Like most country kids, I was in a 4-H club. Ours was called the Busy Beavers, and we met at Mrs. Carlson’s, about a ten minute bike ride from my home. I became the club secretary and dutifully submitted a short news item to The Sawyer County Record after every meeting.
The meetings did not offer many opportunities for dramatic reporting, but I did my best. I remember that one time a chicken got loose in the kitchen where we were having our meeting, but Mom didn’t let me put that news into my report. Dull or not, I was still excited to see my name in print, and Mom sent clippings to aunts and uncles who lived far away.
I suppose that I might have had a chicken project myself, but my heart was set on raising watermelons. Thus I registered a kitchen garden project, and Dad let me have a sizable part of our garden plot which I staked off, manured and planted with the different seeds listed in the project guidelines. Besides carrots, radishes, peas, beans and lettuce, there were cucumbers and the whole reason for the project–watermelons.
The watermelon seed packet showed round dark green melons developed for shorter growing seasons. Dad suggested that I plant the seeds in mid May rather than waiting until the recommended dates for northern Wisconsin and be careful to cover the hills after the plants came up until the frost danger was past. That would give my plants a few extra days before the first killing frost and if I were lucky I might get some melons.
Alas it was not to be. It was a hot dry summer, so I hauled buckets of water in my wagon. I weeded, hoed and talked nice to my plants, as Mom suggested. Everything looked pretty good, and I was proud of my radishes and peas. There were lots of little cucumbers, and my watermelon vines had a respectable number of melons getting bigger every day under the hot August sun. Some already looked like big smooth green muskmelons when a hard frost killed even my covered plants.
I did get a white ribbon for my cucumbers.
Most of my cucumbers ended up as pickles. One kind I really like are sweet or candied dill pickles. I don’t have Mom’s recipe, and candied dill strips are hard to find in the stores nowadays, but here is a version I adapted from one I found years ago on the web. Since you start with commercial dill pickles, it takes just a few minutes to make them.
2 quart jars of non-kosher dill pickles
3 cups white sugar
2 cups cider vinegar
1 cup pickle brine
1.5 T pickling spices
1/2 tsp. dill weed
1/2 tsp. dill seed
1” piece of cinnamon stick, broken in half
Fresh dill (optional)
Empty the two jars of pickles into a colander over a bowl. Reserve one cup of the brine and rinse the pickles under cold tap water.
Put the vinegar, brine and sugar into a stainless steel or enameled pan. Tie the pickling spices, dill weed and dill seed into a piece of cheesecloth and put the bundle into the liquid. Bring it to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Let cool about 15 minutes.
While the liquid is boiling, cut the pickles into strips. I cut small ones into quarters and larger ones into sixths. Put the strips back into the jars. Top with a half inch stick of cinnamon and a sprig of fresh dill in each jar and fill them with the warm liquid.
Seal the jars and store them in the refrigerator, turning them over every other day for a week or so to make sure that all strips are immersed in the liquid. Store the pickles at least one month before eating.
NOTES: Buy the least expensive dill pickles you can find, but use real apple cider vinegar.