Joni Woolf: Preserving for the future

Published 4:03 pm Saturday, August 5, 2017

Of course, the future may be as near as two weeks away. But for those of us who haunt the farmers’ markets in search of fresh foods, right now is prime time for preserving a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, whether we plan to enjoy them in two weeks, two months, or next year.
Today I drove over the Brown’s Farm Market in search of the queen of peaches, the Elberta and sure enough, they still had them. What I was surprised to find — since I had found earlier and thought there would be no more — were the small cucumbers, sometimes called Kirbys, used for making pickles. Small and firm, they are superior to the larger variety for making Bread and Butter Pickles, one of my favorites. So, I came home with peaches, butterbeans, okra, tomatoes, zinnias, and enough cucumbers to make 8 or 10 half-pint jars. As I write this, they are soaking in iced salt water and the jars are sterilized and waiting.
In my early and middle life, I did not make pickles or preserves. I was always busy doing a thousand things, with children, or church, or career. But since moving to the country and having access to such an abundance of fresh food every summer, I find that the creative urge can be just as satisfied with making a good batch of preserves or pickles as it ever was with creating the perfect sentence (which I never quite accomplished).
Several years ago, my good friend Lynn Cass gave me James Villas’ cookbook, My Mother’s Southern Kitchen, written with his mother, Martha Pearl Villas. Published in 1994, when she was 78, the cookbook is filled with her words of wisdom and sometimes stinging advice to her son, now a New Yorker. She lived to the grand old age of 97, but her words ring true today — and will for years to come. Her pickles and preserves are especially fine, and I have enjoyed making repeated batches of these pickles. I hope you will, too.

Bread and Butter Pickles
6 pounds pickling cucumbers (Kirbys), scrubbed and sliced into ¼ inch rounds
6 medium-size onions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup salt
4 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ teaspoons turmeric
1 ½ teaspoons celery seeds
2 tablespoons mustard seeds
3 cups 5% cider vinegar

In a large mixing bowl, arrange alternate layers of cucumber rounds and sliced onions, sprinkling each layer with the salt. Cover the top of the mixture with ice cubes or crushed ice, mix the ice thoroughly with the cucumbers and onions, and let stand 3 hours. Drain thoroughly. In a large enameled or stainless steel pot, combine the sugar, turmeric, celery seed, mustard seeds and vinegar and bring to a boil. Pack the cucumbers and onions into hot, sterilized jars, fill the jar with hot liquid to ¼ inch from the tops, seal, and store in a cool area. Refrigerate after opening. Yield: Seven or eight 1-pint jars. Note: These pickles are delicious on a ham or turkey sandwich with just a dab of mayonnaise.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at