Tag Archives: pickles

Family, community and dill pickles

I really do love pickles, but that’s not the only reason I make them. I also make pickles to feel connected to my heritage.

My recipe for half sour kosher dill pickles comes from my great grandmother, Rebecca Eisner, and maybe it’s been passed down for generations before that. I love to imagine my ancestors eating the same pickles before they left Europe for America, before their last name was changed from Dosgozsky (I’m not sure about the spelling) to Davis at Ellis Island, before a quarter of the family tree was decimated by the Holocaust.

Rebecca Eisner's daughter (my nana) and me

I’ve always been interested in my family’s history, and I believe that where my ancestors have been and what they’ve lived through has shaped who I am today. Typical of our mobile society, I grew up a several hour drive away from any family except my parents and brother. It was far enough that I didn’t see them all the time. None of my grandparents are alive now, and my extended family consists of one aunt, one uncle and two cousins. Really, that’s it, except for a great aunt in Pennsylvania I’ve met once. It’s remarkable the difference between my family and Andy’s. I think his family takes up a third of our wedding guest list.

When I was living in Costa Rica, I was struck by the large size and closeness of families in my small town. Extended families lived next door to or across town from each other. There was no option of forgetting where one came from. Everyone in town knew everyone else since birth. No one was anonymous.

In Costa Rica I thought a lot about family and community. Sometimes I felt sad that I didn’t have the kind of close extended family that I saw around me. But then I realized that I did have an extended family. They aren’t related to me by blood, but they’ve watched me grow up.

They’re called the garden group. It started at least 16 years ago when my parents and several other families decided to get  together to help each other out in their gardens. Ever since, the garden group has gathered at a different house each month on a Sunday to work outdoors and then share a potluck lunch.

The garden group has been gathering for work, fun and food for at least 16 years

The garden group has weathered challenging times and experienced joy. Children have grown up. Hair has grayed. Some families have left and others have joined. But it’s always the same – mutual support then energetic conversation over delicious food.

It’s a simple model I think many others could follow. One of my greatest hopes is that when Andy and I settle down we can find a group of friends like my family has found in the garden group.

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Pickles for sale!

We planted a few too many cucumbers, and now we are swimming in pickles. Does anyone want to buy a gallon of half sour kosher dill pickles? We’re selling them for $20, with a $2 deposit on the glass jar. They need to be refrigerated. I’ll be in Portland August 6-8 and could deliver them to folks there. If you’re anywhere near Washington, Maine, you could pick them up from us here. They’re delicious! Read more in my next post.

Pickles

pH matters

It’s the time of summer when there aren’t enough hours in the day. In addition to gardening and swimming and planning a wedding, my job for the Damariscotta Lake Watershed Association is also much more time consuming and busy in the summer. I haven’t had much time to write, though it doesn’t mean nothing is happening in the garden.

Garden on July 5th

Some crops seem to grow overnight. The pumpkins and potatoes are huge. The tomatoes and cucumbers and brassicas look great. But the onions and corn leave much to be desired. We’ve been trying to figure out why the onions have done so little even though they were the first seedlings we put in the ground. My father suggested the problem could be pH.

Many crops do best in slightly acidic to neutral soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7. Soil pH affects the chemical forms of nutrients like phosphorus and iron. When soil pH is too acidic or too alkaline, some nutrients convert to a form that cannot be absorbed by plants. Even in nutrient-rich soil, off-balance pH may cause plants to suffer nutrient deficiencies

In Maine, soil is often too acidic for optimum plant growth. Luckily, soil pH can be easily raised by spreading and mixing in ground limestone. When we got our soil tested in the spring, we found out that the pH was 5.6. We spread 350 pounds of lime and 65 pounds of wood ash (about half the recommended amount) and tilled it in. However, we expect that the lime hasn’t had time to completely do its work.

Potatoes are one crop that does grow well in more acidic soils, preferring a pH of 5.5. We didn’t spread any lime in our potato area, and the potato plants are enormous. The onions, however, prefer a pH of 6-7.

To see if we could solve the low pH in our onion patch, we dumped some wood ash around the plants. Wood ash raises pH and is more water soluble than limestone. We only had enough ash for part of the onion row. Today, after the rain had a chance to wash the ash into the soil, the part of the onion row we treated seems to be greener and larger. Before we spread ash on the rest of the onions, we’ll take a picture so we can assess the results more concretely.

We’ve decided to do an experiment with our tomatoes. Some people prune their tomatoes to improve their yield. Tomato plants sprout suckers where new leaves leave the main stem. When pruning, you cut these suckers off. I’ve always wondered whether pruning tomatoes really makes a difference. This summer we intend to find out. We pruned one side of the row and left the other half untouched. We’ll weigh the fruit we get from each side.

First batch of cucumbers and dill

Our first crop is ripening: cucumbers. We were very excited to make our first jar of pickles!

I’ve been adding lots of pictures to the Photos page of chicks, plants and more. Check them out!

In case you’re interested, I found this list of pH preferences for different crops:

  • Beans            6.0-7.0
  • Beets             6.5-8.0
  • Broccoli        6.0-7.0
  • Cabbage       6.0-7.5
  • Cantaloupe  6.0-7.5
  • Carrots         5.5-7.0
  • Corn             5.5-7.5
  • Cucumbers 5.5-7.0
  • Lettuce        6.0-7.0
  • Onions         6.0-7.0
  • Peas             6.0-7.5
  • Peppers       5.5-7.0
  • Potatoes      4.8-6.5
  • Squash        6.0-7.0
  • Tomatoes   5.5-7.5