When I was growing up I was sometimes a foolish child. I ran around the outdoors, played in the forests and fields and creeks, and helped my Dad chop down trees. Tomboy. Everything that was outside was awesome, and everything that was inside the house (cooking, sewing, sitting still) was boring and silly.
My sister Laura became the baker, the stitcher, the inside daughter. She sent some of her cross stitch work to the county fair, astonished family and friends with her kitcheny skills, and is an all around domestic goddess. I was the one who mowed the lawn, hauled branches, and ran fast. If you saw my childhood pictures you might doubt my Swedish-German-English-Dutch heritage, so brown was I from being outside all the time.
Only in the past five or six years have I developed any kind of respect for indoor activities and traditional women’s work. I’m not going to treat this blog post like a therapist’s couch and try to figure out why I hated that kind of work; I like it now, and I’m proud to say that. I think being able to make your own food, make your own clothes, and be self-sufficient is a great skill and in many cases has been turned into great art (quilts, master knitters, etc).
I’m not making great art here, but I did recently learn how to preserve my own pickles. And I’m so freaking proud of myself!
On the last Sunday in August my Mom (who’s been doing this since she was probably 5 years old) showed me (age 27) how to make bread and butter pickles (in her house, not mine).
First you slice up the cucumbers and onions, then soak them in ice water and salt for THREE WHOLE ENTIRE HOURS.
Go for a walk while you wait. Talk about life stuff with your mom. Learn about wild plums, elderberries, wild grapes, and crabapples as you walk past them, and the best way to preserve them all. Also, prepare your spices.
When you get back from your walk, boil some jar lids (this sanitizes them).
Stand at the sink and be a little embarassed and a little proud that your mom is taking pictures.
Have ready your great-grandmother’s pressure cooker, in which you will boil the jars. Admire the winking design.
Fill up a pot with some sugar and some apple cider vinegar, making sure you know how much to use. Remark several times that it looks like pee. Get disapproving looks from your mother.
After the entire THREE HOURS has elapsed, rinse the cucumbers & onions, then add them to the sugar-vinegar-spicy mix.
Meanwhile, have your jars waiting in superhot water. Pull them out nowish. Again, feel the embarassment and pride when your mother takes a picture of you pulling a jar out of a sinkful of water.
Your cucumbers are starting to look more like pickles. Get hungry.
Fill up your jars with the veggie-spice mixture. Use a 40-year-old wide mouth funnel for help. Try not to spill on the clean counters, but fail.
And after you lid the jars and boil them for 15 minutes, you have pickles that you have made yourself.
They are all home with me, and they taste delicious because I made them. And because they are delicious.
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