Pickle Day | Yankee Classic

When I think back on pickle day, I see Aunt Etta in the side yard. And I hear, at times, the rare sound of my Grandmother’s laughter.

By Janet Hayward Burnham

Aug 12 2014


pickles-dtWhen I was a child, I would spend the month of August in Vermont at my grandparents’ tall, cool house. Surrounded by clipped lawns and mannerly flower beds, I would speak in whispers and tiptoe across Grandmother’s dark, polished floor. But best of all, in August there was Pickle Day.

Pickle Day took place at Aunt Etta and Uncle Willy’s who lived on a farm some distance from town. Uncle Willy came to fetch us in his old Ford truck. Grandmother would spread a worn tablecloth on the truck seat before she sat down, while her lips disappeared further into a frown. She never liked to ride in Uncle Willy’s truck.

Me, I liked that old truck. It rattled and bucked and would raise up a rooster tail of dust behind us. You could tell you were going someplace when you were in Uncle Willy’s truck.

Aunt Etta, tall and square and smiling, would be out in the side yard waiting for us. The cucumbers and onions had been spread out on tables under the maple trees. My job was to wash the jars in galvanized tubs and set them to dry on Turkish towels. Then I would crush ice that Uncle Willy had gathered off the pond last winter, wrapping it in kitchen towels and pounding it with a wooden mallet.

Aunt Etta and Grandmother were busy slicing cucumbers and onions with knives half worn away by the whetstone. They salted the sliced cucumbers, onions, and crushed ice and put them into crocks, to mellow and crisp, Aunt Etta said. Then she mixed sugar and vinegar and spices and set them to boil on a stove in the shed. As she worked, Aunt Etta laughed easily, and sometimes Grandmother did, too.

After lunch, we’d drain the crocks and add the pickles to the vinegar liquid. By late afternoon all the jars would be filled and boiled, and when it was time to leave, the jars were just cool enough to handle. Aunt Etta would pack a garden basket of jars for Grandmother, and then she’d hand me my own special jar. I’d ride home cradling the warm jar in my lap, watching the twilight and the work of the day smooth out the frown on Grandmother’s face.

Now I make Aunt Etta’s pickles, green and golden in their mini-aquarium jars. I see onion eels and sea urchin mustard seeds. I see Aunt Etta in the side yard. And I hear, at times, the rare sound of my Grandmother’s laughter.

Excerpt from “Pickle Day,” Yankee Magazine, August 1990.