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In Search of the Perfect Pickle

Monday 21 August 2017 at 12:29 am.

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for August 17, 2017, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            My retirement in July has allowed me more time to spend on the book I am writing, It Must Be the Noodles, and a chance to get together with my daughter who is designing the book. She came home from her busy life in New York in July to help give a baby shower for one of her friends, and this week she is home again for another baby shower for another friend. Two opportunities to talk to her about my book, and to review all the chapters!

            When she was down in July, one of her friends gave her a jar of dill pickles home-canned by her mother. Like the rest of us, my daughter misses her grandmother’s home-canned pickles, so when she ate one of these, she was ecstatic! It tasted so much like “MeMa’s,” and she couldn’t wait to let me try one. “Extraordinary!,” I exclaimed, “this is the first pickle I’ve ever eaten that tastes EXACTLY like my mother’s pickles!” (And I would add that my mother has been dead for many years).

            The importance of this pickle discovery is seen in the fact that although my book is entitled, It Must Be the Noodles, the first chapter of the book is “It Must Be the Pickles.” Of all the things we loved my mother for, her dill pickles were number one. No Mama-made Wendish noodle ever tasted as good as a pickle canned by her!

            After a taste test, my oldest daughter confirmed the conclusion reached by her sister and me: THESE PICKLES TASTE EXACTLY LIKE MEMA’S! Since my mother died long before my granddaughters were born, they had never tasted an original “MeMa pickle,” but they had heard our glowing descriptions of those luscious pickles, and they heard us say many times of home-canned pickles, “That ALMOST tastes like MeMa’s!” But this was the first time in their young lives that they heard us say, “This tastes EXACTLY like MeMa’s pickles!” You see, the grandkids had come to love pickles, too, especially the ones we told them tasted almost like my mother’s.

            In July, when my daughter went back to New York, she hid her prized jar of pickles in the back of the refrigerator (she couldn’t take it on the plane with her), and she issued a warning to all of us, “When I come back in August, I want to see some pickles left in this jar, because these were given to me.” I can’t tell you how difficult it was to see those pickles in the back of the fridge, and not to be able to gobble them up, -- for me and my granddaughters!

            So, when she came back home this week, she was kind enough to share a “just-like-MeMa’s” pickle with each of us. In the meantime, the friend’s mother, who lives in East Bernard, and who had made the pickles, heard about our excitement over her pickles. You can imagine our delight when the friend brought us two more jars of her mother’s now-famous pickles. Because of the excellence of the taste of these “gherkin,” as Mama called them, and the rarity of their “exactly-like-MeMa’s” taste, I must mention the name of the East Bernarder who canned these exquisite delights: Beatrice Wicke. Such awesome pickle-canning should not go unheralded!

            Over the years, since my mother joined the Church Triumphant, I myself have attempted to can pickles, but being the way I am, I tried to do them the easy way, and I couldn’t come close to Mama’s. Canning pickles her way was far too complicated and time-consuming for me, so I tried for the last time a couple years ago. My daughter, when she was living in a very small apartment in Manhattan, and had a very tiny kitchen, even tried her hand at canning homemade pickles with organically grown cucumbers. Her results were better than mine, but she wasn’t able to match MeMa’s.

            I don’t think my oldest daughter ever tried to can pickles, but her husband did several years ago, and I must say he came extremely close to making the kind of dill pickle my mother fermented in a huge crock, using dill, grape leaves and a special brine. These were somewhat different in taste to the those she put up in jars, but they were equally good.

            Until the Wicke pickles came along, I believe my son-in-law came the closest to capturing the authentic taste of Mama’s pickles than anyone else. And I’m not sure whether he ever met my mother or ate her pickles.

            After all these years of searching for the perfect pickle, which is a pickle tasting just like Mama’s, I have finally found it! I think we’ll call it “The Wickle.”


 Ray Spitzenberger has retired after serving as pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, for 28 years, teaching in high school for 9 years and at Wharton County Junior College for 22 years.

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