I come from a family of picklers and canners–my mother and one aunt in particular pickled and canned their way through every summer. Every fruit and vegetable known to man was fair game. I was always in the work force and participated in the picking, the washing, the cutting up, the sterilizing, the boiling, the filling, the sealing, and, of course, the cleaning up. Our kitchen became a full-blown food processing plant for about 6 weeks every year.

Now, coming from such a supreme example of homemaking at its finest, you would think that I would be a natural shoe-in for the next, heaven forbid, Betty Crocker–or should have at least beat Martha Stewart to the punch…before she got the punch, that is. But, despite my early experience, I was never drawn to recreating the food processing plant in any form. I think I was just too overwhelmed by the memory of it all-all those pots and pans and all that sealing wax and boiling water, and seemingly precise procedures that prevented Deadly Contamination in any form. I think that was it–that fear of the ‘Deadly Contamination’ that would kill us all if everything wasn’t carried out exactly and precisely correctly. As an adult, I never felt up to that challenge.

So, I have led a canning and pickling-free life and have felt fairly liberated for it. At one point I did make a feeble attempt at some kind of jam, but the result was a gummy glue-like substance that I could only have used as a sweet smelling form of rubber cement.

Over the years my mother gradually abandoned the food processing, but Aunt Chee–who was the one into the pickles–kept on until the very end. She kept the whole family supplied with pickles from a particular recipe that no other pickle comes close to. So, when Aunt Chee died about ten years ago, suddenly I found myself without this staple to my diet that I had come to depend on more than I knew.

But I should have known. Pickles have always seemed to play an unassuming role in life that most of us ignore–until they are no longer available. Have you ever had that happen–had pickles no longer available?? It’s happened to me. Namely the five years that I lived in France. No one ever told me that France is a pickle wasteland. Priding itself as the food mecca of the Earth, France is, nevertheless, very seriously pickle deprived

The French do have pickles–don’t get me wrong…but they are all the same. They call them ‘cornichons’. They taste fine, but they all taste alike–cornichons are cornichons and that’s it. There are no dill or sweet or bread and butter or kosher or hamburger, or anything other than ‘cornichons’. One name, one flavor, that’s it. I soon realized that I was in big trouble in this land of supposed gastronomic plenty. There were no real pickles.

The ones I missed the most were dill–those Kosher dill strips. I took to importing them-by the suitcase-full each time I traveled back to France from a visit to the US. Of course, among the jars of dill strips were jars of Aunt Chee’s sweet chips. I always wondered how I would explain all of the pickles to a French customs officer if ever he had discovered my cargo. None of them ever did and I was always just waved on through as yet another overloaded-with-luggage American. By then I realized, at least, the importance of pickles.

Five years ago, missing the pickles that Aunt Chee always used to supply, I took the plunge-and dove into the mysterious art that I had so long avoided. I admit that I was petrified of killing someone–mostly me–with whatever I produced. That old fear of not doing everything precisely correctly was back to haunt me with a vengeance.

After numerous consultations with Aunt Polly–sister of Aunt Chee, the then late pickle-maker–as well as with my ex-sister-in-law who had assaulted  the pickle process on her own a year before, I ventured forth. Turns out that what you actually do isn’t very hard at all.   And it doesn’t even take much of your time. What it does take is days of the to-be pickles sitting around in water that has been boiled and then poured over them. The same boil-and-pour procedure gets repeated for days on end until one day you sneak up and surprise the little things by pouring a boiing sugar and vinegar mix over them instead.  Then they sit in that stcky stuff for two more days.  On the third day, you sneak up once more, and this time heat the whole mix up to boiling, to-be pickles and all. Then, toss them, along with the sticky stuff, into jars, slap on some lids, and ‘voilà’, as my French friends would say. Pickles!.

Thing is that for an entire week I have to plan my days around early morning pickle ministrations.  Once that’s done, I’m  free for that day; just have to remember not to schedule any unusually early appointments and to repeat the boil-and-pour the day after.

But did I dare eat them once they’d been made? That was the moment of truth five years ago that I approached with not a small amount of fear and trepidation. Finally I got up my nerve, and am happy to report that I have lived to write about it.

This year I’ve just recreated and repeatied the process, encouraged and inspired by not a single fatality as the result of my previous effort five years ago. I’ve just performed the sneak-up-and-heat-them, toss-them-into-jars-and-slap-lids-on-the-jars part.  It’s all done but for the Deadly Contaminate testing.  I just ate some.  Will I still be here tomorrow?


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