The perfect pickle. It's something to strive for.
As this column is being written, I can feel the heat of my mother's kitchen as she canned the summer's garden produce. My wife is at such a task as we speak. The garden we managed to grow this summer with the lack of rain has turned out a bounty.
Tomatoes hang heavy on the vine. Potatoes remain underground awaiting the fork. Squash and pumpkins have crawled their way out of the garden's boundary, heading for parts unknown.
In other words, our spring labor of seeding and weeding has paid off.
Thoughts of my mother's farm kitchen drift back to me at times like this. The Iowa summer season always seemed to capture temperatures in the 90s during canning season. No air conditioning was present and an open window only invited the outdoor temperatures inside, where kettles of steaming water provided added humidity.
One woke up sweating and continued to lose moisture throughout the day.
My mother and others in that time canned and preserved about everything. She canned beef, canned tomatoes, canned corn, canned carrots and more, but the one item that she excelled in was her dill and sweet pickles.
Her grandkids would stand in line to get one of her dill pickles. I think they would have eaten them for breakfast if offered.
She also pickled beets and watermelon pickles, but the dills were her forte.
Cooks were judged on their concoctions during family gatherings. It would have been seen as sacrilegious to have purchased any item from a store to be placed on the table. And, whenever my mother brought her dill pickles to such a feast, they were the first gone from the glass serving dish as fast as they could be delivered.
Mom prided herself in seeing them devoured.
This was the time of the year when our root cellar went into full use. The earthen walls were lined with wooden shelves, and when the canning season was over there were hundreds of jars of canned food lining the walls.
The cellar also served as a tornado shelter, and a number of times we made our way down the dirt steps to avoid being swept away. It was always exciting to descend into the lightless cellar where we might find a toad or garter snake awaiting our arrival.
Sometimes screams were heard coming from the kids who huddled there with the smell and flame from a kerosene lantern hovering among them.
That was where the dill pickles were stored. My dad would tell us that if we were ever trapped in the cellar, we could live off those pickles for a long time. His statement made us feel a bit more secure as the winds howled above.
My wife has perfected what I think is about the perfect dill pickle. Just enough crunch and saltiness to rival any commercially made pickle. We've sampled a jar already this season, and more jars will be added soon.
I feel good knowing that this winter when the January blizzards hit, I'll be able to sit in front of the weatherman with a good dill pickle by my side.
The perfect pickle. It is something to strive for. It's that time of year.
See you next time. Okay?