We do many things to maintain our sanity during the particularly rough times in our lives. It seems that mundane activities soothe us. I have led group meetings on the topic of meditation, and have heard folks talk about using running, swimming, gardening and washing dishes to regroup and center. We have a desire to maintain control of the environment around us. When we find that we cannot do that, letting go of the forces that we cannot control is frequently difficult. Somehow we feel that we must do something.
I remember my father applying sulfur on the peanut field on a windy day, the first anniversary of my older brother’s death. Normally one does not apply sulfur on a windy day as it blows around. It gets in your eyes and makes you cry. My mother did not understand why that job would not wait until another day.
When I was a senior in high school, there was one night when I was several hours past my curfew arriving home. My mother never slept well when she did not know where her children were. When I arrived, she was sitting in the living room shelling butter beans. I had never before seen anyone shell butter beans with such intensity.
On a hot July day a few days after my younger brother died of cancer, my father insisted on installing the paddle fan on the screen porch. Mom could not understand why that could not wait. He frequently seemed restless unless he had something to do — particularly during times of stress. The few times he would sit, he was fishing. I do not remember a time when he would fish without catching something. For him it was important to be productive in his down time as well.
When my children were small, I used to take them fishing, too. One day when my older son was in second grade he became upset. I happened to be at school that day. His teacher and I agreed that he would learn nothing more that day, so I took him home. Fishing seemed to be the appropriate thing to do. I often think of the children who become upset and have no place to fish.
Several years ago I was entrusted with the care of my mother-in-law. With her rapidly failing health, my responsibilities increased and at times I had allowed myself to become overwhelmed. I started looking for simple ways to regroup. Making pickle seemed to be the appropriate thing to do. That year was the first time that I became aware of how serene I can be making pickles. Since then through a separation, divorce and several moves, I have found serenity in the making of pickles. As I moved from one location to another — all in the spring of the year one of the first things I would do after getting settled was pulling out the canning pots, and looking for cucumbers. It seems that if I could make pickle, I knew that I would be OK.
As a child I never remember a summer when my Mom did not make at least one batch of sweet pickles. The first pickles I remember took fourteen days to make. When Mom tasted some three-day sweet pickles at a church supper that tasted just like hers, it was time to try something different. We the fans of Mom’s sweet pickles were not convinced. The first year of conversion, she made both. When none could tell the difference, then she switched to three-day for good. This was time management, and a real breakthrough for homemade pickles!
My children will not eat “city pickle” (that’s the store bought kind), so in the late spring or early summer when the Florida or south Georgia crops come in, I still try to make some. Many years ago I used to grow my own cucumbers, but now I try to get to the Farmer’s Market south of Atlanta to get a bushel (or maybe just a half-bushel). If I am rushed, I’ll stop at Harry’s Market rather than drive south of town.
The weighing, washing, and slicing of the pickles become quite soothing to me now. My attitude about the pickles can be a desperate attempt to “get them done,” or can be an enjoying and savoring the experience of making them. And the aroma — there is nothing that matches the aroma of simmering pickles to soothe the soul. At least not in my mind.
Grandma Rose’s Sweet Cucumber Pickle
Day 1 -
7 lbs. sliced cucumbers
3 cups finished lime
2 gallons water
Combine all and soak 24 hours
Day 2 -
Drain all water out. Put cold water in, and change water every hour for four hours. Drain. Pour cooled syrup over the cucumbers and leave overnight.
5 lb. sugar
5 pt. vinegar
1/2 box pickling spices (in a cheesecloth bag)
Boil, let cool and pour over cucumbers
Day 3 -
Boil Cucumbers for one hour and seal in jars.
Makes about 6 quarts.