I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. ~ Thoreau

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Pickling, Canning and Composting

These are the things at the forefront of my mind as the busy month of August picks up steam. Mostly my thoughts of late center on a pickling obsession. My friend’s mom pickles corn every year and then cans it. That corn might be some of the most delicious straight from the can goodness ever tasted. She makes it simply, with only pickling salt and tap water, in an old school stone crock. I am fascinated with the pickling/fermentation process. I have only ever made pickles of any sort with vinegar. Last week I made some refrigerator pickles from a MotherEarth News recipe that only required sliced cucumbers, rice wine vinegar, a pinch of salt and garlic. All the ingredients are put in a glass jar, shaken up and placed in the fridge. This is kind of the instant gratification of the pickle world. Within twenty-four hours you have a tangy crispy sandwich topping not unlike a Clausin pickle. (Only much cheaper seeing as how they only cost pennies on the dollar versus their supermarket equivalents.)

While these refrigerator pickles were delicious and easy to make, I long to revive and preserve the arts of my ancestors. As I get older I wish more and more that I had shown a greater interest in these things when there were still people in my family around to teach them to me. My dad’s mother, my paternal grandmother, was the epitome of a country woman. She raised nine children on a mechanic’s salary and a little farm. They raised their own food from chickens to potatoes and nothing was wasted. My grandmother pickled or canned everything. According to my dad she even pickled the core of the cabbage (which was actually the part the kids fought over). In my youth I shunned such “country” living and ate most of my meals in the fast food lane. As I have matured and as I have watched what our fast food culture has done to our health, our wallets and our waste lines I no longer wish to live this way. Instead I find myself longing for the “country” food I once shunned and desperately grasping for the old ways of food preservation before even the memory of it is lost to us.

I have spent quite a great deal of time lately talking to people about and researching pickling and canning. They seem to go hand in hand as the best way to preserve fresh harvests through the long winter months and to cut the cost of store bought goods significantly. True pickling, according to my friends mom, involves no vinegar at all. The sour taste comes from the fermentation of the vegetable not from an additive like vinegar. She says that you can add spices like dill or garlic or hot peppers but that it is best to just allow the flavor of the vegetables to create their own tart taste. Pickled corn goes something like this:

1 large stone crock
1 cotton pillow case
1 c of pickling salt to every gallon of water
Fresh cooked corn enough to fill crock at least half way, slightly cooled
A plate to put on top and a stone or brick to weigh down the plate

The cooked corn is placed inside the pillow case which is tied off and then covered in brine until submerged. The plate is then placed on top of the pillow case and weighted down. This weighing-down process is somehow intricate to the pickling. I am not sure why other that the constant pressure forces the juices out of the veg. She also says that if you fill a food grade plastic bag with water and place it between the pillowcase and the plate this will form a seal and prevent having to remove the scum from the liquid every so often. After the corn has pickled for a few weeks then she takes it out and cans it in a water bath canner. The theory is at this point it is acidic enough to not need the higher temperature of a pressure canner and can be safely canned in a water bath.

I am anxious to begin picking things immediately but I have hit a significant stumbling block in the process. Those stone pickling crocks, so intrinsic to the pickling process, are not easy to come by nor are they inexpensive, if you can even find one. I spent most of the weekend scouring the internet and combing the flea market trying to get my grubby little paws on a couple of decent sized crocks. Several friends and family members have sifted through their garages and basements looking for discarded crocks but have come up short. Several have found crocks but they have been used for storing paints and chemicals or are cracked. Cracked will not work because the fermentation process causes swelling in the crock and it will leak or shatter altogether. I am afraid to use ones that have stored chemicals for fear of poisoning everyone.

My dad even called his sisters in Kentucky to see if they had any of my grandmother’s old crocks, they do still have a couple but that would require a several hour drive to obtain them. The other problem with using an old or antique crock is the possibility of lead in the glaze. At this point I am pretty much stuck with having to buy a new crock, and if I want to make kraut and pickled corn I will need at least two crocks. I have found one local hardware store that sells new pickling crocks and you can figure the price is roughly ten dollars per gallon. I figure I need two five-gallon crocks. The cost of these will be a little over a hundred dollars. More money than I want to spend but after much consideration I have decided that these crocks will more than pay for themselves over the years in the food bill savings provided. Although the initial investment is high, if well taken care of, these crocks should last a lifetime.

So next week I plan to begin my pickling adventure. I will start with two crocks and I will pickle corn in one and make something called green-tomato kraut in the other (my dad’s personal request). If all goes well hopefully by September I will be able to can the contents of the crocks and pickle some other things. On my list are pickled beans, traditional cucumber pickles, pickled onions & peppers, and some plain kraut also. I have decided that since most of the things I will be canning this year are pickles and high acid fruits I will stick with the water bath canner for now.

Next year, if all goes well, I may try to can some low acid food which really will require a pressure canner because it will reach and maintain the two-hundred and forty degree temperature needed to kill anything toxic in the food. I am a little afraid of the pressure canners having read horror stories of scalding burns and explosions but most of the reviews of the new pressure canners insist that they are completely safe and there is minimal risk of fire, explosion or injury. With all that said I think I would still be more comfortable starting off with water bath canning.


As for our composting adventures we have yet to obtain the coveted food grade barrel and I am sorry to say our composting endeavors have been somewhat lack luster. It mostly consists of continuing to throw compostable material into one corner of the fence where the dog and the chickens still manage to string it around the yard and it must be re-gathered every so often and tossed back into the corner on a regular basis. The other down side to this is that that side of our fence borders the creek so I have been unwilling to mix the chicken bedding and droppings into this corner for fear of contaminating the water table. One of the books I read advised that dumping chicken droppings near a stream or creek could allow the nitrogen from the droppings to leech into the water and kill the fish. This is the last thing we want to do so as we consider building a permanent or semi-permanent compost pile we must locate it farther from the creek.

I have an over abundance of that orange netting/fencing stuff that the state road crews use. I have no idea where Fred’s dad got these things but our building is often like a treasure trove of odds and ends. I am considering fencing off the upper corner of our yard (farthest from the stream and house) with this netting and building a temporary composting pile there. I am not yet willing to commit to a permanent cinder block or concrete structure until my dream of a barrel composter is completely dead. The good thing about the netting is it can be taken down and the compost stirred around and then put back up, it is also a small enough mesh that it would keep the grass clippings and other small bits contained. Too, in theory, it could be moved from place to place. The bad thing about it is: it is blaze orange ugly and may not actually keep the dog out if there is something he really wants in the pile.

This is my latest idea but I will definitely be waiting to start a new building project until the heat wave breaks. Ninety plus degree days are not ideal for building anything. I have one other small problem: does anyone have any clever suggestions for collecting grass clippings short of me going out and raking the whole acre plus into the wheel barrow after I mow? Our tractor does not have a bag attachment so usually the grass clippings get left in piles where they fall since collecting them is such a chore. However, if I build this structured compost pile it is my understanding that I will need the grass clippings as a neutralizing layer to trap the heat and keep the smell down. Thank you in advance for any tips or suggestions.

Also, several of you sent comments on a couple of the latest blogs and some of them were full of very helpful suggestions that I would like to share but for some reason the blog site ate these comments. When they were emailed to me for approval I approved them but they never appeared in the comment section of the blog. I apologize and if anyone wants to repost I will definitely approve them. I have not denied any comments on the blog to date so please do not feel like I am ignoring you or did not post your suggestions. I am grateful and appreciative for everyone’s advice, love and support.

Thank you all for reading and for helping and for praying,
Much love,



  1. Here is a link for stoneware crocks just in case you have not yet made a purchase.

    They also have German Pickling Crocks listed. Thank you for following us on Facebook. We really enjoy reading your blog.

  2. Thank you so much! I borrowed 1 crock but intend to purchase at least one more. I love following your post on FB, your pictures are an inspiration! ~autumn

  3. Hey this is Amy Stricker (makes me choose anonymous) anyway - Mawmaw Stricker (Libby) would be a wealth of knowledge for you. I too did not pay as much attention as I should have when I was growing up. So Libby has helped me so much with canning tomatoes, green beans, and so forth. Also with salsa and tomato sauce. She also makes the best Dill Pickles and she uses crocks too. You should give her a shout or talk to her at church or something.


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