Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My Grandmother's Kitchen

My maternal grandmother was an amazing cook. As a child, I liked her cooking best of all the places I was able to pull up a chair to a table. Her fruit pies were incredible, I liked the blueberry best. She made everything from scratch, and she canned.

Recipes were closely held by her. My mother swears her mother used no written recipes at all, that everything was in her head. My mother has some recipes like this, prepared so often there is no need for a written reinforcement, although there are cookbooks and cooking magazines scattered throughout my mother's house. My grandmother's cooking was like a family's oral history, passed from one generation to the next.

Unfortunately, as I child I barely glimpsed at this rich heritage. My grandmother who ran her kitchen like a German battleship, did not deem my mother worthy to inherit. I remember being sent from the kitchen in tears one late summer day after breaking a jar I was filling with sliced cucumbers.

My grandmother canned everything imaginable. She had racks built in her basement to hold this bounty. Going to the basement to fetch a jar of dill pickles was a bit like going to a grocery store, for all the efficiency of her ordered shelving, with jars lined up with precision, neatly labeled.

Her dill pickles were really crunchy, a feat not easy to duplicate, and which I have yet to achieve. Packed with these pickles would be a couple carrot and celery sticks, heads of fresh dill, garlic cloves, red peppers, and onion. In addition to spices, she also used alum.

I asked her what alum was, and I remember her telling me it was the crunch. We shall see.

My canning bible, 'Ball's Blue Book of Preserving' does not include a single recipe with alum. Today, with the Internet, I am able to find dozen of recipes for dill pickles using alum. Although, they will not be my grandmother's dill pickles, perhaps they will be close. I also know it is important to take a fork and pierce the pickles several times with the tines and removing a tiny bit of each end of the pickle is equally important to the crunch.

Today's recipe is a simple one from my childhood, a simple vinegary pickle:

Select a largish cucumber. Slice it into crosswise circular slices, 1/4" thick. Place in a plastic or glass bowl. Cover with cider vinegar. Weigh the slices with a small glass plate. Cover with plastic wrap.

The vinegary pickles will be ready to eat in one week.

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