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In a pickle

July 23, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

HALFWAY - Clusters of Washington County Ag Expo ribbons hang amidst the bunches of drying lavender, red peppers, oregano and Chinese lanterns in the kitchen of Kathy Wallech's Halfway home.

She's fared well at the annual agricultural fair since she began entering its open-class competitions about five years ago.

"I've never won the big one, though, the grand champion ribbon. I try for it every year," says Wallech, 37, a native of Funkstown. "My husband's grandmother (the late Armita Wallech) always said I was born a century too late."

The lush flower, vegetable and herb gardens that surround her home provide the bounty needed for the creations that Wallech enters in the expo's garden products, horticulture and food preservation categories. She also competes with her baked goods - including cakes and breads such as cinnamon buns and cottage cheese-dill bread - and hand-sewn crafts.

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And she makes a mean jar of pickles.

Wallech grows a variety of small cucumbers meant for pickling, and she pickles them as soon as they come off the vine.

"The smaller, the better. Smaller cucumbers have smaller seeds, and they aren't so bitter and spongy," she says. "You want to pickle them as soon as they're picked. The fresher the cucumber, the better the pickle. They're crisper."

Surrounded by the necessities of her garlic-dill pickle making - quart jars and lids, a large pot for the boiling-water bath used to can the pickles, a smaller pot in which to boil the brine, cucumbers, vinegar, kosher salt, pickling spices, bay leaves, fresh dill and garlic - Wallech prepares to turn garden-fresh cucumbers into long-lasting pickles.

She always puts the canning water on to boil before she does anything else because it takes so long to boil - even atop the commercial-strength flames of her massive stainless steel, five-burner, double-oven stove. She stuffs a healthy handful of fresh dill that she's just picked from her garden, two big cloves of garlic and a bay leaf into the bottom of a jar.

Wallech prefers to use wide-mouth jars because it's easier to pack in the cucumbers that she has just washed and cut into thick vertical slices. She packs them as tightly as possible so they don't float to the top after she covers them with pickling brine. Floating pickles also are a sign that the cucumbers weren't fresh-picked, but it doesn't mean that the pickles won't be edible, Wallech says.

She makes her pickling brine with kosher salt instead of pickling salt. She says "it makes a crisper pickle," and she buys ready-made pickling spices instead of spending time and money to mix her own.

"Honestly, it's cheaper than trying to do it yourself," Wallech says.

After pouring the brine into her cucumber-filled jars, she runs a plastic knife from the top to the bottom along the inside of each jar. This removes air bubbles by releasing the pressure against the sides of the jar, Wallech says. She always wipes around the jars' rims with a clean cloth to remove any particles that will prevent the lid from sealing properly. Wallech also makes sure there are no nicks in the rim.

"Any nick and it will not seal, or it will seal now and pop open later," she says.

Wallech processes her crispy concoction in a hot-water bath for 15 minutes before removing the jars of brilliant green pickles to cool on the countertop. She plans to prepare similar dill pickles for this year's Ag Expo, which runs from Friday, Aug. 1, through Friday, Aug. 8.

And it could be a grand champion year.

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