August, and the living is easy?

The dog days of summer - named for the constellation Sirius which is prominent at this time of year - are here. With it comes the bounty of the garden. The tomatoes are just starting, but right now I am inundated with cucumbers and summer squash. That means pickling is in high gear.

It's very important to have perfect fruits - cucumbers or other vegetables - to pickle. If you are cutting or slicing them, it is not as necessary. But I've found that those funny looking, misshappen cukes, some that are bulbous or have a pointy end, do not maintain their crispness and often are hollow or too full of seeds. Another thing I've learned is to be sure to scrub the flower end of the fruit. Enzymes from the flower can ruin your pickles, so be certain to clean them well before pickling.

I like to make dills, sours or half sours using whole fruit. Over the years, I have tried many recipes, from quick pickles to 3 day dills to crock pickles which ferment much longer. With over 30 pickling and preserving books, I have a lot to experiment with, and not all of them are to my liking. I have a few favorites that I make each year, and then try new ones.

I was very excited the other day, when cleaning out some old papers, I found a faded index card, written in my mother's handwriting. It was my  great aunt Nel's recipe for half sours. Now, Aunt Nel was a simple, basic cook, but she had some wonderful recipes that she never wrote down, and this was one of them. I remember when my mom got the recipe from her, as Aunt Nel lived in Albany, NY and my mom and I made only a few trips out to visit. This time, I was maybe 11 or 12, and it was the summer. She had made a batch of these half sours, and my mom was eager to have the recipe.

I just made a batch, and these are just like the half sours you get at a deli. Pretty easy to make, and I expect they won't last long. The end of the card had gotten stuck to another paper and was not legible, so I had to guess at the time the pickles spent in the crock. I also added grape leaves to the top of the crock. If you want crisp pickles, grape leaves - which contain tartaric acid - can be added and they help keep the pickles firm. The great thing about this recipe is that you can make it in small batches - each takes only about three days to make. If you don't have a lot of cukes, you can make this in large wide-mouthed jars, and then store them in the fridge.

Her recipe did not call for the amount of cucumbers, and I had to guess on the exact process. Having made crock pickles before, I figure I am close to how she went about making these delightful, crunchy half sours.

About 1 quart of fresh whole pickling cucumbers, washed and scrubbed,  no longer than three inches

Two or three fresh dill heads - or 2 teaspoons dill seeds

1 teaspoon pickling spices

2 cloves peeled garlic

5 cups cold water

1/4 cup pickling salt

1/4 cup white vinegar (I use apple cider vinegar instead)

Place cucumbers on top of dill heads in ceramic crock or large wide mouth jar. Add pickling spices and garlic.

Mix water, salt and vinegar together, stirring well. Pour over cucumbers. Position grape leaves over top. Place a plate over the cukes, and weigh it down with a glass of water. Or, you can use a double bagged ziploc bag filled with water. Just be sure the cucumbers are under the level of water.

Cover with a dishtowel and let sit in a cool place for two to three days. Check each day and skim off any scum that forms. Test for the degree of sour that you want - mine were ready after three days. Place pickles in sterilized glass jars, pour water/vinegar mix over the pickles, and store in the fridge.

Happy pickling!

Karen