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Pursuit of the perfect, crisp Pickle!

Over 15 years ago, I went from a small garden in the back yard (or in pots) according to where ever I was at the time, to a large garden spot that has been permanent ever since.  I had helped my mother and grandma can over the years growing up and had collected or bought all the necesary canning equipment.  It was now my turn!  First up, was crisp dill pickles using my cucumbers.  I experimented with a few batches (with some results better than others) and eventually learned a few, very important tips that I'd love to pass on to you.  I've since pickled beets, beans (dilly), asparagus, and peppers.  This year I want to try an Italian blend with cabbage, carrots, garlic, peppers, and cauliflower. I am definitely not a pro, but these few things might help.  Let me know if you have other things that have helped in pickling. The most KEY advice I can give you is WATER!!   *don't use city water that has been treated or well water that has ran through a softener.  This is a sure way to end up with soggy, pickled veggies!  (most especially cucumbers) When I first started, I would actually haul water up from my parents' well down in the Magic Valley of Idaho, but since have found a source here on our place that has decent water, unaltered (our water table here is a struggle with lots of sulpher).  You can also buy many types of water.  There are a few different sources here in the Treasure Valley. Other tips include... *Making sure the veggies are nice and dry (either air dried or patted dry with a towel) after you rinse the dirt off, never water logged, before putting them in the jar and adding brine *Steam canning them just long enough to seal the jars and not longer than that (this is kind of a variable with your individual set up, but I like to go no longer than 10 minutes on most things) *Using alum?  And what about salts?I have found there is not a lot of difference in crispness when using alum in pickling, so I prefer not to use it/eat it.  As for salts, I have used sea salt, natural Redmond salt, pickling salt, and more.  There is not a huge difference.  The Redmond salt will not dissolve as well in the brine, so just be aware.  It still tastes good!  It will just show up as a brown color sometimes in the jar (almost like sand). Hope this helps in pursuit of your perfect, crisp pickle!

Trying Sourdough or something NEW!

If you've ever been the recipient of Kathy's (our mother/mother in law) warm bread, dinner or cinnamon rolls, you know how divine they are.  Kathy has been baking yeast breads for decades, but in the last few years, starting experimenting with sourdough.  I asked her to share what she's learned and some tips we all could follow whether in trying something new in life or in baking.  Below are her thoughts: "I began exploring the sourdough world a few years ago, I killed my first starter but have kept my current one alive and growing for several years. Sourdough baking is fun to me now, but it felt a little intimidating at first. I did some research and read a lot of blogs and recipes and finally just took the plunge without looking back.  Sourdough has several health benefits, it’s easier to digest and many folks who have some sensitivities to regular bread, can often eat sourdough without any adverse affects. The fermentation of sourdough is what helps the gut digest better. Now, that being said, those with serious problems with gluten may not be able to handle it, so please be cautious. Learning something new is exciting and gives you a great feeling of accomplishment. I have always loved baking breads; I had a goal to become a great baker.  I wanted my husband and children to associate the smell of baking bread with the feeling of being home. I tried several different bread and cinnamon roll recipes and finally, after trial and error, achieved some pretty decent and delicious results. I love to share what I bake with anyone who could feel better by bread, because, doesn’t everyone feel after eating a warm slice of bread? Probably the best thing I did to figure out how to master the art of making bread and cinnamon rolls was to be ok with failure, it’s not fun, but it’s how I learned. I had to accept that becoming accomplished took trial and error and sometimes scrapping it and starting over. I talked to my husband’s aunt, who made wonderful cinnamon rolls and pies, I listened and then kept trying and I didn’t give up, but kept reading recipes and asking questions and then trying until I felt that I could do it with ease and most of all with JOY.  Feeding people, especially your family, warm bread is the greatest feeling. Sharing bread is like sharing a warm hug, it feels so good. My advice to you in making bread or mastering anything, is keep trying, keep reading recipe blogs, ask a lot of questions, watch someone make it and learn from them and then be ok with some failure. Start small, like keep your sourdough starter alive, learn how dough should feel, what flour is best, bake one loaf and then before you know it...... ... you’ll be amazed at what you can create and how it feels to share your bread with others." To sum it up, whether in trying something new or in sour dough, Kathy's five steps to succes include: 1) Keep your starter alive- read up on what it takes to do so. (For sourdough- your water should never be HOT, but nice and warm.  Hot water will kill the starter) 2) Don't be afraid of failure, keep trying and and know that practice makes perfect 3) Spend some time reading about sourdough bread and learn how the dough should feel.  It should be tacky, not sticky. 4) Ask questions.  Find someone who knows breadmaking and ask. 5) Keep trying!