Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Dill Pickles, Kensington Market and a multitude of matriarchs

My first batch of dill pickles

I grew up in a beautiful old house in a lovely neighbourhood in Toronto.  My bedroom had vaulted ceilings and lots of windows that faced our front yard.  Mom helped me choose my wallpaper - a lovely soft rose pink colour with ivory cameo designs.

One feature of our century home was that the basement was more like a cellar.  The ceilings were low (maybe 6½ feet high).  It was mostly used for laundry and storage, but I took over the room at the bottom of the stairs and transformed it into my classroom.  I had chalk boards, and a makeshift teacher's desk, and would spend countless hours down there teaching my imaginary students.

The only other time I went down there other than to "teach" was to help Mom make pickles.  Oh what an adventure it was each year...

Mom would pile us in her station wagon and off we'd go to Kensington Market to see Sam at the Augusta Fruit Market.  Sam was an older man who both my Baba Dora and mother went to for all their "produce preserving production" needs.  He would have a couple of boys load bushel upon bushel of "cukes" (small cucumbers) into Mom's car, along with tons of garlic and fresh dill, and off we'd go.

I don't remember how everything made it to the basement laundry room, but I do remember my job once it was all in place...scrubbing endless sink-loads of cucumbers.  I stood there for what felt like hours - and probably was - scrubbing every last hint of dirt from them...do you think that it what made me the clean freak I am today?!

I can remember Mom peeling garlic as the rinsed dill lay out to dry on the makeshift  counter tops (towels on the top of the washing machine and dryer).

I can see Mom dropping the garlic cloves & dill into each mason jar, then stuffing the cucumbers into them, contorting her hands to squeeze as many as she could into each jar, then pouring the brine over top and sealing the jars...

Oh how I wish we had photos of this assembly line operation - it was something to see, and to experience!

We would make tons and tons of jars...they lined the walls of our basement storage room, and everyone loved them.  We would anxiously wait for the pickles to be ready...it took weeks, and then, voila - pickles for everyone!

When Mom got sick it dawned on me, for the first time, that all the delicacies I grew up eating and enjoying would never pass to the next generation.  There was no way I could recreate these dishes from scratch, without any clues as to the ingredients, measurements, etc.

When I started going through My Golden Treasures I stumbled upon these 2 recipes...Auntie Adele's Cold Pack Dill Pickles and Louise's Boiled Brine Dill Pickles.  I can remember Mom boiling the brine, so I know she made her mother's recipe. I cannot explain to you what a thrill it was for me to discover that all was not lost.  I can keep the recipes going, and document them for my kids, brother, niece and cousins...so the recipes will not stop with the generation before...they can continue.

Bubbie Lou's original recipe card

And I have decided that it is high time I take my rightful place in the line of matriarchs and take on the Mount Everest of Mama's recipes: Bubbie Lou's Dills.  I find this intimidating and exciting at the same time.  My memories of pickle-making are those of a little girl...we hurdled mountains to make these things - or so it seemed from a young girl's eyes.  More than intimidated, I am on shpilkis (defined by the Urban Dictionary as 'bounc(ing) off the walls', nervous energy without purpose. In English - to be 'on pins and needles'.) because I am the third (maybe fourth if it originated with Bubbie Gertie) generation to make this recipe...I am keeping it going...

I think I might have backed out of the whole pickle-making adventure, except that I came home to find that my husband picked up a box of jars and a basket of mini cucumbers for me to start my project.  And so began my pickling adventure.  There was just one small problem - we were already committed to making 3 cases of tomatoes into sauce with my in laws over the long weekend.  So I put off my pickle project to the Labour Day Monday.  

When Monday came around I washed the mason jars, soaked and scrubbed the mini cucumbers, rinsed the dill, boiled the brine, and starting peeling garlic.  It all came back to me - the smells of the dill and the bubbling brine, even Mom's trick for easily peeling the garlic.  

All the years since I had last made pickles had slipped away, in my mind I went back in time...I was with my mother again, learning at her side, pickling under her watchful eye.  And so it was that I was overcome by a strange combination of comfort and loss.  I contorted my fingers and managed to squeeze all the cucumbers into the jars.  When I ran out of cukes, I managed to find a fantastic farm just minutes away that carries the most amazing produce and picked up 2 more baskets so I could finish off the job.  

All in all, it was not nearly as daunting an undertaking as I thought it would be, and even though I started small, making just 11 jars of cucumbers and 1 jar of green cherry tomatoes, I am left with a satisfying sense of accomplishment.  Next year I am planning on pickling a bushel!

So from my family to yours, here is a pictorial step-by-step of Bubbie Lou's dills pickles.  I hope you enjoy them as much as we did.

Soak and scrub the cucumbers

Rinse and drain the dill

Pour 16 cups of water in large stock pot

Add 2 cups of PICKLING vinegar

Add 7/8 cup of coarse PICKLING salt

Add 2 tsp of mixed pickling spices

Bring combination of all ingredients to a boil,
boiling gently for 5 minutes and then let cool

Peel garlic cloves (2 cloves to each jar)

We're ready to start packing and pickling!

Brine is cooled and ready to pour

Place 1 clove of garlic and a few
sprigs of dill in the bottom of each jar

Pack each jar with cucumbers (or green tomatoes)

Pour brine over packed pickles until
brine reaches top of each jar, seal tightly,
store for 2 weeks, then fill jars with brine
to overflow and reseal...they're ready!  

Louise's Dill Pickles (Boiled Brine)

Brine Ingredients:
16 C tap water
2 C Heinz pickling vinegar
1 small C pickling salt (ie ¾  to ⅞ in the measuring cup)
2 tsp whole mixed spices

General Ingredients:
dill weed
garlic cloves, whole and peeled
small cucumbers, scrubbed

Boil the brine ingredients for 5 minutes or so, and cool.  In washed jar place dill..garlic..pickles..dill, garlic..(I am assuming it is layered throughout the jar), then pour brine to overflow (ie right to the top of the jar (I will be doing this in the sink!).  Seal tight - set on table or boards with papers.

In 10 days to 2 weeks, unseal and add brine to overflowing.  Wipe jars and place on shelf.

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