I’ve woken in the middle of the night a lot lately, thinking about random things. Occasionally it’s worries but mostly it’s just thoughts that I’ve become quite good at willing away until morning. Often, I think about how things I want: to find time to write, to learn more about Israeli food, to increase my squat weight by 11 pounds, to surprise my girls with pedicures after school. Last night, however, I was thinking about recycling cardboard.
It was a bizarre half-asleep/half-awake imagining of compressing cardboard. I kept thinking about how you can always squeeze one more cereal box in a bundle. But everything has a threshold.
Summer came and went a predictable, sun-worshiping blur. We grew tomatoes, garlic and two daughters. We camped, floated, hammocked, biked, saw a lot of Pearl Jam, hosted a lot of buddies from out of town. And, we worked. Our regular jobs but also our new vacation rental and Andy has been painting in every spare moment, preparing for his exhibit that opens in just a few weeks at Radius Gallery right here in Missoula.
My parents are moved into their new home that is just over one rounded mountain from our home. School started up and third and fifth grade sound so old when I say it out loud. Margot started playing the viola, prefers back walkovers to walking, loves to french braid, carries the same exact constellation of freckles she carried when her face was rounder and her teeth smaller. Ruby started a book club, is decidedly vegetarian, loves cursive and drawing animals, still (and I hope for always) carries an element of goofball into every situation.
The start to school was hard for me this year. I wrote a bit about it here. It’s shaking out ok. For a good week I was a blob of unproductivity and midlife emotional turmoil. I listened to all my thoughts and questions, telling some of them to speak up and some of them to shut up. Turns out these feelings I have about growing up while my kids grow up are big and messy. I yearn for my babies to be babies again and, I love now so much I wouldn’t trade it for anything. What a pointless thing to think about. And, yet. It’s a complicated knot that is quite mothering centric twisted together with my own life goals and perceptions and desires.
Let’s talk about pickles.
My mom makes the best pickles. Everyone says so. It’s one of her culinary claims to fame. The other being her famous spice blend. She learned from her dad, my grandpa Neil Bratton, and he learned from his mom, my great grandma Helen. My mom remembers being about five years old, helping scrub the cucs with her outside their Blue Mountain home with a big galvanized tub, soft brushes and the garden hose. As she aged, she was slowly brought into the entire process and looked forward to making them every year. Her mom, my grandma Stevie, would put a big X on the calendar noting when they were ready to eat. My mom and her three siblings would watch the the days tick by like hungry hawks, waiting to pounce on pickle eating day.
When I was a kid, I can remember being eye-level to our counters that were piled with cucumbers as my mom danced through the vinegary steam, stuffing dill and garlic into piping hot jars. She was likely singing Mairzy Doats. And of course I remember eating them. We had to wait forever for them to be ready and when they were it had turned from summer to fall and I had to be vigilant in claiming my portion because my brother could eat pickles until he turned into one.
Now that my mom lives here in town I got to make pickles with her in her new home.
She asks around and always ends up buying about 40 or so pounds from some local farmer. These beauties came from the Rockport Hutterite colony in Pendroy, Montana.
LOVING DISCLAIMER: This is an old family recipe. True to many old school canning methods, it differs from accepted standards today. It’s the way we’ve always done it and probably the way we always will! While my family uses 1:3 ratio (vinegar to water), I am updating the recipe to reflect the current standard of 1:1. As far as not boiling water bathing, I consulted with my buddy and expert food preservationist Marisa over at Food in Jars and she said: “As far as skipping the processing step: as long as you’re starting with sterilized jars, the worst that can happen is mold or fermentation. You’ll see or smell those issues immediately.”
I do encourage you to try the towel-counter-top seal method on at least a jar or two! It makes a huge difference in flavor and texture. There are indeed increased food safety risks with my family’s method and I choose to accept them.
Just now as I am writing I got this text from my mom:
Bratton Family Dill Pickles
It takes about 1 pound of cucumbers per quart. We made 43 quarts with 40 pounds. Generally, you need 10-12 small (2-3″) cucumbers per quart. You can make just one jar at a time if you’d like! That way you can put right in fridge and not even have to worry about a seal. This recipe is super easy and fast and satisfying. I’ll make this recipe here for 10 quarts but feel free to halve or double recipe or 10x the yield. It’s quite flexible.
Yield: 10 quarts
SUPPLIES & INGREDIENTS:
- 10 pounds 2-3″ fresh, firm cucumbers
- a few bunches of dill (one piece per jar)
- 20 cloves of garlic
- alum powder*
- 2 quart apple cider vinegar 5% acidity
- 2 quarts water
- 1 cup canning salt*
- 10 clean quart jars, lids and bands
- 2 stock pots, one sauce pan
- jar lifter*
- canning funnel*
- clean cloth
*affiliate links / If you’re just beginning, it might be most affordable to purchase a canning kit which includes all the supplies in one package
- Wash cucs gently; place on clean towel and have at room temp.
- In one pot: make brine. Bring to a boil water, vinegar and salt to a boil. Keep hot.
- In other pot: place jars and fill with enough water to cover jars. Heat to boiling and then reduce heat. Keep hot.
- In sauce pan: place lids and rings. Heat to boiling and then reduce heat. Keep hot.
Mom Says: HOT-HOT-HOT is the key!
- Working quickly & doing only one jar at a time: add a scant 1/8 tsp. of alum, 2 garlic cloves and one piece of dill. Pack cucs in jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space.
Mom Says: Do not let cucs or dill weed touch lids.
- Ladle hot brine over stuffed jar, wipe rim with clean cloth and place hot lid and hot ring on jar. Screw tight and place on towel, on counter, out of draft. Cover jars with an additional towel.
Mom Says: The towels keep it all snug and hot (HOT-HOT-HOT!) which aids in good sealing.
- Don’t move until completely cool.
- Store in dark, cool place. Ready to eat in five weeks! If a jar does not seal: store in fridge (still wait the 5 weeks before eating).
IF YOU’D LIKE TO PROCESS JARS:
Proceed with the directions above. Instead of leaving on counter to seal: process jars in boiling water bath for 15 minutes (add five minutes for elevations 1000-3000 feet, add 10 minutes 3000-6000 feet etc). And wait the five weeks. xo