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Christmas pickles

TRR photo by Kristin Barron

August 17, 2016

It is too soon, I think, to imagine the bare trees of December and it is too warm this August to contemplate a steaming oven, but it is time to think of Christmas dinner. It is time to make the “Christmas pickles” for our holiday celebrations.

I have been putting up “lazy pickles,” using an old fashioned mustard pickle recipe from my mother. And “lazy” they are, requiring no muggy processing or boiling brines or any special equipment.

My mother held home canning in great esteem and made jars of these tiny, tangy pickles every summer when I was young, along with other kinds of processed pickles, giardiniera, and carrot and tomato relishes. But as she aged, she stopped making the processed dills and bread and butter varieties and concentrated on making at least two jars of lazy pickles for the holidays. The rank of the lowly, lazy pickle changed too as they began to be known by my kids as “Christmas pickles.”

My mother grew all her own cucumbers so that she could insure the perfect size for her pickles. The tiniest of cucumbers is the perfect size for lazy pickles. Like cornichons, lazy pickles are preferably no longer than one or two inches. They are ideally those tiny, pimply, growing nubs that are still attached to the cucumber flower (although blossom and stem end should be removed to assure crisp pickles). But you can slice bigger cucumbers to size easily as well (small sized pickling varieties such as Kirby or National Pickling and Boston Pickling are best). That is what I do, since I have not grown cucumbers in my garden in years. A farmers’ market is the top place to find pickling cucumbers since it is best to avoid store-bought cucumbers, which are often waxed.

As a child, the thing I found most intriguing about lazy pickles was the method of turning the pickle jars upside down and upending them again every other day to insure that the cloudy solution soaked all of the cucumbers. And I still appreciate this routine—although there are days that I forget to do it. In the end, the mouth puckering, sharp flavor is perfect alongside roast turkey and Christmas ham.

The “lazy, hazy” days of August are here, and we are all in the midst of a busy summer. I am happy I was able to make a few jars of these pickles for our holiday table. It is an easy and delicious tradition. I have included my mother’s recipe below for your own pickling pleasure.

Lazy Pickles

Solution for five pints: ¼ cup canning salt; ¼ cup sugar; 3 cups vinegar (apple cider); 2 Tablespoons ground mustard; 1 cup cold water. Adjust by adding sugar to taste. (Do not boil solution.)