"Thursday. 8:20am. Put the pickles in the fridge."
That's the message I got from my Dad on my cell phone May 15th - that and nothing else. No "Hello, Dawn, it's Dad." No nonsense. He forgets a lot of things, but remembered when MY pickles were supposed to be put into the fridge.
Four days before, I was in Hallettsville in Lavaca County visiting my grandmother in the nursing home. I'd stopped at a local mom-and-pop grocery store, Hoffer's, to see what local vegetables they had that day and I was pleased to find cucumbers. I didn't know how long ago they'd been picked but decided to take a chance and bought enough for a 1/2 gallon jar. My dad says "vine to brine in 24 hours" is the rule, but if you have to break it, just trim a tiny bit off each end of the cuc with a sharp knife and soak them overnight in plain water. Presumably, older cucumbers will plump back up.
I still needed a jar. My family doesn't eat anything in large enough quantities to collect 1/2 gallon jars. I was directed by my Dad to the unused deep freeze in my grandmother's garage, a mile away from the nursing home, sitting on top of which, he remembered, was an empty jar. Sure enough. It was square, not round, and had a red and silver label on the front in a 1970s-ish font that read COOKIES. And it was caked with dirt. But it had charm and screamed 'homemade goodness' no matter what was in it.
I actually managed to trim and soak the cucumbers that night; actually managed to get my 12-year-old to stuff the jar the next night and I brined them; actually followed my Dad's instructions on the 15th and put the jar in the fridge. (The first time I tried this experiment, I let the soaking pickles sit on the cabinet in a bowl while I ignored them night after night feeling too tired to do anything with them until they went bad and I threw them all out.)
In contrast, we've been enjoying fresh, sour, crisp and dilly pickles for a week now and I'm pretty chuffed. They were the easiest thing in the world to make, but somehow putting something up makes you feel like a pioneer woman or like you could provide for your family through a nuclear war. That's a pretty good return for the effort AND I can add another Texas-Czech food to my list of accomplishments. Also, I think that making them pleased my Dad as much as it did me. I've got light years to go before I could can like my parents, but this was a confidence-building start.
His recipe is below, which he says is actually his Aunt Louise Orsak's recipe. Don't let the fact that the pickles sit out on the cabinet for 4 days until the brine gets cloudy scare you. Some magical alchemy takes place. Then they spend the rest of their lives in the fridge. A foodie friend tasted them last weekend and said "They taste just like Claussen," which was a compliment. That and the fact that her 9-month old gummed two spears to a pulp. Lastly, don't let the fact that the garlic cloves turn blue in the brine after two weeks scare you either. My dad doesn't know why it happens, but it doesn't change the taste. How often do you get to eat naturally blue food?
Other recipes I've seen call for a little more salt or a little more vinegar or embellishing the jar with dill seed, chunks of cabbage, onions or squash. My Dad collected a recipe from my grandmother who collected it from Slovacek's, which is now Mustang Hall, between Hallettsville and Shiner. My grandmother asked for it because my grandfather loved it so much. Slovacek's served the pickles at the bar (which presumably my grandfather frequented) to make patrons thirsty and drink more beer... Shiner, I suppose, since the brew
ery is only 10 miles away.
Kvasena (crock or refrigerator pickles):
Cucumbers that have not been picked more than 24 hours earlier
Dried whole red pepper
Distilled or well water (not tap water because of the chlorine content)
Heat 1 gallon water to a boil. Remove from heat and add 1/2 cup canning salt, 1/2 cup white pickling vinegar and stir until the salt is dissolved. Let cool to room temperature.
Put cucumbers, 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, a generous sprig of dill, and 1 dried red pepper in a gallon glass jar and cover with brine. Place a piece of cheesecloth or kitchen towel over the top.
Let sit on the kitchen cabinet until they turn cloudy (in 4 or 5 days.) As soon as they do, refrigerate them. Pickles will be ready to eat 7 days after refrigeration.