Friday, August 15, 2008

Recipe or Song?

As I stood peering into the fridge pondering dinner, I was hit with the realization that cooking and songwriting are familial beasts. Besides both being a creative outlet, the process can be surprisingly similar. Indulge me.

First, possession of some basic knowledge is necessary. You've learned other people's songs, you've cooked recipes from a cookbook. Then you have an idea, something inspires you. Nature, heartbreak, leftover roast beef. A lyric or melody rolls around in your head; you play it, repeat it, tweak it, refine it. You dig through the pantry, tasting and adding layers of flavor as one ingredient is transformed into a meal. The more you play your song, the better it becomes. If you're lucky, when you sing it for someone, they'll beam and want to hear more. Each time you cook the new dish, hopefully, it is received with praise and satisfaction. People ask you to cook it again. Comes a time when someone wants to learn your song. Perhaps you write it down, maybe they jam with you until they've got it down. When asked for the recipe of your new culinary creation, you have to measure out the ingredients and write instructions or have them join you in the kitchen to learn by your side. Next time, in someone else's hands, your song or recipe is never quite the same. It could be better, it may pale in comparison, but it is an honor that someone enjoyed it enough to make it their own.

So while I sing Guy Clark's "Homegrown Tomatoes", I'll be pickling them, too.

Pickled Green Tomatoes
5 - 6 lbs of hard green tomatoes
3 heads of garlic
12 fronds or sprigs of fresh dill
1 carton of pickling lime
12 pint canning jars w/ lids and rings
For Brine
2 quarts water
1 quart vinegar (at least 5% acidity)
1 cup pickling or kosher salt (must not contain iodine)
6 tbs picking spice

-Wash and halve or quarter tomatoes. Use only ones not beginning to turn.
-Follow instruction on picking lime carton and soak tomatoes overnight in lime solution. (This is how they keep their crunch.) Thoroughly rinse at least 3 times. Lime is caustic, so take care not to splash and wash up afterwards.
-Put brine ingredients in a non-reactive pot and bring to boil.
-Pack tomatoes, garlic and dill into sterilized jars. Want hot? Add a hot pepper to the jar.
-Using a canning funnel, fill jars with brine to within a 1/4 inch of top.
-Release any bubbles in the jar with a knife or chopstick and wipe rim w/ damp towel.
-Put on lids and screw on rings until finger-tight.
-Process in a waterbath open kettle canner for 10 - 15 minutes. Remove with canning tongs.
-Set on counter to cool, when you hear them "ping" they are sealed.
-When cool, store for 6 weeks for full pickling, then enjoy!

If you are new to canning, pick up a Ball Blue Book. It is the best guide to home canning and freezing that's out there. Even if you learned at mom's side, give it a read.

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