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Mama’s Summer Pickles

August 1, 2011
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My mom shares her childhood stories in short bursts from time to time.  She doesn’t talk too much about when she was a little girl or it could be that I don’t ask very often. Snippets of memories bubble to the surface, almost randomly, the remembrance being sparked out of nowhere. Once in a while, I’ll get a story of when she was little and went mushroom picking or how milk was put out on the side of road in metal canisters to be picked up and sold for extra money.  These little wisps of stories aren’t really connected to anything bigger; they’re stories that just exist on their own, a small detail from the past.  They don’t seem to have enough heft and importance to ‘talk about’ in a serious way. I’m not sure if I’d hear the same memories from my mom if I asked her pointed question about life back then. These types of memories emerge when ready and you hope that you’re there to hear them.

I went home for my mom’s birthday this past May (her birthday is May 8th) and as the family was sitting down to her birthday dinner, we get another nugget from when she was a little girl. My mom mentions that pickles are planted in the beginning of May, around the same time as her birthday.  She’ll always remember this because her mom (my grandmother), Natalia, was out in the garden planting her pickles, finishing just in the nick of time to give birth to my mom.  When my grandmother’s neighbor hears the news of my mom being born, she couldn’t believe it.  She just saw Natalia out in her garden planting pickles. How is it that she gave birth and planted pickles since she just last saw her?

Pickles were a staple food when I was growing up.  I’m positive they were a staple for my mom when she was growing up based on how important getting the pickles planted were for my grandmother even though she was ready to pop any minute.  Every summer, we always had a big jar of fresh pickles in the fridge. These pickles are ready in a day or two and are to be eaten crisp, cold, lightly brined and dilled.  My mom canned pickles, too, to keep over the winter but that’s a different recipe.

These summer pickles (as I call them) are my favourite. As a kid, I would run into the kitchen, swing open the refrigerator door, reach into the jar with my bare and most likely filthy hand and grab a pickle or two. I’d run back out the door while chomping on the crisp, garlicky, dilly prize.  Now that I’m all grown up, I try and keep a batch of pickles in the fridge all summer long, too.  But instead of using dirty hands to reach in and fish out a pickle, I’m a bit more civilized and use a fork or some tongs. Or at least I make sure I wash my hands before reaching in.

Mama’s Summer Pickles

*I’ve updated the measurements below for the brine as the last time I made this it came out too salty for me. Also, my mom went silent on the phone after I told her my salt/water ratio for my pickle recipe.

The quantities below depend on how many pickles you want to make, how big your pickles are and the size of your jar. For my pickles, I use a big IKEA jar that holds 2 ½ quarts (or 10 cups) of liquid when empty. I’ve used it enough that I figured out roughly how many pickles and liquid it will hold when full and also how much salt is needed for all the pickles it fits.  It was a bit of trial and error for the first few batches of pickles, figuring out the right amount of salt: sometimes the pickles were way too salty and sometimes not enough. But after experimenting and a bit of research, the rough rule of thumb on the amount of salt is about ¼ cup 3 tablespoons kosher salt for every quart of water you’ll pour into the packed jar.

I like smaller sized pickles. They’re easier to fit into the jar since their smaller size gives you plenty of options to squeeze them in here and there.  They’re also ready sooner since their small size makes them take on the brine faster. They’re usually ready the next day. Larger pickles take at least two days to be ready to eat.

Below are the amounts that work for me and my pickle jar. After layering my pickles, dill and garlic into the jar, I end up needing one quart of cold water to fill the jar to the brim. You’ll probably need to do a bit of experimenting before you hit the right amount of dilly, garlicky, saltiness you’re looking for.

2 – 3 pounds pickles, smaller sized ones are better
8 – 10 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
generous bunch of dill
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
about ¼ cup (4 tablespoons) 3 tablespoons kosher salt or less
1 quart cold water

Scrub the pickles clean in cold water.  I like to take two pickles and rub them together, using their own nubby exteriors against one another.

Layer the dill fronds in the bottom of the jar. Then add enough pickles to create a solid layer. Tuck in a few garlic cloves and sprinkle in some black peppercorns. Keep layering until you’ve reached the top of the jar.  Place a layer of dill on top.

Add the salt to the cold water and stir until the salt dissolves.

Pour the salty water over the pickles. The pickles and dill should be fully submerged so that nothing is popping out over the water level. Put a lid on the jar and keep chilled in the fridge.  Depending on the size of your pickles, they’ll either be ready the next day (if pickles are small) or in about two days (if pickles are a bit big).

You’ll know they’re ready when you taste one and it’s crisp, dilly and slightly salty.

If you find that your pickles are a bit too salty, just rinse them a bit under cold water. The rinse will take off the extra brine clinging to the pickles and make them less salty.

My pickles usually last about 3 to 4 days after being ready to eat. You know they’ve gone bad if there’s some foam on the top of the liquid.

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