We all liked pickles and Mom made gallons of them from the row of cucumbers we always had in the garden. There were big cucumber dills four or five inches long that you ate right out of the crock in the basement, dill spears in quart jars for serving at the table and hamburger dill slices in pint jars. Sometimes I think that Mom never saw a recipe that she did not want to try. Thus we had mustard pickles, garlic pickles, kosher dills, and Texas hot pepper pickles.
She made those treacherous hot pickles only once. They kind of sneaked up on your taste buds. Take a good bite and chew. Pretty good peppery flavor, but all of a sudden you needed water or milk or maybe an ice cube to suck on. Back then chili recipes using more than two teaspoons of chili powder were considered daring in our family and in the families of all my friends. And even today ketchup is sometimes accurately described as Norwegian (or German) hot sauce.
I don’t remember where she got those little red chili peppers to flavor those pickles, but they caused the problem. Mom hated to throw anything away. Since the pickles were too hot for her, and since Dad, my sisters and I snurled our noses at them whenever she put them on the table, she began offering them to friends who dropped in for coffee.
“Try one of these new Texas pickles I made,” she would coo. As I recall they were nice crisp pickles about three inches long. After a couple of painful experiences in having to throw out a perfectly good pickle with only one end bitten off, she began cutting off half inch samples which most people found large enough.
“The recipe made eight quarts, so if you want a quart to take home, I’ll put it in a bag for you,” she would add generously. There were no takers until Uncle Ruel tried them and cleaned up the dish. Uncle Ruel was Mom’s oldest brother. He had lived for several years on the south side of Chicago and in Gary, Indiana, which may have explained his fondness for strange foods. He took home all seven remaining quarts, and we were saved.
There were sweet pickles too. Honey gherkins, sweet baby dills, bread and butter pickles, pickled beets, pickled watermelon rind and pickled crabapples–even pickled bluegills.
One of our favorites was Mom’s sweet refrigerator pickles. I don’t think that the recipe was written down, so the recipe would probably have been lost if my sister-in-law had not asked for it. Dee wanted to know how to make them, since my brother liked them so much, and Mom wrote it out for her.
They are crisp and delicious, and here’s how to make them.
4 to 5 lbs. cucumbers
1/2 cup canning or pickling salt
5 cups sugar
5 cups cider vinegar
1 T turmeric
1 T mustard seed
1 T celery seed
Wash and cut the cucumbers into eighth-inch round slices. Soak the slices for three hours in a large bowl or enamel pot in a cold brine of salt and just enough ice water to cover the slices. Add ice cubes as needed to keep the brine cold. After three hours, drain the slices and pack them in jars.
Dissolve the sugar in the vinegar in a stainless steel or enamel saucepan. Add the spices and bring the mixture to boiling. Boil about one minute. Allow the mixture to cool for a few minutes then fill each jar to within a half-inch from the top. Screw the lids firmly onto the jars, let them cool and store them in the refrigerator. The pickles will be ready to eat in two weeks.
Do not use aluminum bowls or pans for the brining and pickling solutions. These pickles will keep up to a year in your refrigerator.