Pickling with Mom

more pickles

I hadn’t canned since 1986, according to records. (My mom, my pickling partner and methodical note-taker, jotted down the last date). Though that was nearly a quarter-century ago, the memories of pickling rush clearly forward in my mind. First, we’d drive to the local fruit market to pick out dill fronds taller than my 9-year-old frame, collect bags of warty cucumbers, and tack on a few Walla Walla sweets onions.

Once home, it was on to prepping the Fixin's: sterilizing the jars in the dishwasher, slicing the onions, scrubbing clean the finger-sized cucumbers. Next up: creating an assembly line of garlic and onions, spices, cucumbers, and brine. Finally, it was time for my favorite part–the actual packing of the pickles. I’d reach my hand into the bottom of the quart-sized jar to place a slab of onion as a base. Then sprinkle in the spices, fold in the dill, and tightly pack the cucumbers (bending a few ever so gently to nudge them under the rim of the jar). And finally (carefully!) ladling in the hot brine. Mom usually did this step while I watched the liquid seep and settle into empty spaces, buoying the peppercorns to the top. We’d seal up the whole mess with a lid (warmed in a bubbling pan of water to activate the rubber) and wait for the tell-tale “ping!” to indicate the seal had set.

My mom made these pickles as an annual tradition for nearly two decades. I joined the mix only a few times, once I stood at least tall enough to reach the countertop to help assemble. In 1986, we even used cucumbers from our own garden that year–though our bounty was noticeably smaller than years prior; only a few quarts rather than a few dozen as in years past. 1986 was also the summer after my dad passed away. I don’t remember a lot else about those first years of just mom and me, though I can imagine my mom was trying to stay busy to keep her mind occupied and off of our loss.

pickles in a jar

By starting the pickling process in early spring–planting the cucumbers–then tending to the little guys all through summer, we stayed focused. And, at the end, reaped an edible reward. It also was likely an exercise in frugality. Back then, pickling cucumbers only cost 17 cents per pound; one finished jar cost approximately one fifty-cent piece. Time, as it is wan to do, lapsed. I got more involved in summer swim team and school. There wasn’t the time to grow our crops; and, unless we didn’t document it, we didn’t even get to the market to buy the pickling ingredients and make a batch. Life was too full.

Last summer, with a touch of nostalgia in my heart and newfound time due to reduced hours at work, the notion of making pickles re-entered my brain. My mom was excited. So much so that she went to the market to get the ingredients without me. Supply and demand aren’t what they used to be in regard to pickle cost. Despite a growing interest in urban farming and homestead crafts, we paid a pretty penny for our pickling gear: In 2010 for us, a finished quart jar of pickles cost about $3.50. And so we stood, side by side (now the same height), assembling our production line: spices, vegetables, brine, and packed our pickles.

One of my favorite spots for pickle supplies in the north end or eastside of Seattle is Bothell’s Yakima Fruit Market. Our recipe didn’t call for this step (rather, we just simmered the lids in water to activate their rubber seal), but for safety, jars should be boiled in hot water for 20-some minutes. For variety, you can safely alter the seasonings in a recipe. Our pickling spice contains a mélange of peppers, mustard seed, and coriander. Next time I might throw in some red pepper flakes for a kick.

CAA Contributor Amy Duchene is a Seattle-based food and lifestyle writer. She has contributed to Three Imaginary Girls, Seattle Bride Magazine, and The Rocket. She loves pickles so much that she uses “Pickle” as a term of endearment for her cat.

Comments (0)

Rich text editor