in a pickle

dscf7122.jpgPickle is such a great word. I love its air of transformation, its fortitude. It defies the odds. A pickle is something that’s lived two lives and perseveres, salty, for *you*. And yet, the colloquial expression, “to be in a pickle,” means you’re in difficult situation. I can see that being stuck in a briny solution, your fluids being drained out of you as salt works its magic, would present a problem for you.

But pickle, in my house, is also a celebratory word. It means I’ve secured something like French haricot-style skinny green beans or tomatoes or, say, a few pounds of Korean cucumbers that miraculously showed up fresh and pretty at Sunrise Market the other day. Yay for greenhouse gardening!

My husband, being an East Coast boy, hankers for the half-sour, or “new,” pickles one gets at Jewish delis in New York (and, if you’re very lucky, Northern California). The ones made by Bubbie’s are all right, but nothing like homemade. So I decided to surprise him — fresh home from a week of eating British food (ugh), mostly at a cafeteria in Cambridge (UGH!) — with some love pickles. They won’t be ready for a few weeks, but he can at least look at them and dream of pickle heaven.

My dill pickles were made without vinegar in the Mittel-Europe style. Instead, I use whey made from organic local yogurt and a salt brine. As with the sauerkraut, I don’t feel confident about my recipe, which was cobbled together from several sources, to share it until I’ve tasted the pickles, but I will once I can prove no one will die eating these beauties. That would be a pickle, indeed.

And speaking of which, I will literally be in a pickle come April, when I begin my certification as a Master Food Preserver. Oregon State Extension, housed locally at our fairgrounds in Eugene, has an excellent program, operational for almost 30 years, for disseminating information about food safety and preservation during the summer months. Volunteers in the Family Food Education/Master Food Preserver program receive over 40 hours of in-house training, take a state exam, then volunteer for another 40 hours per season handling questions from the community on a hotline and at workshops and booths at our many local venues for such things. Since the training requires a full day once a week for a few months, I normally wouldn’t be able to devote the time, but since I’m now only (only!) working on my dissertation and not teaching, I am able to do it this year! YEAH! GO TEAM PICKLE!

I’m also really excited about being able to volunteer for our community in a way that shares information about my two passionate hobbies: cooking and gardening, and to meet new people. It gets lonely sitting here all day by myself! Canning has such a devoted niche of followers, and there’s something kind of exxxxtreme sports about it, too. It’s like the snowboarding of cooking. During my interview for the program, one of the women in charge urged me to take her class on canning fish. Canning FISH? That is so badass. She looked like a sweet, grandmotherly type, but I could just tell she had a can of sardines tatooed on her bicep and could stick her bare hand in a pot of boiling water to retrieve a Ball lid without even flinching.

And this, this is what I yearn to become.