the size of your finger.” So begins my maternal grandmother’s recipe for sweet pickles that take ten days in a crock with daily attention before canning. It’s raining again today (over 7″ since Thursday) so rather than gardening I’m thinking and remembering. Throughout childhood, I spent a week every summer, and dinner once a month on Sunday at my grandparents, yet I can’t remember any foods or special dishes there except sweet pickles and a date pudding with a syrup one Christmas. My grandmother was an abysmal cook, but she made terrific sweet pickles. For my bridal shower recipe book, I requested grandmother’s recipes for sweet pickles (shown above) and the date pudding. I cherish both, because she passed away shortly after my wedding. I chose grandma’s 4 gallon pickle crock shown here as my memory gift, although these days it sits by a rocker holding gardening magazines and seed catalogs rather than brine.
I haven’t made those sweet pickles since my homesteading days, because there are never 100 cucumbers the size of my finger. The potager’s first year, heirloom “Parisian” cucumbers were planted on one trellis because they were touted as being perfect, tiny cucumbers for cornichons. They are indeed, but they don’t have the same texture or shape as grandma’s and one trellis was definitely not enough. Last year, I tried “Homemade Pickles” which were touted as disease resistant, and were okay shape-wise, but there weren’t even enough for a half-batch before the vines succumbed to some disease. This year I was determined to succeed and planted “Calypso.” These are lovely little finger-sized cucumbers, although it appears this year will be another failure. The first planting produced very few before dying, and now some leaves of the second crop which looked so promising are wilting. This year, the squash bugs are more abundant than ever in memory, the young ones with their ghostly round bodies and black eyelash legs like spiders. Whenever I see them (and it’s always a them, never a lone individual) a vision of silly little animated Disney-imagined characters fills my mind. I can almost hear them singing. I can’t tell you how many I have literally squashed. Add to that armies of spotted cucumber beetles, notorious disease carriers every one. I captured this one swimming in one of the many puddles surrounding the raised bed where the cucumbers are growing. I didn’t even think about throwing him a life jacket. And I won’t even discuss squash borers.
So, I’ve been sitting here, watching the rain and feeling glum because I can’t grow, let alone “pick 100 cucumbers the size of my finger” until I suddenly realized I also don’t remember my grandmother ever, ever having a garden! Not even a tiny plot or container of lettuce! Which is probably why it says “prepare 100 pickles the size of your finger.” No reason at all to feel guilty about not being able to pick them! I think I’ll be visiting the farmers’ market!