Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Wilkes-Barre Farmers' Market

Tents set up on W-B public square looking past a sculpture
towards the Chamber of Commerce and bank buildings
I grew up in Wilkes-Barre in northeastern Pennsylvania and lived there until our family moved to Edison NJ. The area always had a great sense of community and residents from Pittston to Nanticoke to Back Mtn identified with "The Valley". Going back 30 years or more, every Thursday from June through October, there is a farmer's market on Wilkes-Barre's public square and many of the same farms and stands still set up and sell locally grown vegetables, fruits, and honey. In town to visit family last Thursday, I made that familiar trip to the market in search of fresh corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, peaches, and hopefully, plums.  

Public square looking toward the Kirby Center. Farmer's tents
line two sides of the square, a bandshell is in the center.
 When I was a young mother, I often took my kids to the square to buy fresh vegetables, have lunch and listen to the bands entertain the crowds. In the photo at right, you can see that tradition continue. One of our favorites, Hillside Farms, was a local dairy farm known for its delicious ice cream. Now "The Lands at Hillside Farms", they are a proponent of organic, sustainable living and have a vision and a mission explained on their website http://www.thelandsathillsidefarms.org/  Recently, there are new CSA (community supported agriculture) farms which are increasing the ability of people to buy locally grown food.
I asked the man at O'Malia's tent how the heavy rains had affected their harvest. The tomatoes suffered the most, as the rain caused their skins to crack and split open, allowing insect and mold to spoil the fruit. Despite the weather, the tables were piled up with plenty of vegetables and it was hard to resist the large baskets of peppers, tomatoes, etc. But I had come to buy a quantity of a particular variety of cucumber, the kirby, which is the best one for making pickles, because of its thin skin, crisp flesh, and medium size. Then I walked around the whole line of stands looking for a particular red plum for my plum jam. Only one stand, Dymonds, was selling them and I was able to buy the last 3 quarts. Happy, I left behind bushels of beautiful apples, beets, tomatoes and more for another day.

A plate holds the cucumbers down.

After soaking in brine and syrup.
found a recipe I like on page 268 of Linda Arendt’s book Blue Ribbon Preserves. I took home the 20 kirby cucumbers from the farmer's market. I washed them well, removed the blossom ends ( typically this has a little scar, opposite the stem end which has the rough stub of a stem). I put them whole in a large bowl and covered them with a brine solution of 1/2cup pickling salt dissolved in 3 quarts of water. I placed a plate on top of the cukes and weighed  it down with a jar of water. The cukes must be submerged and soak for 24 hours. The next day I drained and rinsed the cukes, and put them back into the bowl.  I made a syrup with 4 cups of white vinegar, 1 cup of sugar and a spice bag containing 1 teaspoon each of dill seed, mustard seed, celery seed, coriander seed, and peppercorns. for good measure I added a bay leaf. This solution I brought to a boil for 5 minutes and took off the heat and removed the spice bag. Then pour this boiling hot syrup over the cucumbers. Cover the bowl again with a plate and jar making sure the cucumbers are completely submerged. Let them stand another 24 hours. The next day remove the cucumbers and put the syrup in a pot. Bring the syrup to a boil. Pack 3-4 cucumbers per pint jar, adding 3 sprigs of fresh dill to each jar. Ladle the hot syrup into the jars, with 1/2 inch headspace. With a flat blade of a plastic knife, for example, free any air bubbles trapped in the jars. Wipe the rims with a clean damp paper towel, adjust the lids and rings. Process in a water bath canner at 185 degrees for 30 minutes. Note: for Kosher Dills, add one peeled clove of garlic per jar.
Kosher Dills, pint jars
Packed and ready for syrup.
If the cucumbers are too large, you may cut them in half and / or cut them shorter. Pack about 3 cukes per pint jar. Yield: 7 pints.

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