My Dad, like any good “coalcracker” could never pass up a bargain. Although my family spent a lot of time together, occasionally we found ourselves going separate ways on Saturday afternoons. Dad had been running some errands and Mom and I had returned home to find he was not yet there. Being “the good old days” before the age of everyone having a cellphone at their beck and call, we idly wondered where he was.
Turns out he decided to go to a local farmers’ market and met up with a farmer anxious to rid himself of an over-abundance of produce he was left with at the close of business rather than haul everything back to his farm. Pop proudly told us of his “score” as Mom and I held our collective breath, tentatively peering into the trunk of the Buick as Dad popped the lid.
Inside was a huge basket of pickling cucumbers, all beautifully green and bumpy, and “only a buck!!” “Wow…” is all Mom managed to get out. I, on the other hand, burst into hysterical laughter. Pop looked at both of us like we had two heads and absolutely no sense of a bargain when we saw one.
“I’m making pickles”, he announced. As he hoisted the basket of cukes from the trunk and started up the walk toward the kitchen door, Mom and I dutifully followed side-by-side up the path. “He’s making pickles”, I said, grinning. Mom just rolled her eyes, shrugged her shoulders and said, “I have the feeling we’re making pickles.”
And make them, we did. Pints and pints of pickles. Out came the Ball canning jars we inherited from my Nana. Hot sudsy water splashing about, we set to work sterilizing them. As we lined up these sparkling soldiers all in a row, Dad set off to buy gallons of vinegar and pounds of sugar and a big bag of ice from the local Mom and Pop store. Upon his return with the necessary ingredients, Mom and I washed the cukes, cut off the ends, then handed them off to Dad who sliced them in numbers too high to keep count of using an old mandolin we found in the back of a kitchen cabinet.
Soon, the double bowl stainless steel sink was filled with layers of cucumber slices, onions, and ice. Several hours later, three very tired, but very accomplished pickle makers stood in that cramped, almost no counter-space coal region kitchen admiring our work. We had never made pickles before and it would take a week of them being allowed to sit before we cracked open a jar to see how they turned out.
One week later, the three of us gathered around the kitchen table and opened a jar of “DAD’S” pickles. Oh, my goodness…those pickles were the best I’d ever tasted. Crunchy, sweet yet with a vinegar tang, perfectly spiced…where had these been all my life? That year started our annual pickle making event that we kept up until my Dad became so ravaged by Black Lung and all it affects he could no longer stand long enough to participate in the process and could barely breathe in the hot, cramped kitchen.
Our family pickle making adventures ended a few years before both my parents passed away, but several years ago, I came across the recipe we had used from an old Pa. Dutch cookbook and the memories of those good times we shared working side-by-side came flooding back. I went to a market one day, brought back a bunch of pickling cucumbers and announced to my unsuspecting husband, “I got a bargain — and we’re making pickles!”
Read the whole article and find the recipe on A Coalcracker in the Kitchen