Every year in the late summer I make pickles with my aunt. She’s been making these pickles for years, and everyone in the family loves them, and as she is 82 and probably will die in about twenty years, I decided that I would like to learn how to make them to carry on this tradition.
My aunt is amazing. At 82 she takes care of the old ladies at her church. She goes non-stop, and is gracious all the while. Very little bothers her, and she is generous. For the last three years she has bought the cucumbers as my birthday present, and I drive out to her farm in the country and we sit and visit and scrub and cut cucumbers. Then we mix water with lime and put the cucumbers in the plastic bucket (this keeps them crisp.) Usually at this point I take my bucket home, let the cucumbers soak in the lime solution for a day, then rinse them and soak them in cold water for a day, then make the brine and cook them and jar them and voila, pickles.
But this year because of our two schedules, after we put the cucumbers in the lime solution I left them with her and went off to the beach for our annual church retreat. She soaked them and she rinsed them and she brined them, and on my way back from the retreat, I picked up my bucket of brined cucumbers to take home, cook, and can. Easy peasy, as my daughter would say.
What was the first sign that I should not have pickled today? Obviously the universe was trying to tell me something, but I would not listen. Things had been going so well. I ran into one of my favorite church members in the grocery store. The hardware store stayed open an extra five minutes and I was able to buy my jars before they closed.
Perhaps the first sign was that I couldn’t find the pickle recipe. Or that it took over two hours to get the brine and cucumbers to boil. Or that if you set the dishwasher to the sanitizer cycle it takes about four hours. But really, when the first quart jar of hot brine and pickles broke, I should’ve stopped. But no. I persevered. I had been in a bad mood all day, and I wasn’t going to let some broken freakin’ glass or sticky, sticky counter and floor stop me.
My husband had the good sense to round up the child and the dog and watch tv. I pickled. I only came up with one good line in the whole process: “I like my men like my pickle brine: hot and sweet.” Really, that should have been all that the universe needed to tell me.
The pickles are done. Mostly. I still have about a gallon left but I ran out of jars and trust me, I was not going to go hunt some down tonight. The un-jarred pickles are waiting patiently in tupperware in the fridge till tomorrow when I might buy some more jars. If I do, I will personally test those jars before I give them away. With two quarts of vinegar and nine cups of sugar in the brine, I can’t imagine anything malign would survive, but you never know.
In the first church I served there is a beautiful Tiffany woman of the Ideal Woman described in Proverbs 31. I hated that window. As a piece of art, it is gorgeous. As an exemplar for womankind, it stinks. It reminds me of this imaginary rival I have created in my mind, an amalgam of clergywomen I know and envy. This woman I’ve created, we’ll call her Sophia, is like the 21st century version of Proverbs 31. She is talented. She runs 10ks for charity all the time. She isn’t beautiful but she is striking, which is way better than being beautiful. She is published. Her husband has a fantastic job in the for-profit world so they can go on really lovely vacations and tithe the full 10%. She not only pickles cucumbers, but she makes homemade bread for her kids’ sandwiches and whips up fresh mayonnaise to go on it (except she calls is aioli.) She weaves. She never, ever, ever wears clogs with jumpers and tights, or sweaters with birdhouses on them. Her congregation adores her, as do her children and nieces and nephews. She’s been through therapy so she’s very centered. I desperately want to be her friend but I hate her so I can’t.
All I could think today, while trying not to get any broken glass in the pickles jars, was that I am so not Sophie and I should really give up trying to be. I have no desire to run a 10k, or a 5k, or a block. I cannot make pickles. My dinner tonight consisted of almonds and red wine, with a few bites of the homemade granola I thought I should make while waiting for the brine to boil. I begged off putting our daughter to bed so that I could clean the kitchen, but really, so that I could write this post.
One of my mentors used to ask after a fiasco, “What have we learned from this?” She always elongated the verb – “what have we l – e – a – r – n – e – d ?” Well, Margaret, this is what I have learned:
That red wine and almonds do not a good dinner make, nor are they sufficient nutrition for enduring pickling fiascos.
That sometimes the best course of action is to leave the kitchen and go watch tv.
That no one really cares if I make pickles or not, so this is all on me.
That this will make a great story starting about tomorrow, and that next year, my aunt I and will make pickles again.
And sometimes, that stained glass window you see is really just a stained glass window.