Raw Pickles


Nettie and I bid on and won a pickle making class for eight in a silent auction a few months back and were delighted as the Master Pickler, a friend of ours named Richard, welcomed us into his kitchen this weekend and regaled us with a brief history of the little cucumber’s journey from lowly fruit-of-the-vine to honored Kosher Dill Pickle.

Yes, that’s right, pickles are cucumbers in case you’ve ever wondered….and people become pickle-makers when they get together on a Saturday morning in a house in Santa Monica.

Richard’s pickling recipe was handed down to him from an man named Jack Root, who was a friend of Richard’s father, Milt Thaler, during WWII, and whose rekindled friendship with his father in the mid-sixties saved his special recipe from disappearing when Richard took up the exotic art. I give you this bit of background because the themes of the day became inextricably linked in my mind to the ideas of tradition and transformation, the passage from one thing to another and the importance of constancy in the midst of that process.



We began the pickling lesson with wine and appetizers, always a great place to start it seems to me. I’m guessing you may not have known that Rose’ is the perfect wine for a pickle-making party. I didn’t either, but after a glass or two of the delicate summer vintages from France and domestic vineyards, I was convinced. Pink and green go very well together indeed.

Pickle Materials


As I said, there were eight of us in the class, including my son and daughter-in-law, a friend couple of theirs and a friend couple of ours, and Richard, of course, and his wife Agnes, along with Richard’s sister, Carolyn. Eleven people in all gathered in the kitchen around the tools of the pickling trade and eager to get using them.



And get using them we did in short order as Richard explained the steps…washing the cukes to remove any flowers or stems, filling the plastic tubs with water and salting it with kosher salt to the perfect salinity, adding a menagerie of pickling spices…mustard seeds, coriander, bay leaves, cinnamon, allspice berries, peppercorns, red pepper flakes, crushed garlic, ground ginger, cloves, and of course fresh dill…the dill in dill pickles.



When the tubs were filled, the next step would be to cover them with a plate to weight them down and fully submerge then beneath the nascent brine, then drape the tub with a cloth. Once that was completed, the transformation from cucumber to Kosher Dill Pickle could begin.

First, however, it was time for a lunch break…and that’s when it hit me.

Pic 3


Here we were, a collection of friends, and friends of friends, who had ourselves transformed in this brief time together into a kind of pickle-making family. How easily we all pitched in now to make the communal lunch, how clearly our laughter filled the space between us, how warmly our smiles embraced one another.

I took a photo or two and reflected back on a past I’d never actually had, but of a time nevertheless that I sorely felt the lack of, a time when families and friends joined together in seasonal traditions of canning peaches or tomatoes in late spring, making strawberry or blue berry jams in summer, of helping each other with the fall harvest season, baling the hay or scything the wheat, and smoking the meats and making the sausages for upcoming winter feasts.

I know I’m being silly to pine for traditions I was never a part of, but this afternoon of pickle-making made me wistful for a era gone by when the line between families and neighbors was far less sharply drawn, and the community of small farms and towns was its own world.

Pickle Jars


After lunch, Richard brought into the kitchen a batch of pickles he’d made the week before so that we could “put-’em-up” in jars and depart with a memento of a jar of kosher dills. Nettie and I brought our jars home and put them in the refrigerator where they’ll take another week or so to complete their pickling process.

I like that, too, the time it takes for the pickles to complete their transformation. There’s comfort in the pace of life that this day of pickling has illuminated for me. I know that everyone complains about the fractured world we live in today. How the digital age has turned us all into bits and bytes, how we’re no longer whole. I know also that it’s become a bore to mention how yesterday was idyllic and today is diminished.

Life was certainly not blissful in my youth by any means, just read my memoir, Passage From England, if you have any doubt on that subject. And I’m sure that life has had its fair share of challenges for all of you as well.

Pickle Master

click – Master Pickler

In spite of that, pickle-making with family and friends today in the warmth of Richard’s and Agnes’s kitchen, makes me hunger for the time when I could sit down guilt free to a Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda and a mile-high hot pastrami sandwich on rye dripping with mustard and a bowl of homemade kosher dills on the side.

I wonder if it’s easy to make pastrami meat from scratch? And what’s the best season to get started on it?











2 Responses to It Isn’t Just Pickles…

  1. Frank Z says:

    From Gary Maxwell:

    First of all, I love pickles, always have and always will. I fortunately was able to experience first hand the pickling and canning procedure when I lived with my grandparents. She canned everything that was possible. I particularly remember the smells that wafted through the entire old farmhouse they lived in at the time. Your day canning and pickling sounds outstanding. It is joyful to spend time in a communal, if not to say, family group, being human in the best sense of that word.

    We recently attended a post harvesting gathering of one our winemaking friends. We had helped with the harvest of his grapes back in September. We started very early in the day picking and gathering the grapes to some wonderful arias that were playing in the background through his outdoor speakers. Finally, all of the grapes were picked and the crushing of the fruit took place with several of the folks dancing on the grapes in tubs the old fashioned way. There was wine available for imbibing which of course added to over-all spirit of the harvest. Flash forward to a week ago when we all gathered once again to drink some of the young wine we had helped produce. Once again, much laughter and great conversation and bonding with new friends. The warmness and fulfilling joy of the event was quite emotional. Sometimes the exquisite pain/joy of being human is quite overwhelming in really good ways.

  2. Frank Z says:

    From Elizabeth Jelley:

    Enjoyed your piece Frank about pickling.

    I pickle things especially onions (shallots). A ploughmans isn’t right with out a picked onion. I like mine with fish and chips and in a cheese sandwich yummy. I do a few pots of red pickled cabbage each autumn which is excellent with salads. Pickled lemons are good with Arab dishes. But I will never never eat a pickled egg (seen in large jars on pub counters) as they look and taste awful. I have never made dill pickles as they aren’t too popular over here though I enjoy them with a tuna sandwich. Shades of trips to America I think.

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