When I was seven, I helped my Aunt Anne, whom we called Antenna, make pickles. It was a hot, sticky day in late August and my favorite cousin, Sis, and I were invited to help in the cool cellar.
There were baskets of pickling cucumbers, bunches of fresh dill, dill seeds, garlic, jugs of vinegar, boxes of mason jars, rubber rings and lids, enough supplies for a small factory. The cellar was primitive, with two large stone laundry sinks and two gas burners that were used exclusively for pickling or canning. Cucumbers floated in cold water in the deep sinks. I was the cucumber-sorter, a perfect job for a hot day.
I stood on an up-turned box, up to my elbows in cold water. After making sure each cucumber was clean and didn’t have any soft spots, I transferred it from the left sink to the right sink. The day was hot but within ten minutes I was wet from the waist up, delighted to be as cool as the cucumbers.
The jars jingled as they boiled in the enormous black pot. After Antenna pulled a jar from the pot with tongs, Sis’s job was to drop one garlic clove and one sprig of dill into each jar. All the while, Antenna referred to a small, old notebook filled with small, scratchy hand written notes that I was unable to read. I realize now, it wasn’t the handwriting I couldn’t read – it was the Polish. Bubba, our grandmother, didn’t speak a word of English.
Antenna filled the jars with cucumbers and boiling brine after Sis and I did our important work. By late afternoon, the cellar was filled with steam and the floor was dangerously slippery with water splashed from the sinks.
At the end of the day we proudly counted dozens of jars of pickles that would last our family until baskets of cucumbers reappeared at the market stand the next summer.
Because of this early food memory, I make pickles that flood my kitchen with the golden glow of summer sun in the flat gray days of winter.
My methods have changed; now I work alone in my kitchen, content with making small batches. And rather than buying pickling cucumbers by the bushel, I make pickles with squash from my garden.
Here’s how I did it.
Patty Pan Squash Bread and Butter Pickles
I begin in the garden by gathering patty pan squashes at least two inches in diameter. I wash and then cut two pounds of squash into thin slices using a mandolin. A food processor or a knife will work as long as the tool is sharp. I add two medium, thinly sliced onions to the squash, cover the vegetables with cold water, stir in a quarter of a cup of kosher salt and let them soak for two hours. This short brining extracts extra water from the vegetables and helps them absorb the flavors of the pickling liquid.
Then I drain and rinse the brine from the vegetables before they are pickled.
For the pickling liquid I mix together three cups of vinegar, three-quarters of a cup of sugar, two teaspoons each of celery seeds, mustard seeds and mixed pickling spices, one teaspoon of ground turmeric, and boil the liquid for two minutes.
I steep the vegetables in the hot pickling liquid for two hours, simmer them for five minutes, then pack the pickles in hot jars that I seal by processing in boiling water for five minutes.
Quantities are flexible and this recipe can be adjusted to suit your harvest. Sugar can be increased and spices can be varied to suit your taste.
Any variety of summer squash or cucumber will work for this recipe. If the pickles are going to be eaten within a week or two, you need not vacuum seal the jars by boiling. Pickles will be ready to eat in two days and keep for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator. For complete instructions on canning consult The Joy of Cooking or Google “Home Canning”.
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Patty Pan Squash Bread and Butter Pickles Lists
- 2 pounds patty pan squash
- 2 medium onions
- 1/4 c kosher salt
- 3 c vinegar
- 3/4 c sugar
- 2 t celery seeds, mustard seeds and mixed pickling spices
- 1 t ground turmeric