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Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Bread ( and Butter) of Life

I've teased you a couple of times about giving you my recipe for my Bread and Butter Pickles. I just made a couple of batches over the last couple of weekends. They will be ready to eat by next weekend.  Having to let them sit for a couple of weeks and get their pickle on is almost unbearable.

The weekend I was going to make my first batch of this year, a friend of ours was coming over to spend the day. Dee got here early and we piddled around a bit with some things and decided we would all go out for lunch. Before we left, Dee said she had been meaning to tell me about a patient of hers. She is a home health care nurse and travels to homebound patients to bathe them, make sure they are doing ok, feeds them and moves on to the next. Of course, she never talks about her patients, never says who they are. But, she wanted to tell me that she had a 93-year-old woman that had pretty much quit eating. Dee said, however, she was wanting some bread and butter pickles. That night when she got home, she looked in her pantry and found the last jar she had from a batch I made last year. So the next day, she brings her a jar of my pickles. She said that little old woman ate nearly the whole jar. She was sure she wasn't going to make it before she got back, but she thought the pickles gave her a boost and she did well for the next couple of days. I almost broke down. I love making them and giving them away. You just never know what a simple gesture can do for someone else. I immediately went to our pantry and found the last 2 jars that I had and gave them to her. Dee said that she is still holding on.

So, after composing myself and filling Dee's car with pickles, we all headed out. We made it to lunch, stopped by an Amish store to get spices and supplies for the pickles, and then decided that since it was such a nice day, we would go for a drive into North Carolina. We wanted to find Shelton Laurel, where my mother-in-law grew up. We weren't far anyway, so through the mountains, we headed. Shelton Laurel, NC sounds like such a beautiful, pastoral place and it is. But, it's got a very disturbing past that spills over into its present. We didn't stop, we just drove through, seeing what we could. We are planning on going back to see if we can find a couple of landmarks that mom has talked about. We would take her, but she would not do well in the car for the couple of hours it would take there and back. I will write about that adventure when we do it.

On the way back we ended up stopping at mom and dads. She told us a few more stories about growing up. I think I could start a blog just with her stories alone and I may do that. It's a story that needs to be told. Before we left, we all ended up in the garden. It's what we do when we go there. Kind of like going to Cracker Barrel, you have to exit through the gift shop. With bags more of fresh produce, we head back home. We've decided by now that it's too late to start any pickles. It takes hours, so we plan on starting early the next morning.

Dee comes back on Sunday to help me get started. We clean up the cucumbers and onions and begin slicing both. I like to cut all of it by hand. I could use the food processor, but I can do it just as quickly with a knife, and I like the pickles to be a little chunky. Then we salt them down and pack them with ice on top. Now we wait for 3 hours. This is just enough time to go get some more lunch. We can't venture too far this time, though. We get back in time to clean the jars and get them sterilized. We fill up the canner with water and set it to boil, and prepare the lids and rings. When the 3 hours is up. we remove any remaining ice and then rinse the cucumbers and onions several times. Now I add the sugar, vinegar, pickling spices, and turmeric. It has to come to a boil for 5 minutes. Now I begin to spoon the pickles into the jars, packing them pretty tight, fill them up with the remaining brine and clean the rims of the jars. The pickling juice is very sticky and gets everywhere sometimes. If there is any on the rim of the jar, it most likely will not seal. Now I add the lids and rings and lower them into the boiling water and process them for 10 minutes. Once they come out, I place them on a towel on the counter and wait for the tink, tink, tink of the lids sealing. Every time I hear one, I yell "Sounds like pickles!"

The next weekend we head up to the in-laws. Mom hurt her leg pretty bad and we wanted to check on her. Her skin has gotten so thin that it does not take much to break it open. She did quite a number on her leg, but said she was ok now and we watched as she re-dressed the wound. It looked pretty bad, but she was doing a good job of taking care of it. She did say that earlier in the week she got pretty upset and began "squawling". Not because her leg hurt, but because she was worried that she would not be able to get in the garden. She worries about that garden. She loves getting in there early in the day and seeing what has bloomed, ripened, is ready to pick, and to pull any pesky weeds. She would not know what to do with herself if she did not have that garden each spring and summer. Dad told her to just go on up there and do what she felt she could and she would be ok. She did and she was. We left with more cucumbers and I made more Bread and Butter Pickles. I will give them several jars. We give lots of it back or use what we put up for dinners when the family comes over.

So even though they are just pickles, just cucumbers that soak up some vinegar, they mean so much more. Growing the cucumbers gives mom a purpose and she loves to be able to do for us. That's what moms do. Making them connects me to my past. I think of Mary each and every time. Even when I am wiping the rim of the jar and look at the paper towel to see if there is any trace of color from the turmeric left when I wipe it clean. I pass the pickles on to family, friends, and co-workers. It's creating a community. Sharing with Dee, and now with you, how I make them passes on what Mary taught me. Hopefully one day, someone will be writing a post about their pickles, that they learned to make because of what I wrote. I hope they make them their own as well. Mary had her process and I have made it my own. Then there are stories like what Dee told me of someone who could have been Mary's daughter. Nearing the end of her life, but wanting to taste something that reminds her of when she was a young girl. If someone asked me what I wanted for one of my last meals, what would I ask for? Pickles do make me happy. I think it's a good choice.

Ok, here you go. Here is the recipe for my Bread and Butter Pickles. May they bring you the memories, joy and sometimes tears, that they have brought me.



Jimmy's Bread & Butter Pickles
Makes 8-9 pints

For the pickles, you will need:
4 quarts of sliced cucumbers (that's a colander heaping of clean cucumbers, ready to slice)
6 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1/3 cup non-iodized salt
Plenty of ice

Layer the cucumber and onion slices in a large pan (I use my old enamel roasting pan, but do not use an aluminum pan) Sprinkle with the salt all over and cover the entire batch with a thick layer of ice. Cover and let set for 3 hours.

For the brine, you will need:
4 cups of sugar
3 cups of white vinegar
2 teaspoons of turmeric
2 teaspoons of celery seed
2 tablespoons of mustard seed
2 tablespoons of "pickling spice" - this usually contains peppercorns, allspice, mustard seeds, etc.

Remove all of the remaining ice and drain. Then rinse the cucumbers and onions very well a couple of times and drain. Add all of the brine ingredients to the cucumbers and onions, and bring to a boil. (some people like to put all of the spices into cheesecloth and make a sachet that they discard. I like to just put all of the spices in with the pickles. They don't hurt anything and I think they look great in the jar. I also love how the mustard seeds "pop" when you bite into them. It is up to you. Just don't give me a jar without the spices.) Cook for 5 minutes and remove from the heat. Have your lids processing in a small pot of boiling water. Have a large pot of boiling water ready to put your filled jars in. Fill each jar with pickles and then top off with brine, leaving 1-inch headspace. Wipe the rims of the jars. Put on the lids and rings. Tighten by hand until just tight. Process in boiling water, with jars covered by at least 1 inch of water, for 10 minutes. Remove from the boiling water and set aside to cool. Lids should "tink" when they seal. Any that do not seal can be reprocessed. Let pickles sit in a cool place for at least 2 weeks before opening and serving. Refrigerate after opening.