Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fourteen Day Icicle Pickles

Quite a few years ago I passed a few hours sifting through my mama’s recipe box.  There were recipes carefully printed on elaborate index cards bearing the name of the cook who had gifted her with their own take on this or that dish.  There were crumpled bits of recipes torn from magazines.  There were snatched kitchen notepad papers with handwritten notes on how to prepare everything from appetizers to entrees.  

It was easy to spot the best ones.  I had only to look for the most creased, stained and tattered paper - sure signs of frequent use.  I counted myself twice as lucky if mama had penciled in her own suggestions on how to improve a dish.  Then I hit the paternal grandmother’s Icicle Pickle recipe.  Handwritten.  Memory-laden.  Whoa.

Icicle pickles regularly masquerade as another region’s “bread and butter pickles” and are even called, by the southern US pickle aficionado,  “sweet pickles” now and then.  They’re crisp enough to rattle your teeth when you crunch into one eaten straight from the jar and add a special nuance when diced and thrown into a dish needing something sweet and spicy. But pickle-making ain’t for sissies.  It’s heavy work if you make enough of them in one go, and it requires daily attention for a full 2 weeks if you want to do it right.  It helps to have someone with a strong back on hand for lifting the crock.  Having jars of pickles lined up in your pantry is worth every minute spent in their preparation.  

At the end of the day, any good recipe is nothing more than a suggestion.  Any cook worth his or her salt actively seeks ways to improve or tweak a dish to better suit their palettes.  So it was with serious purpose and a healthy dose of trepidation that I decided to try my hand at granny’s pickle recipe.  I knew one certain thing - that I wanted to preserve the integrity of the pickles so that my own grandchildren would one day experience their own endorphin response when opening a jar of them!  Taking no short cuts and only reducing the amount of sugar used in the original recipe, I was extremely pleased with the results.  The recipe doubles (triples and quadruples!) easily so adjust quantities as necessary for the number of cucumbers you have on hand.  

Rona’s Icicle Pickles

Cut 2 gallons of fresh cucumbers lengthwise into a crock.  You’ll quarter larger pickles and cut in half the slimmer ones.  

Dissolve one pint of non-iodized salt in one gallon of boiling water.  Pour the brine over cucumbers.  Ensure that all cucumbers are fully immersed by weighting them down with an inverted dinner plate.  Cover with a kitchen cloth and let stand for one week, stirring them every day.  Drain off brine water.

Cover cucumbers with clear boiling water, weight them down and cover again with kitchen cloth.  Let stand 24 hours.  Drain.

Boil one gallon of water with 2 tablespoons of powdered alum.  Pour over cucumbers, cover again and let stand another 24 hours.  Drain.

Boil 2 quarts of cider vinegar and 4 pints of granulated sugar until sugar dissolves.  Pour over cucumbers.  Cover with kitchen cloth.  Drain, reserve and reheat vinegar/sugar mixture four consecutive mornings, pouring back over crocked cucumbers.

Next morning, drain and reserve vinegar/sugar mixture.  Heat canning lids and rings in a pan of water on your stove top.  Put cucumbers into hot, sterilized jars and add 1 tablespoon of pickling spice to each jar.  Heat reserved vinegar/sugar mixture to a boiling point and pour over jarred cucumbers.  Seal with lids and rings.  Invert on a clean kitchen towel to help seal.   Once cool all jars should have sealed properly.  If not, put unsuccessfully sealed jars into a 10-minute boiling water bath to seal.

Fourteen days I reply
when he asks how long it takes to make my sweet icicle pickles, syrupy juice trickling from the corner of his mouth, glistening, sticky pickle between his fingers, waving away my offer of a damp cloth to lick his hand clean.

The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature (March 2011)
Pickled Perfection!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Ellen Compton - Eggplant Casserole

Susan Nelson Myers has agreed to help with The Frugal Poet web site. Not only is she a gifted poet, but she's a fabulous cook and an expert at stretching food dollars. Thanks to Susan's willingness to teach me how to can foods and her father's garden, my pantry has jars of icicle pickles, dill pickles, marinara sauce, tomato bisque soup and various jams and jellies. Read more about Susan by clicking the About link on the right side of the page.

The Frugal Poet web site and its readers will benefit from her knowledge and expertise.

I've had the pleasure of meeting Ellen Compton a few times over the years. Ellen is our guest poet today with a recipe and a poem:

Eggplant Casserole

Good served alone or over rice or couscous. I also like to serve the leftovers cold, sometimes on good, crusty bread. For variety, I might stir in freshly grated Parmesan cheese, or add canned (drained) pinto beans.  You might try your favorite herbs, a few capers, Greek olives—any or all of these.  Or use 3 or 4 fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped, instead of the canned ones.

1 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 medium eggplant (unpeeled), cut in small cubes
1 bell pepper, diced
1 large onion, sliced
1 14.5-oz can diced, pealed tomatoes
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup olive oil

Coat all sides of a heavy pot with 1 Tbsp olive oil.

Add remaining ingredients and mix.

Cover tightly and cook over moderate heat until vegetables are tender (1/2 hour or longer), occasionally stirring or shaking the pot to keep from sticking.

tomato summer
      the sun
          on my tongue

[published in Modern Haiku 40:2, summer 2009]

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A quick update

Great news! Susan Nelson Myers will help with The Frugal Poet web site. Find out more about Susan by clicking "About" on the right side of the page.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Home and Bread Machines

I enjoy my weekends here at Poet’s Cottage. I’m usually awake by 5 AM, showered and sipping coffee by 5:30. I value this time of easing into the day, when I can read a few poems written by a friend or tweak a few things I’ve penned during the week.

Quiet time. A time of gathering thoughts and introspection. And yet, as I type these words, I’m suddenly aware of

the soft drone
of the refrigerator,
a percolating
coffee pot,
the soothing
of heat passing
through air ducts,
a home
of walls
settling back

Our homes possess characteristics that make them seem alive. They are a reflection of our inner selves. Maybe I’m a candidate for adding a rubber room, but I’ve walked into my home after a long day at work and said, “Hello, nice clean home!” We become attune to the needs of our homes as poet Susan Nelson Myers accurately captures in this senryu:

empty winter nest -
discovering a new drip
in an old faucet

Prune Juice; Issue 6, Summer 2011

Stop and listen to your home. What do you hear? What does your home tell you? Walk through each room. Do you see a reflection of your personality, your creativity in your home?

We can live in many locations throughout our lives, but how many places can we truly call home? When I arrived at Poet’s Cottage, I texted a friend and said simply, “I’m home.” Today, I feel that I, too, have slipped into the rhythmic hum of the place that shelters me from the elements and keeps me warm.

One of the coolest gifts I received in recent months is a bread machine. The manual/recipe book had been lost but, thanks to the Internet, I found a free manual after a bit of googling. Having a fresh loaf of bread really is as easy as tossing a few ingredients into the machine and setting a timer for two or three hours. I’ve saved a few dollars by baking loaves of wheat, country white, carrot and cinnamon bread. Here are a few pictures of my bread machine and a loaf of homemade fresh bread.

Ingredients tossed into the bread machine

Front view of the bread machine

Timer set for 2 hours and 30 minutes

Fresh cinnamon bread from the bread machine
“Your home smells like fresh bread,” commented a friend, who stopped by for a visit. For those of us gifted with sensitive olfactories, the benefits of a bread machine exceed the taste of fresh baked bread and dollars saved.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Paula Fisher - War Cake & Hard Sauce

One of the greatest gifts we can give our descendants are those family recipes that have stood the test of time, old favorites that tantalize our taste buds and olfactories. What we prepare in our kitchens today could very well become a fond memory for a family member or loved one long after we are gone.

I have a friend who is in the process of compiling two handwritten recipe books for her daughters. Sure, she could hand write one book and photocopy the other, but is it the same? No. A time will come when those girls will prepare a meal from those recipe books and think, "That's my momma's handwriting."

Paula Fisher offers this family recipe. She writes:

This was made during WWI when there was a shortage of eggs and milk. Our family tradition has been to have it for Christmas, Fourth of July picnics and special gatherings.

Great-Grandma Goodman's War Cake

Combine the following ingredients and cook on low in a large saucepan on the stove-top until raisins are plump.

2 C coffee
1 C sugar
1/4 C margarine
2 C large seedless raisins (Muscat are best, Sun Maid sells in 5lb bulk boxes, use some, share/freeze the rest or use "Baking" or "Golden" raisins)
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp cinnamon

Remove and set aside to cool.

Sift the following ingredients together then mix with the cooled coffee/raisin mixture. Stir evenly to mix all ingredients and pour into greased and floured oblong (13x9x2) pan. Bake at 350 until done (about 45 minutes).

2 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder

Serve squares of cake with Hard Sauce.

Hard Sauce (Also called Whiskey or Brandy Butter)

1 C butter, softened (not mushy or microwaved)
1 C confectioners sugar
1/4 C dark rum (or Irish Whiskey or Brandy)
1 tsp vanilla extract
A dash of nutmeg

Beat butter until fluffy (2 minutes), sift in sugar, continue beating, add rum, vanilla and nutmeg, beat on high for 5 minutes. Serve at room temp over warm cake. Can be covered and refrigerated for will harden there so bring back to room temp before use.

Paula also sent the following haibun:

We had much needed rain during the night and a change in temperature that announced the coming winter. Walking around the house this morning, I moved many of the potted plants into the sun porch to keep them warm. With the drought that has plagued south Texas leaving so many trees in critical shape, it's hard to tell without being up close, which ones are naturally losing leaves. Around my yard there are several crepe myrtles and a few will not be coming back.

day moon
the sun lights up
a weathered face

As we placed yellow ribbons in the old oaks around the church today, I realized just how badly they've been damaged. Before brunch, we raised the flag for Veteran's Day and gave thanks to the men of our community who have served. In my family, five generations of military service, all came home alive but not all unscathed.

grandma's war cake
a little girl sighs
"no candy?"


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Making use of potatoes

Our first Christmas tree in our new home is beautiful in its simplicity. A few ornaments, candy canes and Christmas cards adorn the branches of a six foot Fraser Fir purchased for a few dollars at a roadside stand. Three hundred lights strung around the tree give it a magical glow visible through the living room window at night. And thanks to the thoughtfulness of a special young lady, a large red bow perched atop the tree has given it character that no glowing star could achieve.

Is it a perfect tree? No. There is an area to the left of the tree where the branches are bent slightly, giving it the illusion of a gap in its side. But the tree has been the perfect addition to Poet’s Cottage during this holiday season. The tree’s scent, vibrant green branches and, yes, its imperfections have endeared it to my daughter and me.

I will be saddened to remove it in a few days.

Stewed Potatoes
I recently purchased two bags of potatoes, a buy one get one free deal at the local grocery store. There are a lot of ways to make use of potatoes. My father’s specialty go to meal was stew beef, cornbread and stewed potatoes (that’s what he called them). He followed no recipe. Basically, he diced a few potatoes then tossed them into a pot coated with a little vegetable oil. He then filled the pot with enough water that left about two to three inches between the surface of the water and the potatoes. Boiling the potatoes slowly on a medium high setting was necessary to deter sticking. Finally, he seasoned his stewed potatoes with a stick of butter, salt and pepper prior to serving.

My father discarded the nutrient laden potato skins and, admittedly, I used to discard the skins too. Figuring in the frugal factor, I now bake the skins whenever a recipe calls for me to peel a potato. Here’s the recipe I use for baked potato skins:

Tater Skins
Baked Potato Skins

1 stick of butter
2 garlic cloves (pressed or minced)
potato skins
black pepper & salt to taste

- Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat.
- When the butter is hot and bubbling, add the garlic.
- Saute the garlic until softened and fragrant (about 2 to 3 minutes).
- Place the potato skins in a large bowl.
- Pour the garlic butter over the skins and toss in the bowl until coated evenly.
- Place each potato skin, skin side down, on a shallow baking sheet.
- Sprinkle generously with pepper.
- Sprinkle lightly with salt to taste.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Bake the skins for 30-45 minutes or until hot, crisp and golden.

Here’s one of my poems, a scene I observed a few years ago; an old couple, very much in love, living frugally.


They sit in a booth made for two,
thin, frail, toothless. . .
he, in bib overalls and a tattered flannel shirt,
she, in a faded blue dress and yellowed sweater,
dining on grilled cheese sandwiches and hush puppies,
drinking sweet iced tea out of styrofoam cups,
surrounded by a lunch crowd
on platefuls of Carolina pork barbecue
(the scent of hickory-smoked meat thick in the air).

She takes a paper napkin, reaches across the table,
wipes a spot of ketchup
from the corner of his mouth;
he smiles, winks,
stops the waitress,
orders two spoons
and a single-serving of banana pudding.
Their hands, spotted with age,
join in the center of the table;
their backs
curved by time
into a perfect bow.

Sketchbook - August 31, 2008, Vol. 3, No. 8