Did you know that every day of the year is a national food holiday and that sometimes we are celebrating more then one food at a time? Today is pickle day and the minute I saw that my mouth began to water and my memories floated back to being a young girl and pickling with my mom or going to see the pickle king when she did not have time to pickle. Oh and I loved those visits to the pickle king. I think I was his best marketing tool. I would stand by the big kegs of pickles, pickled tomatoes, pimentos, and sauerkraut and salivate. He would let me “sample” the goods and I would continuously proclaim to customers how good they were. All the while, my mother watched me out of the corner of her eye while she picked up fruits and vegetables by the nearby vendors. She shopped, I ate pickles and pickled tomatoes, and the pickle king sold jars to people who watched me enjoy what I was eating one little bite at a time. I cried the day the pickle king man stopped coming as that was part of what made going to the market with my mother so much fun. With him gone, my mother and I would spend considerable more time pickling. While our pickles and pickled tomatoes were good, it was a different experience then being able to make them swim in their kegs and pick out the perfect pickle.
Pickling is a spiritual experience in itself. As much as I loved making and eating pickles, it is the pickled tomatoes that still make me salivate. Perhaps that is because I rarely see them in the store. Maybe it is time for me to talk to the farmer down the street and see if they have several pounds of green tomatoes they will sell me. If so, I can find some quart jars and pickle most of them, reserving one or two for a fried green tomato sandwich (but that is another story).
I wish I still had my mother’s recipe, but alas it is no longer in my memory or possession, but I did find a Kosher Pickled Green Tomato recipe, which sounds very much like the ones I used to make with my mother. Like so many foods I learned to make growing up, making these pickled tomatoes or even pickles is an opportunity to learn patience. Preparing the brine and canning them is not time consuming, however, waiting the 4 to 6 weeks until they are ready to be eaten is another story. my mother would write the dates to check them (4 weeks) on labels she put on them. If they had the right look, she would let me open one, if not I had to patiently wait another 2 weeks before we were allowed to open them and enjoy them with our hot pastrami or corn beef sandwiches. Oh, here I go salivating again.
Patience was not the only virtue that making these tomatoes taught me. The lesson began with the preparation process. we would begin by “baptizing” all the vegetables (peppers, green tomatoes, and celery). My mother used to say they were getting their “mikvah” a Judaic form of cleansing. After we washed all the vegetables, we would remove the stems and seeds from the green peppers, quarter them and the celery stalks. I have seen people slice their tomatoes or cut them in wedges, but my mother used these wide mouth jars and we would fill them with whole tomatoes. After we filled the jars with as many tomatoes as we comfortably could, we added 1 clove of garlic, an entire quartered pepper, and a stalk of celery.
We would then make the brine by boiling water, vinegar, salt and dill for about 5 minutes. My mother would fill the jars with as much brine as she could, then tap them a little bit. She said it was like burping a baby; you had to get all the air out. Then she would add a bit more brine. I remember her explaining to me that the tomatoes needed to soak up this brine. I would later come to see this as a way of marinating in our faith and absorbing all the flavors of the brine.
My mother would always make sure there was a little space left at the top of each jar. She would call this headspace. She would explain that leaving just the right amount of space was important. If we left too much space, the jars would not properly seal and if we left too little space, it would create a mess and keep the jars from properly sealing. She taught me that we needed to protect and seal in our hearts those things, which were important to us. When our faith is not properly sealed, then the words and actions of others could affect our outcome.
We would clean up the jars before putting on the canning lid and submersing them in the canner. My mother would remind me to always clean up my messes. It must be a lesson that was “brined” into me as I try to clean up after my messes in life and in our home as they occur. Cleaning up our “messes” as we go is easier then trying to clean up an accumulation of messes later.
May each of us carry these pickling lessons with us in our journey. May we remember to be patient, purifying, marinate in our faith, and always leave enough “headspace” so that our faith stays sealed in our relationship with our Higher Power.