Hey, Mom! Let’s get pickled!

It’s funny how one comment can send you into yesteryear.

We were on holiday at the cottage having a very rare family meal together. Now that the kids are grown and mostly gone, it’s precious when we all sit down at the same time.

We had just cracked open our first jar of Arnie’s Latvian Dill Pickles, purchased from Chappel’s Farm. Arnie has been lovingly tending two acres of land this summer, growing his cucumbers, weeding, nurturing the little darlings before popping them into sealers and adding his wonder formula.

It’s his first experiment in free enterprise and we were supportive.

As the family munched our way through most of the litre, Kid One reminisced… “Remember when you used to make pickles, Mom? Remember the dills? the bread and butter pickles? the ones you made out of watermelon rind? the ones that were yellowed and sweet?”

Pang! It continued. “Yeah, and we grew rows and rows of vegetables. Remember blanching, straining, draining, bagging and freezing them? Remember how good they were? And totally good, no pesticides, just from our garden to our freezer to our table?”

Then came a discussion about “slow food”, an attempt by our harried world to regain the importance of growing and preparation, of celebrating togetherness at the table. It’s a movement putting a halt to the immediacy of microwave, and the tendency to pop the kids in the back of the car, throw their cereal bowls, and juice boxes (or worse, still, a donut) at them and drop them off at school.

Slow food. I hadn’t realized our kids even noticed. But when they were little we did eat much healthier meals.

Now, they made the comments, and then went on with their lives.

Which is why one Friday night in September I finished a three-day teaching stint and as I was driving home, I reasoned that I had absolutely nothing to do that night, and why not put down a few dill pickles? Just to keep them happy! (I had lots I could do; I hadn’t been in my office for three days!#!)

Out I went to Greg Garrett’s on Highway 93. When you’re 5’6″ and standing tall, a bushel of baby cucumbers (no idea what the metric is on that) looks pretty small. Greg heaved the bushel into my trunk. Oh, Greg… dill, too. And garlic. And alum. And vinegar… strong vinegar, white. Any bay leaves? My goodness, it’s been at least 15 years since I made dill pickles… what else is in the recipe?
Thank you, Greg. $64.19. Debit. Approved.

So, home I go, arriving around 5:30. I lug it all in and begin to wash the cucumbers, transferring them to cold water in the laundry tub (cleaned, of course), so they can develop their “crunch.” I washed. I washed. I washed. A bushel is a lot of cucumbers. Please note the kids are no where in the vicinity of Barrie.

About 9 pm, I had peeled and divided the garlic (2 cloves per litre), cut all the dill (flowers and stalk), and made an assembly line of bowls, with alum, bay leaves. All ready to go! This should take about an hour. Good thing because tomorrow I¹ve got a busy day. All of a sudden, “slow” has a deadline!

I went down to our cold room to get my sealers, unused now for several years. I have at least 80 sealers, mostly litre and two-litre types and lots and lots of lids.

I HAD lots and lots of sealers. As I stared at the shelves, it dawned on me… three years ago when we moved I was ruthless in the paring down of possessions. And the ruthlessness included the sealers, which went to Goodwill. Not all. Most. I carried my meagre supply up to the kitchen and began. It didn’t take long. It didn’t make a dent in the laundry tub supply of cucumbers.

About 10 pm it occurred to me that I’d have to hit an all-night grocery store to BUY more sealers. Now mine are probably still sitting at Goodwill, in the back on a shelf, with 5-cent stickers on them. A box of 12 sealers costs about $12. I figured I needed at least 35 of them. There had to be another way.

In the morning, before my first commitment, I looked up and down my street of friendly neighbours. Every woman my age and older has sealers in her basement. And every single one of them is sure they’ll never need them again. I was right. Didn’t take long and Brunelle had delivered a supply. So did another kind soul. Both asked me not to return them. I had to buy only one box of sealers. Grrrrr!

By midnight Saturday, after all my commitments were over, I was putting the finishing twists on the last of the sealer rings. As they cooled, their comforting “pop” could be heard.

Monday morning I took them all down to the cold room, loading up shelves with dill pickles. I delivered a few jars to my generous neighbours. Three weeks went by. Essential for dill pickle building.

It was one of those experiences that make you wonder what you’re doing when you’re half way through.

Last week I brought the first of the jars upstairs and put it in the fridge. Kid One was just putting the finishing touches on a house framing job in the country. First husband was just coming back from a road trip. They made it home before I did.

I walked in the door and there on the counter were two jars, each with a bayleaf, each with a dill head. No garlic. No pickles. Just juice and remnants. And two smiling faces.

Thanks, Mom.

You know, slow is good. But Arnie is easier.