my grandmother, pickles, and a good secret

My grandmother passed away two years ago this week and I feel like I am saying goodbye all over again.  She was a phenomenal, modern woman whom I loved dearly and had a great impact on my life.  She was smart and sassy and loved her independence.  She could be a bit prickly, and was not your typical grandma.  Despite this, she baked birthday cakes and pies for our family gatherings.  She made delicious airy waffles and something amazing that we call “cheese puffs” in my family, that only came out on holidays.  Since my grandmother’s death, I have been in possession of her cooking file, a bulging binder that is filled, past full, of recipes and personal notes.  It has felt too intimate for me to really look through this piece of her over the past two years – but it sits in my pantry and waits for me; waits for the right time.  Lately, I find myself thinking about her and wondering things that I now cannot ask, and it is probably a perfect place for me to go hunting to find some answers, culinarily speaking at least.

The ladies in my family love a good secret.  They relish knowing a recipe (waffles, chocolate chip cookies, pickles) and keeping it special by not sharing that recipe with friends, and barely with family.  On occasion, a trade has been made for someone else’s treasured recipe, but that has happened too frequently.  Growing up, I remember a family legend was to talk about how the secret ingredient of our prized waffles was marshmallow cream, thinking that anyone who was listening might try to duplicate this hallowed recipe and ruin their waffle maker by including this sweet and sticky ingredient.  I’m not sure anyone was ever really listening, but it made us all laugh.

That brings me to pickles.  For a woman who didn’t mind hard work and had perfected pie dough, I am perplexed by her approach to pickles.  She had a recipe for refrigerator pickles, that I have made, that is a bit of a scam.  (reader: surprised gasp!) I am not sure how much more I can say, for fear that I will be kicked out of my family for outing her.  But, suffice it to say, there is no canning involved and the cucumbers were already a bit pickled when she got to them.  This one recipe makes me so curious…  (I think it actually is another thing that has inspired me to learn how to preserve food properly.)  For a lady that was not outwardly daunted by anything, I sit here feeling that the reason she went to the trouble for this “semi-homemade” recipe is because it was a just a damn good secret.  That’s the kind of lady she was.

It is probably no coincidence that this is the week I have chosen to make pickles for the first time.  I have tried pickling other veggies (carrots, beans, and okra), but so far had felt daunted by traditional cucumber pickles.  If you look into pickles there are a few different processes you can try: brining, refrigerator, fermenting, canning, pasteurizing and all turn out a little differently.  Hearing that I was interested in adding cukes to the list this season, my husband tentatively asked if this could be a “test year” of small batches to try a few different recipes with the hope of landing on one that we love and might repeat in a bigger way next year.  (I assume that this is opposed to jar upon jar of pickles sitting in our pantry that we do not love.)  So that’s what I did.  I made three plus batches of cucumber pickles yesterday using different ingredients and taking copious notes on what I actually did since I cannot rely on my memory at this point.  In a few weeks, when we start cracking these babies open, I plan to report back to you which ones we love, and guess what… I’ll even share the recipe.

This goes against everything holy in my family and makes me chuckle about what my grandmother would think of this blogging generation and the ease of sharing information (and recipes).  On the other hand, it pleases me to share what I am learning and I know my grandmother would approve of that.

Author’s Note (added 01/07/13): Click here to see how the pickles turned out!

7 thoughts on “my grandmother, pickles, and a good secret

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