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Summer Canning

Yesterday, I opened a jar of pickled brussel sprouts and carrots that I made a few weeks ago. I don't can often and wish I did more. The satisfying pull of the lid coming off the first time and the whiff of vinegar and garlic should inspire me more. But, I'm lulled into laziness because I always have something put up by my parents in either my fridge or pantry - beets, pickled this or that, jelly, tomatoes, salsa, flavored vinegar. I know I'll greatly miss the benefits of their industriousness when they decide it's too much trouble. 

Both my parents grew up in families that canned and, in that way it seems people of their generation can remember small details of growing up (they actually showed up for their lives as opposed to watching other's live lives on screens 24/7), they lovingly remember specific foods and tastes from specific family members.

My mother, who grew up in Hallettsville, remembers enjoying garlic pickles (spears), sweet and sour pickles (spears), bread and butter pickles (rounds that were sweeter than sweet and sours), and plain pickled beets made by her mother, Anita Kallus. Anita also made jellies - dewberry and especially grape because they had grape vines in the pasture behind their house.  Also, there were canned peaches and pears. My mother remembers her grandfather Morkovsky who lived with my mother's family until he passed away in 1961, sitting at the kitchen table peeling peaches. The fruit came from neighbors or whoever they could buy it from. My great grandmother liked to pickle green beans, but she died before my mother was born, so my mother never got to enjoy them.

My father's mother, who grew up outside of Cuero, made pickles, but not by herself. There was a canning day at her mother's house when my great grandmother and her daughters and daughters in law would put up 100 or 125 quarts and then divide them up. On her own at home, my grandmother did jellies (using wax to seal the jars)…. my father remembers grape, peach. and plum. Her parents had an orchard right behind the house and she got the peaches and plums from them. The grapes were often picked by my father along the fence of a neighbor's back pasture.
My great grandmother Zielonka front and center with
her local Home Demonstration Club in the 1940s.

My father remembers home canned green beans from his grandmother, but not corn because they’d already bought a freezer when my father was a child. He actually remembers being at their house the day the feezer was delivered. They put it in the dining room because that's where there was enough room. My great grandmother also canned green grapes, because she made green grape pie, and put up lots of tomatoes. Her daughter and son in law, my great aunt Amelia and Ben Parma had a tomato truck farm.  Apparently my father's Aunt Louis home canned meats and potatoes, which I'm afraid I'd have to be convinced to try.

My great grandparents on their farm outside of Cuero
in the minuscule community of Radcliffe.

Though my mother's mother pickled plain beets, the first ones my parents tasted that were spiced were my father's Aunt Pat, who was an Italian Texan from the Victoria area. She also put up tomatoes, corn, green beans, and pickles, but her fantastic beet recipe can be found in this previous post.

My parents didn’t can early on in their marriage, but later, after we kids came along and our family had big gardens (especially in Connecticut - see photo below), they started doing it from necessity and a desire to stay connected to their families back home in Texas through food traditions.

They did small batches at first, for eating pretty quickly, not stocking a larder for winter. But in Connecticut, they ended up canning tomatoes almost every day, 3 or 4 jars. Tomatoes are easy to can, they felt successful, and that's when my mother really remembers getting into the process. They assure me that they called both my grandmothers for recipes and advice. My father has collected so many recipes - "Aunt Dolci's Pickles", "Aunt Henrietta's Pickles", Aunt Birdie's Pickles" - that it's hard to tell how they're really different from each other with their standard vinegar-water-salt ingredients in only slight variations of amounts.

All but one of my siblings has caught the canning bug. A text just a few days ago from my brother... "Hey, did you gift us the cabbage-fennel relish? Just had some on hot dogs and it was amazing."  My 11 year old niece actually cans, as well. I have never known another human that loves pickles as much as she does. That's her above with the pickle earrings I gave her for her last birthday, along with a pickling cookbook, blue Mason jars, some family recipes, and a notebook in which she can start collecting her own.  

Here is my parents' (Betty and Steve Orsak's) basic pickling recipe, written down for a canning demonstration they did in the late 1990s when I worked for Texas Folklife and we did First Thursdays events from our building on South Congress in Austin. It's what I used for my recent pickled brussel sprouts and carrots, which are so beautiful in the jar. 

Basic Pickling Brine
7 cups water
2 cups white pickling vinegar
1/2 cup canning salt 

Mix the ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, simmer for 2 or 3 minutes, and let cool.

Garlic Pickles
pickling cucmbers (or green beans, brussel sprouts, carrots, okra, small green tomatoes, asparagus)
fresh dill
dried red peppers
basic brine from above

1) Warm clean, sterilized jars in the oven about 10 minutes on the lowest setting. Heat a small pan of water with your lids in it so the seals soften. Leave them in the hot water while you work. 
2) To each jar, add garlic to taste, one red pepper, a sprig of dill, and a pinch of alum.
3) Pack the jars with your vegetables.
4) Bring your brine back to a boil and pour the boiling brine into the jars to 1/2" from the top.
5) Wipe the top edge of the jars with a clean, damp cloth. Apply the heated lid and then tighten a ring on the jar to seal it. Put the sealed jars in the oven at about 200 degrees for 15 minutes.
6) Take the jars out of the oven and turn them upside down on the cabinet, covering them with a towel. After 15 minutes, turn them right side up and store them in a cool place. 

The pickles will be ready to eat in 2 weeks. Makes 8 pints.

I packed pints because, with just my son and I in the house, quarts seems like too much to have open at one time. 

My son the food stylist, preparing the final plate you see below.
With a food blogger mother and father who's a 
he's got some interesting skills at eight years old. 


  1. What beautiful memories of your family’s canning. It’s wonderful that the tradition and family recipes are continuing with this generation.
    My parents and grandparents also canned and I have cherished childhood memories of it. They started me as a young child with just putting the garlic, dill, etc. in the jars, then increasing my responsibility and participation each year until I could do it on my own. They have all passed away, so now I’m the family canner for my family and siblings’ families. I love that it is a way to stay connected to my family heritage and to share the goodness of my garden and local produce throughout the year.
    Linda W.

    1. Thank you for the comment, Linda! It's amazing how many people can nowadays, which is so wonderful. And for all the great reasons you mentioned. Not to mention that it's cheaper than buying pickles. I've been shocked by how much "artisan" producers want for a quart of pickles! What's your favorite thing to put up? And thank you so much for reading my blog. -Dawn

  2. My most cherished and favorite canning recipe is my grandma's and mama's for Bread & Butter pickles. It was lost for several years, so I bought artisan pickles (at exorbitant prices!) trying to find some that tasted like our family recipe - to no avail. Then I fortunately found our recipe 2 years ago and thankfully mine taste just like grandma and mama made them. I also grow my own cucumbers as my grandma and my dad did. So happily the family tradition continues!

    I love your blog! I enjoy learning more about my Czech heritage, its food, and customs - your great posts are so informative. Thank you for sharing and preserving our Czech traditions.
    -Linda W.


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