The Norwich Times 4/15/2021


I love growing vegetables.  Every spring, I eagerly bring just enough tender green plants home to begin the annual nurturing.  Water, fertilizer, pinch, stake; all to a bountiful end.  Today there were two tomato plants, a pickling cucumber, two peppers and an assortment of herbs waiting for the daily watering.  I parted the fuzzy leaves of the cucumber like a curtain going up on a performance to find the day’s vegetable star.  Only two cucumbers were center stage.  I twisted their spiny stems and picked both of them.  I brought them back to the kitchen where they joined the dozen or so others of their kind who were awaiting their fate on my counter.

                I reminisced back to the garden at my parent’s home when we would pick pecks and bushels of vegetables, our garden taking up about a quarter of an acre.  The pickling and canning process would begin within a few days of picking.  While the likes of a cucumber dill sauce that would be served over grilled salmon, or a wonderful garlicky Greek tzatziki sauce made of pureed cucumbers, could have been options; we made pickles.  Lots and lots of pickles.  Blue enamel roasting pans held thin slices of cucumbers and onions, soaking in their sweet briny baths.  Those were for the bread and butter pickles.  Bottles were sterilized, then filled, capped and positioned in the wire basket.  Steam rose from the boiling water in the blue enamel pots that would seal in the freshness.

                Dill pickles were a subterranean process.  Our stone cellar held several large gray earthenware crocks where the cucumbers were brined with garlic, vinegar, salt, water and loads of fresh dill.  They were covered with a glass pie plate, a clean linen cloth and a rock.  This kept them protected and submerged in their brine.  Once covered, the crock was set in place and we were not to peek until at least two weeks passed.  Time was all we had back then.  When you finally held those juicy pickles and tasted that deep garlic and dill flavor, the juice running down your hand into your wrist and the sleeve of our shirt, you knew the wait had been worth it.  As the weeks went by, the flavor and colors changed until the bright green of half sours aged into the deeper yellow green color, signaling a fully dilled pickle.

                But none of that laborious process for me today.  Being a woman of technology, I searched online for something different to make.  There were thousands of choices from cucumber soup, fried cucumbers, to Asian fusion cucumber chicken.  Not satisfied with anything there, I next tried some of the many cookbooks in my collection.  While there were a couple of maybes, nothing hit me.  I finally reached up to my top shelf and brought down the faded blue wooden recipe box.  My fingers picked through the many dog-eared cards that stuffed the box.  Finding the recipe, I withdrew the worn card and prepared my ingredients.  Yes, after all the endless culinary possibilities, I was making pickles.  Although my pickles would use the refrigerator to speed their process from fresh cucumbers to pickled delights, the taste was the same.  In no time the brine was made, the cucumbers were sliced, and into the refrigerator they went.  The flavor memories of the simple bread and butter pickle brought me instantly back to Sunday dinner.  There would be a salty fat-crusted pork roast accompanied by creamy mashed potatoes and silken brown gravy.  Add to that the sweet tart snap of the pickles and there was nothing better.

                After a meal, my sisters, my mom and I set about our task of cleaning up.  If you were lucky enough to be in charge of leftovers, you were assured the last lick of the spoon of mashed potatoes where you stole a dip into that delicious gravy.  The kitchen was where the conversations of life took place.  Whether it was about school or work or the neighbors, dishes were never done in silence.  Nowadays, the dishwasher is filled, buttons are pushed and people scatter to pursue their interests.  Such a shame.

                It seems that all the things we do and have today are made to help us create more time in our busy lives.  But time for what?  Back when I grew up, when we had free time, we would go visiting.  Not a text, a tweet or an invite on Facebook or an email.  But a face to face, sit down under the maple tree on a metal swing or broad-armed wooden chairs, honest to goodness, how are things going today, visiting.  Oh, I’m a culprit of all the trappings of modern-day technology.  Don’t think I’m not.  However, if you get the chance to have a fond memory come back to you, indulge yourself.  Sit back and enjoy it.  Your mind has just given you a chance to return to that moment.  You’ll be okay.