I have my Grandmother's pickle crock,
and my son encouraged me to make her famous mustard pickles this year. My aunt taught me, my sister and my daughter how to make them about fifteen years ago.
I should have paid better attention.
I bought all the ingredients, and then shuddered at what I had talked myself into.
I finally began - skinning nine cups of pearl onions. Thank goodness for the internet for directions, but still I was overwhelmed with whether or not I was doing it right. According to the internet you just boil them, plunge them into ice water, cut off the end and then the onion slides right out of the skin. Not so much. Maybe I needed more ice. Maybe I needed to channel my aunt.
My dear husband, sensing my overwhelm no doubt, offered to help with the prep and in a very short time he had cut up two large heads of cauliflower while I finished the onions and chopped up the celery and cucumber.
Her recipe said one part salt to nine parts water for the brine, but of course no hint as to how big the parts should be to fill the crock. I grabbed a quart mason jar and used that. The angels must have been watching over me because it worked perfectly filling the crock just over half full of brine. By the time all the ingredients were added they came just to the top of the crock.
Then the next day I awoke to eleven pint jars, one quart jar, two half-pint jars, my canning pot and the recipe stuck to the fridge. The recipe is written in my dear Aunt Georgina's handwriting. I knew she was there with me, but still it was daunting.
Clearly this needed coffee and breakfast before the sauce could be made, and the jars could be sterilized.
Two cups of coffee later, I was ready to go.
So out came the canner and I sterilized the jars (without burning myself), while mixing the mustard paste, and boiling the vinegar.
I boiled the veggies for five minutes in the brine, fretting the whole time that they tasted too salty. I checked the internet to try to get the proportion of salt to water for brine but it only confused me more.
I heard my aunt's laugh.
I reminded myself to "trust the recipe", and I berated myself more than once for not paying better attention all those years ago when my sister and daughter and I gathered in my aunt's kitchen to make pickles for the last time before Alzheimer's stole her away from us in the horrible way that disease steals loved ones from loved ones.
I mixed the mustard paste into the boiling vinegar, working diligently to get the lumps out. To no avail. Then I thought about my wand mixer, and laughing at the thought of what my grandmother would say, I whisked those lumps away in seconds. New age meets traditional method!
So into the jars the mixture went, wiping the edges before placing the seals and lids on. Two batches of hot water processing, with only one oops as one of the seals failed and water leaked into the top of the jar.
I put the hot jars on the counter on top of a tea towel as my aunt had shown me and quite quickly the lids started to ping.
I remember as a young girl sitting in her living room, after a day of canning, listening to the jar lids ping and counting them off one by one.
I felt her presence as I listened and counted.
Twelve jars pinged! Two jars didn't, and they are in the fridge. Well, technically only one jar is in the fridge because my husband and I took one jar on our camping trip.
I woke up from a nap today with him exclaiming how great the pickles tasted.
Not too salty? I asked fretfully.
Not too salty, he replied emphatically. I love his enthusiasm.
I was happy. Happy for the jar in the fridge at home. Happy for the twelve jars on the counter at home. Happy for the one in my hand.
They tasted great as a side to my tuna sandwich, and they will taste great with tonight's moose stew. My husband thinks they taste great by the forkful out of the jar.
Thanks, Auntie Georgie.
Let's do this again, next year.
And maybe pickled onions too.