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It Wouldn’t Be Summer Without Pickles

Twenty pounds is a lot of cucumbers.  What was I thinking? 

              I wanted two crock churns, not just one, filled with sweet pickles like Mom used to make. Forty years ago, she gave me the recipe that she wrote on a 3” x 5” card; now it’s covered with dark splotches where I’ve splattered brine and vinegar and alum water.  Even though I’ve rewritten the recipe, and adjusted it a bit, I still look at Mom’s card before Husband and I begin the tradition of making pickles.

            Following Mom’s recipe, the first time, we washed four gallons of whole cucumbers and placed them in a big crock churn. Then we poured a brine solution, made of four cups of coarse salt and two gallons of water, over them, and let the cucumbers soak for seven days.

            Step two is drain the cucumbers and wash them in cold water.  Slice and put the cucumbers back into the churn and cover them with cold water, in which two or three ounces of powdered alum has been added.  Soak two days.  Imagine how slimy and slick cucumbers were after seven days in salt water.  They felt and looked like they should have been thrown away! The next year, I sliced the cucumbers before soaking them in brine and I’ve never touched a slimy, icky cucumber again.

            My pickles tasted like Mom’s, but hers were evenly sliced while some of mine were paper-thin and some 1/4” thick.  A few years later, Husband got a counter-top food slicer and pickle making became much simpler, for me, not him.  He cuts every slice the same thickness, and finally, our pickles taste and look like Mom’s.

            Step three is drain the sliced cucumbers well and put them back in the churn.  Cover them with one gallon of cold cider vinegar and let them sit for one day and one night.

            Step four is drain and pour all cucumbers out of the churn, but don’t wash them.  Empty one or two boxes of pickling spices in a cloth bag, or a square of cloth, and tie it with strong thread or twine.  Place the spices into the bottom of churn.  Alternate layers of cucumbers and sugar, about ten pounds, until all the cucumbers are covered.

            About 24 hours later, a sugar syrup will begin to form and eventually cover the cucumbers.  Shake the churn occasionally to dissolve the sugar.  The last line Mom wrote reads, “Leave in the churn and use as you like.”  I like that – don’t can – just eat, and we do that well!

            My favorite summertime sandwich is American cheese, sliced tomatoes, and sweet pickles.  I dice pickles for tuna and chicken and potato salads. If I forget to serve pickles for a family meal, a Grand does it for me.  And friends are glad when I serve cheese cubes, crackers and pickles as an appetizer.

            During these days when life hasn’t been like past summers, it feels good to have two full churns sitting in our kitchen.  Summer just wouldn’t be summer without making Mom’s sweet pickles.