Pickle Proud

by Elizabeth on July 26, 2012

My grandma was an awesome lady.

She taught herself to sew (and made me a bunch of clothes and toys, too), grew an incredible garden, and made the best dill pickles on the planet.  She was an avid garage-saler, travelled extensively with my grandpa, and was tough as nails.  (There may have been a few incidents with my willfullness as a child and a certain wooden spoon, as proof.  One did not misbehave at Grandma’s house, boyhowdy.)

I can very distinctly remember being at her house in the late summer while she canned up quart jars full of tomatoes and cucumbers, and I’m not even kidding when I say that I can still taste those pickles.  They were unlike anything that the store had to offer — her own blend of dill and spices and garlic that all came together into a snappy, spicy mix.

When she got sick, I was too young to really appreciate all she did.

I was still a pre-teen when she got the cancer diagnosis.  Breast cancer is scary now, but back then, treatments weren’t at all what they are today.  Survival rates were much lower in the late ’70′s, and being so young, I had no idea about any of that.  She continued her life as well as she could, thumbing her nose at the idea of slowing down or resting.  (When the cancer moved into her liver and her bones, she even refused a walker or a cane, choosing instead to use an old Louisville Slugger if she needed help.  That’s just how she was.  When I said tough as nails, I wasn’t kidding.)

She died when I was 12, just before Christmas.  It was one of two times I ever saw my dad cry, in fact.

Fast forward to today.

I didn’t grow any cucumbers this year.  (And, to be honest, I’m not growing much of anything this year.  I’m killing quite a lot, but growing is questionable.  We’re in the middle of the worst drought since the Dust Bowl era, and weeks of an extended heat wave have left us all sweltering…including the poor garden plants.)  But a friend dropped off a bag of homegrown cukes from her in-laws’ garden, and after eating a few raw, I had the thought that maybe, if I did a lot of finger-crossing and didn’t breathe while doing it, I might be able to make some of my own pickles.

Sadly, my grandmother’s recipe is lost.  My mom doesn’t have it (she was never a big homesteader-type or canner), and I’ve got no idea where else to look for it.  I know a few of the ingredients, but I also know she added things that aren’t in any cookbook.  (Plus a little grandma-magic that I’m sure she had.)

So I turned to the internet, found a decent tutorial, and a spicy pickling spice recipe, and set out to try this thing.

Less than an hour later, I had four pints of pickles cooling on a towel in my kitchen.

Can I just say…?  I totally thought this would be harder than it was.  I only had a few pounds of cucumbers, so I didn’t make a full recipe, really.  And my brine’s cloudy since I don’t have anything other than an aluminum pan at the moment (not dangerous, just not as pretty).  All the dill came from my own garden outside, and the jars are sealing up nicely as they cool.  Cut, pack, boil, pour, screw on the lids.  That’s it.

(If I’d canned them to be shelf-stable rather than refrigerator-stable, it’d be another step and another 20-30 minutes, but since I expect these to go pretty fast, it was less than an hour start-to-finish.)

I kept looking back at the directions, thinking I had to be missing something.  That was way too easy.  And I think the hardest part’s going to be waiting the 24 hours before trying them, honestly.  (Or to keep from showing them off to random strangers, squealing that I MADE THESE ALL BY MYSELLF, omg.)

 The best part, though, can’t be photographed.

It’s not the jars lined up all pretty on the counter.  It’s not the thrill of using up something I grew (the dill, though next year, I’m totally growing cucumbers).  It’s not even being able to give away half of them and share with loved ones.

It’s the connection, deep and generationless.  I’ve wished a lot, during this past year’s journey toward more self-sufficiency, that I’d been older when my grandma was alive, or that I’d paid more attention to what she did.

Standing in the kitchen, screwing lids on the vinegar-and-garlic scented jars, I felt her there, with me.

I think she’d approve.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mrs. Mac July 26, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Awhh .. what a beautiful tribute to your grandmother and her amazing pickles. I think that scents (albeit .. pickle;), sights and sounds can take us to some far away place and time. And .. that is just wonderful. When I stir my coffee with a spoon, I clink it a few times (on purpose) to the side of the cup .. because that’s the way my grandparents stirred theirs. Happy memories. And a good snack to boot!

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Boursin July 26, 2012 at 7:56 pm

I thoroughly understand when a family recipe is lost to the ages. I moved away long before I understood how important preserving that sort of thing could be. There are days when I get teh sad thinking about Grandpa’s lamb stew that we’d put over polenta, and how nobody knew how to make it after he passed, ever so long ago.

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