Cooking with my Mother

The familiar smell of the pickling mix, ... the "ping" as the ball lids pulled down to vacuum seal. It takes me back to the kitchen I grew up in -- a large room, about 16' by 24' with a large table in the middle of it. A table that now serves as my dining table. We did everything in that kitchen. And in the summer, my mother did a lot of canning with the vegetables from our large vegetable garden.

I got to thinking about this today as I was making pickles. This year the cucumbers in my own garden, about a tenth the size of our family garden, have been producing plentifully. I went on vacation last week and when I came home I found 22 cucumbers in the garden ... from small ones to overgrown ones about 15" long, with yellowed skin. They have the ability to hide amidst the abundance green foliage. I'm expecting to find a watermelon sized one in the fall somewhere out there when everything dies back.

What else was I to do but make pickles? I dug through my old recipes and found a copy of my grandmother's hand written recipe for bread and butter pickles. Typical of the recipes I have inherited, the quantities are approximate, and they contain a lot of ambiguous instructions ... "sometimes I used turmeric, ... sometimes curry powder. I can't remember what I did with the last batch ..." Grandmom's recipe for Christmas bread says to "add flour until the spoon stands up in the middle of the dough." I never have figured that one out.

So last night I sliced about 10-12 of the cucumbers, put them in a put with a couple of sliced onions, and covered them with salt. Then I poured in some water and finally dumped a 5 lb bag of ice over them. This morning, on a hot and muggy day, I began the process of turning them in to pickles.

After a trip to the grocery store to get mustard seed and cumin, I started collected everything I needed. I went in search of jars ... a task that led me into basement closets but I found everything I needed. One of the advantages of our modern technology is the ability to run the jars through a "sani-wash" in the dishwasher rather than boiling in a large part. I found the vacuum seal lids, the rings. While they sterilizing I mixed up the pickling solution in a large pot. When than came to a boil, dumped in the drained cucumber onion mixture and brought it to a boil again. Then filled and sealed the jars.

The first "ping" of the lid sealing took me back to the kitchen with my mother ... I remember listening for that sound, and running our fingers over the lids to make sure they had sucked down. I remembered when my brother and I cleaned out the house after she and my father had died, we found a few remaining bottles of those pickles on a shelf in the basement. I smiled. Said, "Thanks Mom. Thanks for teaching me to do this." It gave me a way to spend time with her ... then. And now.

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