We picked cucumbers from the garden on July 3. There were two and they ended up on the holiday vegetable tray, alongside radishes (also from the garden) and sugar snap peas (native, but not our own.)
On the 12th of July I came home from grocery shopping to find eleventy six cucumbers on the kitchen counter. In my absence, the Hunter, in his summer persona of The Farmer, had been busy harvesting. And on July 13th I decided I had better do something with this embarrassment of cukes as they were threatening to take over all the space in the refrigerator, so I made pickles.
While I had always planned in a vague sort of way to put up some pickles from this year’s garden, those plans were very non-specific as to exactly how and when. I am fairly sure they didn’t include a hot and humid day. Last year I made a few jars of refrigerator pickles, which while delicious, needed to be eaten within a month or so. There is no way that The Hunter and I could eat eleventy-six or possibly even eleventy-nine cucumbers worth of pickles in a month.
Making real pickles – the kind you keep on the shelf in the cellar and bring up in January – was something I’ve never done. In the past, I’d always avoided canning because if you don’t do it right, you can kill someone, and I don’t like my food prep to be quite that stressful.
I’m a “little bit of this” and a “pinch of that” kind of cook who is incapable of following a recipe because I am sure I can improve it. But canning. That is a precise science, full of numbers, proportions, fractions and exactness. That kind of cooking requires method and organization.
I didn’t grow up learning to can with my mother. We never had a vegetable garden, just some petunias and marigolds around the back door. And my mother didn’t grow up canning with her mother, either. When my grandmother finally had room for a garden she, being a sensible woman, grew roses.
Once when I was young and infected with the pioneering spirit, I asked my mother if we could put up tomatoes or make jam or something. She said that the whole process had to be done when the produce was at its freshest and that meant we couldn’t really pick the day; the day would pick us. We were speaking at the time in our kitchen, which was almost unbearable every summer afternoon with the western sun blazing in. She was not interested in putting large pots of continuously boiling water on the stove to push up the heat and humidity index. So that was the end of that. Until this morning.
Like the house I grew up in, my current home does not have air conditioning. My kitchen faces east and the morning sun heats it up fast. As do large pots full of continuously boiling water, so necessary for pickle processing.
I am in total awe of all the women in the world, past and present, who preserve the larger part of their garden produce by canning. If my family had to rely on me, they would starve. Today’s escapade proves I am good, perhaps, for some boutique pickles, and in time, and depending on our crops, I may even run to onion relish or possibly beets. But jars and jars and jars of “real” food like beans and peas and carrots? That is mind-boggling.
For one thing, I don’t see how there is time enough in the day to do the canning – and everything else. I only put up 13 jars of pickles and by the time I had gathered the equipment and prepped the cucumbers and cleaned up, close to five hours had gone by. I was tired from standing, and the kitchen was like the rain forest. At least I was wearing capris and a tee shirt and knew there was a cold shower waiting for me. I couldn’t imagine doing all this in a long dress and petticoats. Or while watching young children and making a family meal. I think it was only fun because it wasn’t strictly necessary.
The math says that we now have twice as many pickles as we’ll ever eat this year, or even perhaps in our lifetime. That same math also says that I’ve only solved the problem of last week’s cucumbers.