We put pickles up ourselves and now we need your help

Our beloved offspring

By Laura Grimes

When word got around that we put pickles up again this year, the barter offers started to come in. So far, we’ve received requests for pickles in exchange for:

  • Sauerkraut
  • Pesto
  • Elk meat

This is not a bad combination. (Forget the fact that we don’t eat meat.) Now I’m thinking that if we strike enough deals we could put together an entire Thanksgiving dinner by the fourth Thursday in November. Whaddayasay? I’m hoping for pie.

Some people have calling cards. We have pickles (and assorted other condiments). We have given them as hostess gifts, Christmas gifts, auction prizes and thank you tokens. We have taken them to potlucks, board meetings, block parties and book clubs.

Not long ago, I came home and Mr. Scatter had a gargoyle sitting on the counter along with an expensive bottle of wine that we really didn’t want to part with. “What’s that for?” I asked.

He was in a bit of a worry because he had to leave right away for a gathering, had just read the info and realized he needed to take food and a white elephant gift.

“You’re not taking that, are you?” I pointed to the gargoyle.

“It was all I could find in the basement.”

“Here. Take this.” I reached into a bag on the floor and pulled out a quart of dills that were already in a pretty white kitchen towel with a festive bow. I gathered a jar of apple chutney, a ball of goat cheese and a package of crackers. I put it all in a bag, stuck in a serving container and a knife, and handed it to Mr. Scatter, who gave me a giant kiss and walked out the door. (It’s moments like these that explain why we have to stay married.)

I put the gargoyle back in the basement where no one ever sees it, but I still like it.

We have given pickles to all of our favorite people (whether they like them or not), even some with famous names (but I won’t drop them). I once received a thank you note in trollspeak.

I kind of like to think of our pickle parceling as similar to the scene in Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory when in cold November Sook and Buddy make 31 fruitcakes, dampened with whiskey.

Who are they for?

Friends. Not necessarily neighbor friends: indeed, the larger share are intended for persons we’ve met maybe once, perhaps not at all. People who’ve struck our fancy. Like President Roosevelt. Like the Reverend and Mrs. J.C. Lucey, Baptist missionaries to Borneo who lectured here last winter. Or the little knife grinder who comes through town twice a year. Or Abner Packer, the driver of the six o’clock bus from Mobile, who exchanges waves with us every day as he passes in a dust-cloud whoosh. Or the young Wistons, a California couple whose car one afternoon broke down outside the house and who spent a pleasant hour chatting with us on the porch (young Mr. Wiston snapped our picture, the only one we’ve ever had taken). Is it because my friend is shy with everyone except strangers that these strangers, and merest acquaintances, seem to us our truest friends? I think yes. Also, the scrapbooks we keep of thank-you’s on White House stationery, time-to-time communications from California and Borneo, the knife grinder’s penny post cards, make us feel connected to eventful worlds beyond the kitchen with its view of a sky that stops.

Our pickle tradition is born of an homage to history, a nostalgic nod to what we once knew, romantic notions of quaintness and masochistic tendencies. We knowingly have false delusions of self-sufficiency. It is summer that lasts all year. It is food that is hard-earned and therefore more precious. It is the little jar of love that we give away.

Jars full of green and red and flecked with mustard dots fill particle-board cupboards in the basement, where the one on the right smells a bit musty.

Mr. Scatter has his own reasons for making them, but I can’t speak to those. I make them in loving memory of my father, who bravely put up a big box of pickling cukes even though he had never canned before. He did it for my mom because she couldn’t. And he did it for only one year because after that he couldn’t. You can read why here.

And I make them because I love my mom, who canned every year until she just didn’t see a need to do it anymore. She still packs a full freezer, though.

And I make them for friends. Not necessarily neighbor friends.

And I make them for us, because it’s that thing we do together, like a warm holiday. It’s something that was practical and necessary in another era that we do now just because we like the idea of it. It’s hard not to smile at a pickle. We think they’re funny.

They top our sandwiches and go in school lunches. They grace our Thanksgiving table, when they make their big debut, and every holiday thereafter. Sometimes we put them out in a nice display and later put them back in the jar again without ever touching them. We know this.

To entice those ever-lovin’ home goods to come forward for a swap, here is what we’ve made so far this year that we’re putting on the table to choose from:

Spicy dill pickles: This is our signature jar. These cukes are tangy and just a touch piquant. The festive pepper, garlic and other showy herbs and spices were Mr. Scatter’s idea several years ago when he dragged me into the dill operation (I went willingly). Before that, I had only made bread and butters, which it turns out are a lot more work for a lot less return. (Even though we usually make bread and butters every year, we didn’t this year because we still have a stockpile from last season.) (Read about making pickles here.)

Apple chutney: This is my personal favorite. It is sweet and tangy and a tad spicy. It comes in small jars. It is not recommended for people with addictive tendencies. (Read about making chutney here.)

Sweet pickles: Only 9 pints this year, packed with loads of sugar and vinegar. Your dentist won’t approve, but your taste buds will.

Mustard: This is a staple in our fridge that, in addition to mustard seeds, is made with wine, vinegar, garlic and herbs. We make it every few months because we constantly run out. It’s the magic emulsifier for something else that’s always in our fridge: balsamic vinaigrette, which we put on absolutely everything. (Read about mustard here.)

Piccalilli: Only 12 pints. Plans to write changed recently when a neighbor handed me a big tub of green tomatoes. I took the canner out of seasonal retirement and made this relish, which I had never heard of, but my mom told me her mom used to make it. If my grandma were alive today she would be 106 years old.

Here’s what it looked like making green tomato relish, or Piccalilli as the canning book mysteriously calls it (apologies for The Wimpy Camera):

The chopped tomatoes, cabbage, onions and green pepper:

Chopped tomatoes, cabbage, onions and green peppers

The vinegar mixture:

The vinegar mixture

All the ingredients mixed together:

Relish mixture

The finished jars:

Jars of piccalilli

All that’s left of the green tomatoes:

Green tomatoes

The bidding begins now. Let’s hear it one more time:

Practice safe snacking, always use a condiment!