There can be no doubt left in anyone’s mind that summer has fled, and autumn has arrived. We’ve already had one night here in my area where the temperatures dipped down to the freezing mark. The news was filled with warnings about the impending, wide-spread frost.
That warning took me back to my childhood. We grew up in a rural community. My mother and father had purchased the “big house” next door to the “little house” that had been my first home. The lady in the big house had decided to sell, because she’d been widowed. She’d had enough of country living, and planned to move to the nearby small town.
My parents bought the house and kept the one they already had. The plan was to rent out the little one, and make a good portion of the mortgage payment that way. Sadly, the January following the summer this sale took place, my father died. So mom was left a single mother, with three kids, and an old farm house, that sat on three-quarters of an acre of land.
Not a lot of land, but certainly enough to have a good sized garden. I can’t give you the exact dimensions of it but it was large enough that the farmer down the road would come each spring on his tractor to plow and then disc the garden.
It was always full of food. She grew beans, beets, carrots and potatoes. There were rows of tomatoes, broccoli and cabbage. We had melons, and egg plant, and green peppers. The garden was longest, east to west, so the rows ran north to south, and the last two rows at the west end of the garden were always corn.
Did I mention the cucumbers? Man, I hated those things. I hated them because they were not harvested, for the most part, until we got that first frost warning.
Harvest day was a family effort. Being the youngest didn’t get me out of any work at all. While mom and my sister dug and picked, I got to scrub.(I believe my brother had escaped by this point. He’d married and moved off).
We had a metal twin laundry tub that got rolled outside for the occasion, and then filled by the garden hose. And every bean and pepper and potato and cucumber that was harvested, had to be scrubbed.
Holy mother of cold water, did I ever hate that job.
Inevitably, the water wasn’t just cold, it was ice cold—as was the wind that would come up and caress my poor wet little paws.
But that was only part of the reason I hated those cucumbers. The other was what she did with the majority of them after they’d been cleaned and dried.
I don’t see it much down in the U.S. but up here, if you order a burger at a restaurant, one of the condiments you nearly always have brought to the table is green pickle relish. And that is what my mother made with the majority of those cucumbers.
I was drafted each year to help her. Step one was: slice the cucumbers in half, length-wise, and, using a spoon, scoop the seeds out. There would be something like oh, a bushel or two of these green monsters for me to process.
I hated that part so much that I edited it from my memory so that the first time, as an adult, that I attempted to make the relish, I forgot to do it. Seriously. Seedy relish. Ugh.
Then I had to grind the cucumbers, using an old fashion manual crank-operated grinder. The rest, though, was all mom. She would add vinegar and sugar and a large “bouquet garni” that contained cloves and cinnamon and other pickling spices, and she would cook that relish for a few hours over several days. The very sharp and distinctive aroma that relish produced each fall, permeated our house, our clothing and, I’m certain, burned our olfactory senses for at least a month.
But that relish was far superior to anything you could buy in the store—and our pantry was always full, with the bounty of our garden, my mother’s frugality, and all of our family’s hard work.