When my Grandmother Helen died in 1992, at the venerable age of 90, I was lucky enough to get her treadle Singer Sewing machine, her stove, her collection of cookie jars, and a ledger book with some of her recipes. Helen was a good plain cook- her fried chicken was to die for; so was her fried catfish and crappie. She made some yummy cookies called hermits that we haven't been able to duplicate. She gathered recipes from newspapers, women's magazines and friends, writing them down and personalizing them with notes. She was particularly fond of recipes whose names started out with a descriptive- the ledger book contains recipes for "Good Drop Cookies", "Very Good Sour Cream Cookies", "The Best Cream Pie Filling I have Ever Tasted", and this recipe "Very Special Dill Pickles".
I only remember Helen making these pickles a few times when I was a child. She used old fashioned half gallon canning jars with zinc lids, and I remember that the pickles looked so pretty in the jars, along with a whole dill flower head, the garlic cloves and peppercorns. The dill pickles became sort of a Holy Grail for my dad for a few years in the 70's. His mother had pretty much stopped making them by then, and he wanted to try his hand. I called my Dad this week to ask him about the pickles, and he said that they were always very hot and garlicky- he said almost too hot sometimes. These are fermented pickles; he remembered that the house always smelled strongly during the weeks they were "working". I told him I remembered going with him to the City Market in Kansas City, MO to buy cucumbers the years we tried to make them. We bought enormous cucumbers one year, and immersed them in clean new plastic garbage cans. He laughed and said that we hadn't been able to find small cucumbers that year. He said "I remember when I was a kid, some of those ladies who made pickles used cucumbers so big that only one would fit in a jar. That was kind of a problem."
My Dad asked me if I was going to be making pickles this summer, and I said I thought I might- but I am not using the jars with the zinc lids- I have one of them, but I only use it for keeping Helen's button collection!
I've written the recipe just as she has it in the ledger, parenthesis and all.
By the way- My father says to remember that it is very important that the cucumbers not be waxed or oiled- the brining won't penetrate the skins if they have been treated. And he says he can't wait to taste them if I make them, so I guess I am on the hook now. I figure they'll be ready in August- just in time to make a good birthday present for him!
Gramma Helen's Very Special Dill Pickles
Select size wanted, wash and brush good and let stand in well water over night. Next morn, wipe dry and place in qt. jars (or larger if wanted) in each qt jar (bottom) place a slice or 2 horseradish, dill, garlic button, med size red pepper, almost 1 teasp whole black pepper, Bay leaf or two if wanted (I never use them)
If you have never canned before, please consult an expert- I suggest the University of Missouri Extension Center, or the University Extension Center of your choice. Quarts of pickles can be processed for 15 minutes in a water bath canner. Also, be sure your vinegar isn't too old; it loses acidity over time.