Yesterday I bought a ready-made spinach salad at our high-end market. My youngest daughter Madeleine was joining my friend, Michael, and I for a drink. I figured she was going out afterward so I bought something that could be eaten on the fly. Maddie only ate some of the salad, and, this afternoon, I found the rest in the fridge to eat as my lunch. As I picked through and then disposed of the raw red onion, I thought about The Old House. And how cucumbers give me the trots.
Growing up we lived in only two houses. The Old House (1957 – 1971) and then The New House (1971 until my parents moved into Tampa in 2000.)
The Old House was originally a whorehouse and business was good during the first world war. It was conveniently located on Hopewell Road, a paved road that went from the Port of Tampa east to the phosphate mines in Polk County. There were large live oaks and a lake in back of the house. Apparently business fell off after the war and the house, built with only one bedroom and a large wrap-around screened porch for entertaining, fell into some sort of reputable use.
By the mid-fifties when my father came along looking for a house, he found The Old House less than a half a mile from his parent’s home. He paid $1,000 for the house and had it moved to a cleared acre of my grandparents’ property. My Grandparents property was subdivided by Hopewell Road with 10 acres on the north side and 15 acres to the south. The north side was accessed off an unpaved, white, oyster shell road. The south side of the property was where they ran their well drilling business.
One day in 1957, the old wooden whorehouse was moved, slowly, east on Hopewell Road and placed on the acre cleared for my father and mother and their expanding brood. The improvements amounted to two new bedrooms from the side porch on the north side, a chain link fence to keep the children and the dogs contained and a barn. The barn was built to house various grass cutting equipment, and a Shetland Pony followed by a Mule. (More on these accursed creatures later.)
After the barn went up, Dad’s friend, Mac Burnett, gave him 9 citrus trees. The trees were planted between the side of the house and the barn. The tilling of the poor sandy soil along side of the citrus trees likely gave my mother the idea that her idle children ought to plant a garden. So, we did. We were driven by station wagon to the Brandon hardware store to choose seeds. I chose cucumber and radish seeds from the rack and green onion bulbs from a wooden drawer with a screened bottom.
Hoes, shovels and rakes appeared out of nowhere and proprietary mounds. Furrows and rows were established by the child labor force. As time went on the seeds and bulbs sprouted and I learned to eat fresh raw green onions and unpeeled cucumbers and radishes straight out of the ground prepared with only a splash of hose water. I doubt my mother had five dollars invested in the whole project.
I now pick through an expensive ready-made salad so as to throw out the raw onions, cucumbers and radishes lest I test the airbag I had installed on the ceiling above my powder room toilet. As one advances toward middle age and then old age, for me it was my late forties, these Proustian moment foods such as sun warmed fat, ripe cucumbers, are no so friendly. At two in the morning when you are certain you have just gone airborne off the commode, you want to kill Proust for convincing us to use our taste buds like some sort of French memory stick.
But I digress.
For some reason, if the above-mentioned cucumbers are pickled, I can eat all I want without fear that I will be found dead in my bathroom after having scrawled “It was Proust!” into the drywall.
I like pickles of any kind. Iced green tomato pickles. Pickled eggs. Pickled beets. Pickled asparagus. Pickled Okra. All good, but my mother’s recipe for sweet garlic pickles is extraordinary. Not really a “scratch” recipe as you started with sour pickles rather than cucumbers. The pickle may also be extinct, not because of her death but because Mt. Olive does not seem to be making sour pickles anymore and if they are, I can’t find them. I report the recipe here if for no other reason than posterity.
1 Gallon Whole Mt. Olive Sour Pickles
1 Package of Picking Spice
5 Pounds of Cane Sugar
1 Head of Garlic Peeled
1 Cup Tarragon Vinegar
Make a bag out of cheese cloth and tie your pickling spice in same. Place bag in the bottom of a large non-metallic container. A plastic tub from the Dollar Store will work. Slice the ends off your pickles and then slice the pickles as uniformly as possible. On the thick side. Mom used a “Veg-o-Matic” and got a great result.
You now lay in your pickle slices one layer at a time covered by a layer of sugar. Repeat. Pour the vinegar over the whole mess. Lay your sliced garlic on the top and cover with wax paper.
Stir your pickles morning and night for 6 days.
Canning your pickles is a mess so use cookie sheets to keep the sticky mess contained. Also only use a wooden or plastic spoon for the transfer from the tub to the clean Mason Jars into which you have added a dash of celery seeds.
Wipe down your jars and rinse thoroughly. These pickles do not need to be kept in the refrigerator.