Fifty pounds of cucumbers doesn't really look like that much in a box like this.

I was at the produce section looking for bananas when I felt compelled to pick up a couple of pickling cucumbers the produce guy, P.J., had just put out. I rolled the cool bumpy veggies in my hand, thinking over the sagacity of getting into a canning project. P.J. must have seen the look on my face–something between longing and desire?–and made me an offer on a case I couldn’t refuse. The price was substantially lower, per pound, than that of the regular retail and the notion of getting an entire case of cucumbers was appealing to me at some deep spiritual, domestic goddess level. I make jam, jelly, and pickles; I am woman!

I am, however, also experienced enough in the realm of pickle making to know that I would be a complete idiot to attempt the task by myself. Besides, canning and preserving parties are a great way to get together and have fun with others to accomplish what could be a rather odious chore if done solo. I put a note on Facebook about my idea and had several people interested. When the day arrived, there were enough of us to make the work fun and enjoyable even if tiring. The term “Crazy Cooking Project” was more than just bandied about.

We talked a bit about the irony that we weren’t really saving money by our efforts. A jar of dill pickles from the store doesn’t cost all that much. The certainty of what is in the jars–fresh local cucumbers, onion and garlic from my own garden, dill from a local farmer’s market, grape leaves from the arbor just outside my back door–plus the inherent feeling of accomplishment at making them ourselves is what seems to spur us on. Besides, the variety of what we created is different than what the store offers. I’d never heard of “Dutch Lunch Pickles” until M. found the recipe in “The Joy of Pickling.”

Pickling, canning and preserving are home-based arts that have become less survival driven necessities and more pleasure arts/crafts. Like sewing and knitting, other skills that were practically required to survive in years gone by, canning has become an optional luxury. It’s almost impossible to make a skirt for less than what you can buy one for at Target. Knitting a sweater costs way more than picking one up at Costco. The difference of course, is about quality and style and the sense of accomplishment. Being able to say “I made this” in a world of mass-produced goods and where people are losing the skill to make almost anything feels pretty damn good.

For me, though, the best part about the pickle party was that it really was a party. Being an “at-home” mom who spends most of my time at home by myself, the day of working with others not my spouse and not my kids was….fun. Really fun. Call ’em “Crazy Cooking Projects” if you want, but bring them on just the same!

At the end of the day, those chairs felt great.

After six hours of pretty much non-stop labor, we ended up with:
12 pints Garlic Dills
10 pints “Dutch Lunch Pickles”
12 pints sweet and sour gherkin style
6 pints sweet and spicy with red pepper and garlic
10 pints “Dutch Lunch, no garlic”
12 Quarts straight dill

Sorted and grouped by size.

We quartered and brined about 25 pounds.

Jars filled with cukes, spices and brine, ready to seal.

Some genius solved the hot water/picking up the jar lids with a magnet and a stick. I almost cried with joy.