When I was small, my Aunt Joanne’s house was a magical place to visit. An old farmhouse a couple blocks from downtown Ridgefield, it was (and remains) a bucolic gardener’s paradise with an apple tree and overflowing flower beds. Aunt Joanne’s house was bursting at the seams with teenagers during my childhood, and we used to slide down the shag carpeted stairs in pillow cases and skate across the cool linoleum floor. She had bubble bath (the REAL DEAL!) and her house was always clean and smelled of roses and fancy perfume. My cousins had an Atari and we could play Pitfall, Frogger, or Pong; if the weather was nice we could walk to Zebrun’s Market – without an adult – and buy Tootsie Rolls that were two for a penny or to the Starliner and get our fill of chicken strips and potato wedges. We would gather filberts from the tree in the front yard or wander to Abrams Park and catch crawdads. We were a gang of urchins running amok in the safety of a town where everybody knew everybody. The best part, however, was not the video games, or the Mr. Bubble, or the candy and fried food. The best part was sitting on the back porch with my beautiful cousin Becky, cracking open a jar of Aunt Joanne’s homemade spicy pickles and waiting for the lightbulb in the Easy-Bake-Oven to heat up so we could burn some toast.
How the heck did she do it? Her house, when I visit now, is TINY and she had kids and step-kids, and friends of kids, and nieces, nephews, and kittens, and a husband, and a career. How did Aunt Joanne find time to make homemade pickles? I can only guess that she secretly sports Wonder Woman underwear or has undisclosed magical powers. Today, as I babysit my neighbors puppy who is non-stop wrestling with my dog Rosie, I am making Hot As Hell Pickles in an attempt to walk a mile in Aunt Joanne’s shoes. I’m pretty sure I need 3 more puppies and a toddler to match the chaos of 1986 Ridgefield, though.
Simplicity in character, in manners, in style; in all things the supreme excellence is simplicity.
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I went to the farmstand and bought 20 pounds of pickling cucumbers. These are “special” compared to the cucumbers you’d purchase at the grocery store because they are not coated with wax which would ruin your canned product. Since my pickling mix was a complete kit in a bottle I only needed to buy vinegar and sugar but not pickling salt, spices, nor dill. I did, however, buy some jalapenos so I could make sure these pickles had some kick! I sliced the cucumbers into “chips” for future snacking convenience.
I boiled brine and sanitized jars and listened for the familiar hiss and rumble of my waterbath canner coming to temperature. The dogs tumbled at my feet, sprinted by with my clean laundry hanging from their jowls. I remained steady, packing the jars with cucumbers and peppers, and playing games of fetch while the future pickles processed in their bath. It was pure bliss – I didn’t even notice the mayhem around me while I was immersed in my pickling. Perhaps Aunt Joanne needed to make pickles because she was surrounded by chaos. It’s no trip to Hawaii, but it is a nice escape!