Shirley’s Garlic Dill Pickles

A real gift should be special, with deep meaning and thought behind it. I got one this past holiday season from my cousin Carol, along with her special “holiday-maker gift.” As I went to calling and dropping off the ceremonial platter of “Pecan Crescents” as a Christmas treat (a recipe that dates from the 1890s in the family) Carol had a gift bag with yards of tissue paper with my name on it.

As she handed me the bag, she looked me in the eye and said: “Be very careful. Don’t leave this in in the car overnight.” About 6 o’clock that evening I remembered her words and recalled that I had left the package in my car — in the cold winter Chicago weather. I dodged a few snow drifts and made the pilgrimage to the garage with the package.

As I carried it to the house, I heard clink, clink, clink, all while thinking I might be damaging a precious antique. Well I was wrong. I had to double take. There, buried in the tissue paper were jars of dill pickles, but not just any dill pickles. The labels read: “Shirley’s Garlic Dill Pickles.” And I remembered my mother Shirley with her handiness as the home canner in the summer months. As I held the jars closer, I remembered as a child my mother’s kitchen: that mid-century concept of a Colonial Kitchen — maple cabinets and aqua walls and “first time around” stainless kitchen appliances. Yes, very 1959. Oddly enough, this kitchen lies only a block west of where I live today.

“Pickle time” was a big deal. My mom put me to work scrubbing pickles in the bathtub, harvest and cleaning the dill, and one job that I think set me on my own “culinary magic carpet ride”— cleaning the garlic.

My mother was from the old-school and full of smarts. One hot summer day I remember the brine boiling away, and the water baths percolating on the General Electric stovetop. But then, a massive summer storm hit and we lost our power. My mother — without a blink — fired up the gas grill to continue the canning process. Now, that’s ingenuity.

Thank you, Cousin Carol, for the pickles, and the memories!

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