The World's Best PicklesWritten by Janette Blackwell
I knew they were world’s best pickles moment I tasted one. That first taste took place around 1950, and I’ve tasted a lot of pickles since, am a pickle hound in fact, but I’ve never come across anything else as good.
They came to us by way of my Uncle Ronald Smith, who was an electrician in Bitterroot Valley of Montana where I grew up. One day he was doing electrical work for a Bulgarian family, and they rewarded him with a sample pickle. He liked it so much he got recipe and gave it to his wife Gladys, who gave it to Grandma Glidewell, who made it and gave some to me, and I thought I’d died and gone to pickle heaven.
And thus, although they became an old Glidewell family recipe, they are really an old Bulgarian family recipe. The Bulgarian family, whose name I do not know, told Uncle Ronald that in Bulgaria, when first heavy frost kills tomato vines, they put all their end-of-garden vegetables –- including those green tomatoes -- into a barrel, fill barrel with pickling brine, and eat best pickles in world all winter. It turns out, though, that pickles’ travel from Bulgaria to U.S. was only one leg of a more ancient journey. Because I mentioned them to an Iranian woman, and she said, “My family has always made pickles like that! Exactly like that, except we add tarragon.”
Iran being new name for ancient kingdom of Persia, who knows how many centuries these pickles go back?
There’s more: I later lost recipe’s brine proportions. Gave some thought to its travels between Persia and Bulgaria, looked in an Armenian-American cookbook (Treasured Armenian Recipes, published in 1949 by Armenian General Benevolent Union) and there they were, under “Mixed Pickles No. 2.” Turns out world’s best Armenian pickles are just like world’s best Bulgarian and Persian and American pickles, except they include dill, and sometimes green beans and coriander seed.
Old-Fashioned TomatoesWritten by Janette Blackwell
Raw vegetables are dangerous and must be thoroughly fried, steamed, and boiled into submission. So thought our ancestors. The original sin of a recalcitrant vegetable was of course lessened by heat, but conscientious nineteenth-century cook continued to boil it long after it had sogged into a jelly-like mass, just in case some evil remained.
In nineteenth century an hour’s cooking barely sufficed for cabbage and for corn on cob. They did not fix broccoli at all, and I can understand why. I have tried to imagine broccoli after an hour of cooking, but mind rares back and refuses even to approach sheer horror.
Which reminds me of an event in summer of 1956, when my classmate Patsy Sutherland and I lived with Grandpa Hess while we went to business college in Missoula, Montana. Grandpa was a crusty old widower, set in his own way of housekeeping, but he tried to be gracious. In midsummer he bought a whole crate of tomatoes. Luscious, red, ripe tomatoes. They sat in cellarway for two days, and each time Patsy and I passed them our mouths watered. Each evening we thought he’d invite us to have a tomato or two, but he didn’t. When we arrived home on third evening, he said, “Girls! I fixed tomatoes today. Help yourselves!”
He had stewed every last one of them.
Some of those old tomato recipes are good, though. The originator of Tomatoes Maryland probably had an old-fashioned wood stove that could gently simmer something all afternoon on a back burner or in oven. Which means this was most likely a fall or winter dish rather than a summer one, as people let cookstove fire go out on summer afternoons.