This, to my memory, is the first mini-treatise I have ever written on pickles. It comes to you somewhat courtesy of Janet Hill, who has filled our house with the unmistakable, lingering odor of pickle brine during her almost annual process of converting innocent cucumbers into thinly sliced hamburger helpers.
She does it with a nearly 50-year-old, hand-written recipe she has scotch-taped inside the door of the Hoosier cupboard we bought for $15 way back when from a wonderful neighbor lady – Irma Doctor – who told us if we could get it out of her basement, that would be her price.
For those of you seeking pickle omens, we never thought we would ever be living in Indiana, either.
Janet Hill’s old-fashioned pickle recipe requires two weeks of pickle processing, torturing the poor cucumber slices in alternating baths of brine and spice-tainted water, a formula she adheres to religiously.
Once she decides to make pickles we are not allowed vacations, out of town visits or even overnight trips for two weeks. One of my fears about that is if I die I will have to give her two weeks pickle notice.
On the other hand, my job in this pickle-making process is to periodically dump out the pickle-water, which could keep me around a while, or at least needed.
Proof of that can be found on the ancient pickle recipe scotch-taped to our Hoosier cupboard door. Also serving as an ancient pickle-making time line, it goes:
Sunday, July 11 – Put in brine.
Sunday, July 25 – Put pickles in jars.
There is, of course, a lot of stuff written between those entries about alum water, six pints sugar, six pints cider vinegar and one tablespoon pickling spice, but the important thing to remember is that precise two weeks between July 11 and July 25.
God only knows what would happen if we had to leave town and the pickles only languished in their brine for 13 days. If the process went 15 days, we could never go home again.
The other thing about Janet Hill’s pickles is they will soak for those two weeks in an old fashioned, five-gallon pickle crock we have probably had around since Irma Doctor offered us the Hoosier cupboard.
That dates back to a dark period in my life when I never met a farm auction I didn’t like, which explains why there are still six rusty iron wheels, two worthless kerosene lanterns and a busted corn sheller in the loft of our barn. Farm-auction counseling has turned out to actually be cheaper than attending farm auctions.
Actually, we have owned several pickle crocks over the years, and the one thing I know for certain about making pickles is that if your crock pot begins to leak you’ve got a problem on your hands.
And your kitchen floor.
Anyway, seeking truth in this art of making pickles I asked Janet Hill what kind of cucumbers she used to make pickles and she replied “pickling cucumbers.”
Forever the reporter – and seeking a little more depth – I immediately went to my old-fashioned, non-pickled computer and asked it to rattle off a few pickle varieties.
Good Ol’ Wikipedia listed precisely 115 named cucumbers – none of which I believe is languishing in our kitchen. But I would be a mighty poor journalist if I did not share with you the description offered for – and who could have guessed this? – the “Aardvark Cucumber.”
“The aardvark cucumber is a kind of cucumber from southern Africa, tropical Africa and Madagascar which fruits underground. It is reliant on the aardvark to eat the fruit in order to spread and rebury the seeds of the plant. Aardvarks eat the fruit for its water content and propagate the seeds through their feces, which are then buried by the animals. This plant may be the only reason why the aardvark is the only mammal feeding on ants and termites that has retained functional cheek teeth.”
I don’t know about you, but that’s just not the type of information you might expect to find investigating the fine art of pickling cucumbers. So tell that story to your dentist on the next visit.
By the way, Janet Hill pickles really good pickles, but we’re all going to have to wait maybe two weeks for the next batch.