Mom’s Sweet Refrigerator Pickles

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.

INGREDIENTS:

4 to 5 lbs. cucumbers

1/2 cup canning or pickling salt

Water

5 cups sugar

5 cups cider vinegar

1 T turmeric

1 T mustard seed

1 T celery seed

PROCEDURE:

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.

NOTES:

Do not use aluminum bowls or pans for the brining and pickling solutions.  These pickles will keep up to a year in your refrigerator.

Susanne’s Asparagus-Ham Roll–ups

When I was growing up, my mother was a member of the Ladies Aid at our church.  Among the many activities the ladies organized were potluck dinners.  Since our little country church lacked a fellowship hall or even a basement, the best potlucks were in the summer, when plank tables covered with bright tablecloths were piled with fried chicken, roast beef or pork, potatoes, bread, salads, pickles, cookies, cakes and pies.

Those potlucks were carefully planned by the senior members of the Ladies Aid.  Grandma Weingarten or Mrs. Sjostrom would approach my mother after church with a request that she bring a gallon of her potato salad or a three pound meat loaf or whatever else fitted the menu that had been decided upon and that they knew Mom cooked well.  Other ladies were asked to bring their appropriate specialties.

“Asked” may not be the right word, though it is a polite way to say “ordered.”  The results were well-balanced and delicious dinners.  I don’t remember appetizers (unless you count the first piece of chicken) but neither do I recall any potlucks that consisted of ten bowls of jell-o, two trays of celery and carrots, three casseroles and a plate of spice bars.  Ladies then may have deferred to their husbands in most things, but they ruled the kitchens and planned the meals.  And plan they did.

A few years ago when I was still gainfully employed I had the good fortune to work with a team that knew how to organize potlucks.  Again, the ladies took charge.  A sign-up sheet would appear in the break room headed with the theme for the affair and spaces for such items as “3 Meat dishes,” “3 Salads,” “Bread/rolls,” “2 Desserts,” etc.  

There were soup and sandwich potlucks, outdoor barbecue potlucks and of course potlucks for special occasions or seasons: The Christmas Cookie potluck comes to mind.   

Since the place was filled with good cooks, these dinners (lunch is truly not the appropriate word) were anticipated by everyone in the building.  My retirement potluck was as spectacular as one could want.  Among the many excellent dishes that day were spears of fresh asparagus from Susanne’s garden wrapped with ham and cream cheese in flour tortillas.  When I asked for the recipe she told me that a friend had given it to her and she was happy to share it. 

INGREDIENTS:

1 lb. fresh asparagus spears

3/4  to 1 lb. shaved ham or turkey

1/4 cup sesame seeds

8 oz. tub whipped cream cheese 

Shredded parmesan, cheddar or other cheese

1 package large thin flour tortillas.

PROCEDURE:

Wash the asparagus spears and trim if necessary.  Drop them into a pot of boiling water and cook them for three to four minutes or steam them to “al dente,” which will take a bit longer.   Use a fork to test for doneness or bite one as you do when cooking pasta.  The exact time depends on the size of the spears.  

Put a couple of quarts of cold water in a large bowl and add a dozen or so ice cubes.  Using tongs or a slotted spoon, drop the hot spears into the ice water to stop the cooking and cool them quickly.  Incidentally, this is called shocking.  You will know you have cooked the spears properly if they are bright green and tender but not mushy.  

Spread a tortilla with cream cheese and sprinkle with sesame seed and shredded cheese.  Add a layer of shaved ham or turkey and place a small bundle of asparagus spears (two to four depending on the size) on each half. Roll each bundle to the center of the tortilla.  Slice down the center to form two “logs,” then cut on the bias into thirds, chill and serve.  Susanne’s drawing shows how to do this: 

NOTES:  The ingredients listed will make 48 appetizers.  Susanne used Garlic and Herb cream cheese, but any flavor you like (excepting sweet varieties) should work fine.  I know that they are good with Chive and Onion cream cheese.