Lady Ashburnham Pickles and my grandmother’s taster

by Michelle

My grandmother Ekstrom passed away when I was twenty-one years old.

Until then, every back-to-school time of year was marked by making pickles. Mom and I would go to her kitchen to peel, slice or chop whatever she needed to work her magic. Food processors never made it into my grandmother’s home. She did not follow a recipe. She always had one near by but, it was only a rough guide. Her pickles were sweetened solely to my taste. Half an hour after the first load of sugar was added to the vegetables, she would ask me to taste the pickles for sweetness. It was primarily chow that we would be making and that I would be tasting. The first taste was a dilly! Even though I did it every year, I was never quite ready for that first clenching of my jaw due to the tartness of the vegetables. Unless you have actually tasted green tomatoes and vinegar without enough sugar, it is hard to understand why this is such a vivid culinary memory for me.

When Nanny made chow, she made a lot. She used a peck of green tomatoes which translates to eight quarts which translates to a lot of pressure for me to get the taste right! Because of the quantity of vegetables that she was cooking, she used an enamel dish pan because that was the biggest pot-type vessel that she owned. She would get quite a kick out of all of the kitchen gadgets in my pantry.

The chow would cook anywhere from four to six hours, over a very low heat to ensure that the tomatoes did not burn on the bottom of the dish pan. During that time, she would call me to the stove as often as she thought the chow needed to be tested. I am sure that my tasting job started out as a way to keep me entertained when I first started to show an interest in helping Mom and Nanny in the kitchen. As I got older, it became a badge of honour. I loved the fact that Nanny trusted my judgement.

It has been twenty-nine years since I have tasted my grandmother’s chow. Every year, when Mom and I make our pickles, we ask the same question. ‘Does it taste like Nanny’s?’

It never has…

I have made many different kinds of preserves over the years but my family’s favorites continue to be many of the old-fashioned types of pickles. Kaitie, Sara and I made Lady Ashburnham Pickles over the weekend. We love them with bread and a sharp cheddar or served with potato scallop.

They are simple to make and lovely to eat!

Lady Ashburnham Pickles

makes 6 – 250ml bottles

6 large cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped in a small dice

1 quart of onions, peeled chopped fine

1/3 cup pickling salt

In a large bowl, mix the prepared vegetables with the salt and allow the mixture to sit overnight at room temperature.

In the morning, place vegetables in a large strainer and allow to drain for 5 hours.

In a large pot, mix together:

1 pint white vinegar

2 cups white sugar

3 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1 tablespoon turmeric

1 teaspoon mustard seed

1 teaspoon celery seed

Add drained vegetables

Place over medium high heat and bring to a boil – lower heat and cook gently until cucumbers are opaque – about 1 hour

Prepare lids and jars according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Thanks for reading