As I survey the shelves in my basement cold storage room, I notice more empty jars. Just as it should be, but I also notice shelves still stocked with an abundant supply of pickles. I keep restocking and not eating enough. I make great sweet dill pickles but cannot copy my mom’s sour dill. You know the ones. They make you pucker, but you can’t wait for the next bite. When she put the cucumbers in the jar, we would start the countdown to when they would be ready to eat. They had to sit for six weeks before we could open the jar. When the time arrived we would clean out a quart jar in a single sitting. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I’ve asked my mom, but she’s not sure what is making the difference, either. I would gladly take any tips or advice. Is there a certain variety or type of cucumber I should be planting this spring? Should I use well water or softened water in my brine? I really would like help in replacing the jars of soft pickles sitting on my shelves.
    Last year, I didn’t plant very many bell pepper plants because I had a big carry over from the previous year. Now I’m going to have to start rationing my remaining stock to make it through the summer before I can restock. It is my version of stretching out the last of the haylage until the first cutting of hay. Jonathon and Libby used a new variety of pepper in their relish last year, and I think I’m going to have to plant some Poblano Peppers this year. It added a smoky flavor to their pepper relish.
    How do you know what varieties of plants to plant in your garden? I didn’t realize the Minnesota Master Gardeners program does its own seed trials on different varieties of garden produce to see which plants do well in our Minnesota gardens. I discovered which yellow bean and carrot varieties should work well in my garden. I’m excited to try them out. The program also recommended a cucumber called Chicago Pickling. Check the website, www.extension.umn.edu, to see what may work in your garden. Search for Master Gardeners Seed Trials.
    I can’t wait to start eating out of the garden again. Once Mark takes his big toys through my garden, I’ll follow behind with my tiller to get the seed bed ready. The first things I plant are spinach and garden salad bowl. I am looking forward to a good salad and homemade dressing. I should have rhubarb ready in a week or two. Its growth is like a perfect thermometer. It gets bigger as the temperatures get warmer. I will also have our first full harvest of asparagus this year. Creamed asparagus on toast is a meal in itself. The only thing I’ll be missing from my garden this year is strawberries. My patch was well over 8 years old, and the quack grass finally took over. I can’t wait to look through the Master Gardener website for which strawberry varieties bring spring to my garden.
     I found this first recipe in a cookbook called “Simply in Season, A World Community Cookbook.” It is organized seasons and highlighted by ingredients. It is truly country cooking, using what is available outside your door. I haven’t tried these salad recipes but I can’t wait to taste the dressing recipes on the salad bowl lettuce from my garden.

Dandelion bacon salad
Serves 4 – 6
Simply in Season Cookbook
1/4 cup lemon juice or vinegar
1/4 cup honey or sugar, more or less to taste
Dash of salt
Blend in a small bowl.
Stir in:
1/2 cup evaporated milk
    Fry four slices of bacon in a Dutch oven or very large fry pan and drain on paper towel. Remove all but 1 Tbsp. bacon fat from pan. Crumble bacon and set aside.
1 Tbsp. flour
    Add to reserved bacon fat in fry pan, heat and stir until smooth. Slowly stir in the lemon mixture. Heat and stir until thickened. Turn off heat but leave pan on the burner.
    9 cups dandelion greens, chopped. Use only greens that haven’t been sprayed.
    Add to warm dressing and stir gently to coat. Garnish with bacon and chopped hard cooked egg. Can also garnish with sliced red onion rings, mushrooms or dried cherries.

Strawberry spinach salad and dressings
Serves 4
Simply in Season Cookbook
4 cup spinach or other mixed greens, torn
1 cup fresh strawberries, peaches, blueberries, kiwi fruit or combination, sliced.
    Combine with selected toppings. Pour half of dressing over salad just before serving, then more as needed. Refrigerate leftover dressing.
Topping options:
2 green onions, chopped
1 small red onion cut into thin rings
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup asparagus, cut into 1 inche pieces, blancehed and chilled
2 Tbsp. sunflower seeds, toasted
1/2 bacon pieces, cooked and crumbled
1/2 cup walnuts or slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 cup shredded cheese
1 cup cooked turkey, chopped

Two seed dressing
1/4 cup sugar or honey
2 Tbsp. sesame seeds
1 Tbsp. poppy seeds
1/4 cup cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp. paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
    Combine in jar with tight fitting lid. Shake well. Refrigerate left-over dressing.

Rhubarb dressing
2 cup rhubarb, chopped
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup vinegar
3/4 cup oil
2-3 Tbsp. onion, grated
1 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp. salt
    Cook rhubarb, sugar, and vinegar over medium heat until soft. Drain in sieve. Discard pulp. To 6 Tbsp. of this juice, add remaining ingredients. Shake in jar or whisk together. Chill at least one hour before serving.

Creamed asparagus
    Cut asparagus spears from the garden at the base of the plant.
    Wash and trim away woody part. Cut where your knife has the least resistance. Discard woody part and cut remaining stalk into serving pieces. I separate the tips from the stalks for cooking purposes.
    Blanche cut asparagus stalks over boiling water until slightly tender. Add tips and finish blanching until all pieces are tender. Put asparagus in a bowl.
    While asparagus is blanching, start making the creamed sauce. In a separate cooking pan, melt 2 Tbsp. butter. Add 2 Tbsp. flour and stir until bubbly over medium heat. Add 2 cups milk and whisk together. Stir until thickened, about 5-10 minutes. Add salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg for seasoning. Pour over asparagus in bowl. Serve over buttered toast.