A few years back, I answered the phone one day to hear a woman ask if I were the same person who’d written “all those gardening columns for the New Hampshire Times.”
Though the Times was long defunct, I laughed and told the caller she had the right person.
“Oh, thank goodness!” she exclaimed. “I really need your help.”
It turned out the woman’s only child, a son, was heading off to college in a few weeks, and he’d asked his mother to send him off with “the recipe for those pickles you kept on the kitchen counter all summer when I was a kid.”
“That was your recipe, from the Times,” the woman said. “I remember the title of your column that week: Perpetual Pickles. It made so much sense I started making them every summer for my son and his friends—the same way you said you did to encourage your daughter and her friends to eat more vegetables. I had no idea how much he’d liked them!”
The caller struggled with tears, and she and I ended up having a long chat. As the mom of an only child myself, I knew the joy and anguish of sending that one child off into the world as a freshly fledged adult. I told her it had felt like having an organ removed, and reminisced about how I’d spent months writing a poem for my daughter Molly. I titled it Rock, and used every metaphor I could unearth to remind her to stay rooted to the bedrock values of the family and community that had nurtured her.
By the time I’d finished my story, we two strangers had bonded over a common human experience and were both shedding tears.
But back to the pickles.
Perpetual Pickles Crock
During the harried weeks of midsummer into early fall, the garden crops come fast and furiously. When Molly was old enough to have friends over to play for the day, I came up with the idea of filling an old-fashioned two-gallon crock with a vinegar-and-dill brine, then tossing small cucumbers, green beans, fingerling carrots, and tiny zucchinis into it every day. I invited the children to snack from the pickle crock whenever they felt hungry.
I told the caller I didn’t have a real recipe. Every couple of weeks, I made a fresh brine--half cider vinegar, half tap water—filling the crock two-thirds full. I’d add three or four dill heads, a few peeled garlic cloves, and a little pickling salt. Then I’d start adding vegetables, usually weighing them down into the brine with a small plate.
The pickles always disappeared rapidly, sometimes even before they’d “pickled.”
Other readers told me they picked up on the idea and started a perpetual pickle crock at their home, even though they didn’t have a vegetable garden, using vegetables from a local farm stand, a neighbor’s garden or the supermarket (we didn’t have farmers’ markets back then).
I hope my caller’s son is still making pickles. I still am. I made my first batch a week or so ago, when the cucumbers began to bear, and the extra beans, baby summer squash, and carrot thinnings had to have somewhere to go.
We have no hungry children snatching vegetables from the crock, but the two of us seem to keep up with the pickled bounty. I even stole a fat cucumber and a few “dilly beans” before breakfast this morning. Mmm!
Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.