled eggs
Cucumber pickle
6 pounds dried prunes, stewed
1 large crock stewed raisins
5 gallon stone jar white potatoes
5 gallon stone jar sweet potatoes

Wow. That's a lot of food. What's more amazing is that it would have all be produced by a team of women in the kitchen of the farmstead where the barn raising was taking place and all without the benefit of electric appliances.

Well, I'm off to slice my cucumbers.