Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Making green sweet pickles: 30+ days of patience

My mother had eight children, six of us within ten years. Talk about a challenge, now that I think of it, but she was always busy in the early years of doing things that kept us all busy as we were growing up.

One particular thing she did was make these incredible green sweet pickles. Most of my siblings were not fans, but I was, and my mom made sure I had green sweet pickles. In fact, for one Christmas, she gave me a box of 12 pints of them. I loved those pickles!

Delicious green sweet pickles!

Since my mother died several years ago, I have not had green sweet pickles. This year I decided I would make some in her honor. Was I in for a surprise! I didn’t realize the work it involved.

First, I had to find the recipe. Fortunately, my sister Shawna, number five in the pecking order, had a copy, which she sent to me.

The second challenge was trying to read the recipe—or better put trying to interpret the recipe in my mother’s cryptic handwriting. Shawna and I texted back and forth, and I finally caught most of it. My mother knew how to make them, and she assumed we should know exactly how, too. Thus, the interpretation!

Mom's recipe in her own handwriting

What I didn’t totally realize was how long it was going to take--over 30 days of preparing, washing, soaking, resoaking, and soaking some more.

The recipe called for 10 gallons of whole cucumbers (a.k.a. "cukes"), which I didn’t have, so I used my math skills (thanks to all you math teachers out there!), did the calculations with the number of cukes I had and began.

I put the whole cucumbers in my mother’s crock, which I have and cherish. 

Mom's old crock

After adding the appropriate amount of water and enough salt, as my mother put it, “to float an egg,”
I covered the cukes. It took a whole box of salt for my water to float an egg.

Then I let the whole crock sit for two weeks, yes, two whole weeks. Interestingly, I found the round wooden cover that my dad had made to put down into the crock. To hold it down, I put one of my eight-pound weights on, which ultimately was a mistake. 

I forgot about it for just about two weeks. Just before the two weeks were up, I went in and scraped off some mold that had settled on the wooden lid. I vaguely remember my mother doing the same thing and thinking, “Are you sure these are still going to be good?” Well, they were.

After two weeks, I attempted to take off the wooden lid. Guess what? It has swollen because of being in the water for so long. So, I had to wait several hours, and then I pried it out. While I was busily struggling to pry out the lid, I remembered my mother just using a plate and not the wooden lid. How I wished I had remembered that earlier.

After the lid was off, I drained, washed, and cut the whole cukes into pieces.

I prepared new water with one small box of alum, put the cukes back into the crock, and then soaked them for almost 36 hours.

Once that soaking was finished, I drained them once again, washed them, and then soaked them overnight in clear water.

For the next two days, I made this “brine” out of lots of vinegar, lots of sugar, several sticks of cinnamon, whole cloves, and mace, which I had no idea what it was. I had to contact Shawna who knew what it was. I ran to the store and picked some up.

After mixing all that and heating it, I poured it over the cut pickles and let them soak for another 24 hours.

The next day, I drained the brine off into a pan, added a bit more sugar, heated it, and then poured it over the pickles in the crock for an additional 24 hours.

Finally, the bottling day arrived. I drained the brine and tasted it to see if I needed something else. I added a bit of sugar and some more cloves and let it heat up. Because my mother added green food coloring to her pickles, I did, too. I wanted them to look and taste just like my mother’s.

Meanwhile, I had my pint bottles all ready to go, the big canning pot on the stove heating up. Once the brine was on the verge of boiling, I put the cut cukes in the jars, added the appropriate amount of brine, let out the bubbles in the jar, wiped the mouth with a clean cloth, placed the lid on, screwed on the lid, and placed the bottles gently into the canning pot.

For the next 25 minutes, the pints jars took a “water bath.” Once the timer dinged, I took my handy dandy tongs, lifted out the very hot jars, and placed them on a thick white towel to cool and seal.

Within a few short minutes, the lids began to pop, denoting they were sealing. It took about an hour for all of them to seal.

Now, that I look at these beautiful green sweet pickles in pint jars, I thank my mother for the enormous amount of time she took to bottle hundreds of pints and quarts of everything: pickles, peas, peaches, beets, string beans, corn, deer meat, raspberries, cherries, all sort of jams, and so many other fruits and vegetables from our garden and orchards in Idaho.

Canning can be a fun thing but please know it will take time, lots of time, especially if you are making my mother’s famous green sweet pickles!