Momma had a small garden patch behind our cottage in the Catskills. Mostly, she was successful in growing potatoes and cucumbers. A large part of the cucumber crop ended up in huge vessels on the porch table. The cucumbers would be slowly fermented in a saltwater brine that’s spiked with garlic, dill, and pickling spices. The cucumbers would reach different stages from half sour to sour. These sour pickles were enjoyed all summer and were a must at every dinner meal for poppa. A successful sour pickle has a deeply sour flavor with a garlic and salty edge. Like the swimming pickles, there were two glasses of water on the bathroom windowsill with momma and poppa’s false teeth swimming. The children always found this scene scary when they went to the bathroom at night.
At the end of the summer, the pickles were all devoured and the huge jars were retired to the basement storage. Back home, in the Bronx, poppa still needed his nightly sour pickle to accompany his dinner. So, after school, momma took me to Jennings Street to get our Sabbath supply from Jake the sour pickle man. Jake was the tyrant of Jennings Street, but he was also famous for his great product. He had a long line of women that reached the end of the block. All waited patiently and nervously, with great trepidation, fearing Jake’s potential wrath. He had a famous temper and if he didn’t approve of you, you could be sent home, empty handed or with an empty glass jar. “Lady, you come here wearing a schmatta (rag). Go home, no pickles for you!!” Anything could set him off. While he was a belligerent bully, he did have a soft spot for children. That must be the reason momma took me along. His wife worked alongside him, and he must have had a soft spot for her since her hands were bedecked with diamond rings that sparkled when they came out of the cold brine. Life was easier if the wife waited on you. With our jar filled and the price fair, momma was pleased. Poppa will also be pleased to have a bottle of seltzer, potted meat, potatoes, gravy and of course Jake’s famous sour pickle.
Postscript: Our grandson Isaac loves sour pickles. His mom made him his pickle costume for Halloween. Vats of sour pickles were sent from Guss’ The Pickle Guys on New York City’s Lower East Side to Boston for Isaac’s Bar Mitzvah.