Three pots are boiling on my stovetop.
There are towels spread on my counter and piles of small cucumbers in a basket at my feet.
Steam condenses on the window and trickles down.
Ditto the perspiration on my brow.
It’s canning time.
I pull the speckled enamel canner from the cobwebby basement and wash out the dusty canning jars I’ve stored there over the year. How many of those jars have traveled the long years from my own mother’s basement? What have they held over those years? Pickled beans? Tomatoes? Peaches? Kosher dills?
When I was growing up, that’s what my mother called them. I thought it was because they had garlic in them. For years I thought “kosher” meant “with garlic.”
And what exotic stuff it was! The only time we made anything with garlic was during pickling season. (It was small town Minnesota in the 1960’s….)
My assignment was to peel clove after clove of the stinky stuff – five cloves for each quart jar of pickles. For a week afterward, my fingertips stank of it, no matter how vigorously I washed them. It was the smell of summer, as was the pungent reek of vinegar brine steaming on the stove.
Dad joined us in the kitchen for the pickling parties – a rare event in those days. We fitted the scrubbed cucumbers into the jars like puzzles. Threw in a dash of alum to keep them from getting mushy. And tucked fragrant seed heads of dill in and around the bright green cucumbers.
We enjoyed the companionship of repetitive work, accompanied by idle chatter and the whirring of the box fan.
When all the packing and filling was complete, Mom carefully lowered them into the boiling canner to process. Later as they cooled on the kitchen counter – each sealing jar sang out a joyful “ping” – the music of plenty and work well done.
I still make pickles every year in late summer. I perform the ritual of kettle, brine, and garlic-scented fingers. I’m certain the pickles in the store are far cheaper than what I spend on supplies at farmer’s market and grocery store. But what I’m making is more than pickles. I’m linking back to those summers in a sweltering Minnesota kitchen under fluorescent lights when we all worked alongside each other to make something good for the winter.
Dad’s been gone now for decades and Mom is slow and sharp at 91. Yesterday I brought her the first jar “kosher” dill pickles of the season. She cradled them with delight and talked about how good they’ll taste with her sandwiches this winter.
I hope she can taste the gratitude I tucked into that jar, nestled between the dill sprigs and garlic cloves.