Mickey’s Never-fail Dills: Recipe brings back memories

Mickey’s Never-fail Dills: Recipe brings back memories

On one especially sunny day in April of this year, while driving into Sweet Home to visit my father, I remembered a story my mother had told me about the bachelor who used to live across the street from my childhood home.  This fellow was not your ordinary small-town citizen, not by any stretch from the imagination.  His house was set back off the street, nearly hidden behind the overgrown shrubs.  The windows were covered in heavy tarpaper.  But my parents befriended him anyway.  Because that’s just the kind of people they were.

This story, in a round-about-way, had to do with making pickles.  At least my mother thought it did.  I had called her on the phone that day -– some twenty years ago now — to get her dill pickle recipe: Mickey’s Never-fail Dills, which I wrote down verbatim.  But before she would hang up the phone, she had to tell me one more thing.  Those of you who knew my mother, Mickey Ponzoha, know that in addition to being one of the librarians at Foster Elementary School, an energetic mother of seven and a loving wife, a lady who would lend a helping hand to anyone in need, my mother loved to talk.  Her story went something like this:

It must have been some time in August because I was making pickles.  The pickle recipe was what made me start thinking about it.  Anyway, you kids were in Lebanon picking beans — I think they were paying you 15 cents a pound.  That sounds like a gyp nowadays, but back then it was a lot of money.  Strange to think that today they don’t even allow a child to go out in the fields, let alone pay them 15 cents a pound.  Anyway, I was in the kitchen enjoying the smell of fresh dill, watching cucumbers bob in a sink full of cool water.  Peace and quiet.  That’s what it was.  I loved it.  Not that I didn’t love the noise when you kids were home, because I did, I loved every minute of it.  Anyway, there was a knock at the screen door -– a familiar knock mind you -– it was the bachelor from across the street.  I could recognize his knock anywhere: tap-rappty-tap tap-tap.

So anyway, I’d been taking my time that morning and had just started separating the dill weed on the kitchen table.  And there was dirt all over the place.  You know those little bits of soil stick to the roots.  Well, they were everywhere — on the floor, between the cracks in the table, probably between the fridge and dishwasher too.  I was in a big mess.  But you can’t make pickles without making a mess.  That old saying is so true: a mother’s job is never done.  Or was it: a mother’s work is never done?

Anyway… what was I saying?  Oh yes, maybe I was in the middle of spooning rock salt when he knocked at the door, I can’t remember exactly.  But I called to him and told him to come in, that my hands were full.  By the time I turned around, he was standing in the kitchen, both hands in the pockets of his oversized jeans.  Truthfully, I don’t think he’d washed those pants since the day he bought them.

He said, “I’m awful sorry to bother you, Mickey.”

“No bother,” I said.  I was trying hard to sound like I was glad he’d come to visit.  I really hadn’t time for the interruption.  But what was I going to say?  And I did feel sorry for the poor soul.  So I asked him how he was doing and pulled a chair out for him to sit down.

“Thanks, Mickey.  I can’t sit down.  But I’ve something real important to tell you.  It’s about my house.  Maybe you’ve already noticed,” he said.  Then he lowered his voice to a whisper, as if he thought someone was listening in on us.  “There’ve been hoodlums in the neighborhood.  They moved my house last night.  Just picked it up and moved it.  Today I measured my lot and my house is two feet closer to the street than it was yesterday.”  Then he stepped closer to me and said: “So you should keep an eye out.”

I nodded that I would.

He took a step back, reached into his shirt pocket for another pinch of Copenhagen and said, “Making pickles, huh?  It smells real nice in here.  I always did like those dill pickles.  Don’t care much for sweet pickles at all, but those dill pickles, they’re real good,” he said.

I can’t tell you how relieved I was that he had changed the subject to pickles.  I hadn’t the foggiest idea what I was going to say about the hoodlums moving his house.  Anyway, to make a long story short, I promised to bring him a couple jars of pickles when they were ready to eat.  I probably made fifty quarts of pickles that day.  Can you believe we ate all those pickles?

I parked the car in front of my father’s house and turned off the engine.  Thinking back on the many conversations I had with my mother, I’m glad that she never, ever, made a long story short.

(Catherine Hamilton is a freelance writer in Portland.  Mickey’s Never-fail Dills is one of a collection of memoirs that Catherine gave to her parents, Joe and Mickey Ponzoha, when the couple celebrated of their 60th Wedding Anniversary.  The couple spent their entire married life in Sweet Home.  Mickey Ponzoha died a year ago June 1st at age 86.)

RECIPE: Mickey’s Never-fail Dills

Cucumbers are a summer thing.  But here’s how to enjoy them all year long.  From September to June you can have a ready-to-eat snack.  Every jar is a unique masterpiece.  And best of all, they’re only 10 calories per pickle.  This is a make-by-the-jar recipe, so you can make 5 quarts or 50.  It’s perfect for the home gardener, because you can make a quart at a time and can use the freshest, just-picked cucumbers.


1 quart of fresh pickling cucumbers *

1 or 2 heads of fresh dill with stems (or ¾ teaspoon of dill seed)

1 ½ cloves of garlic

1 ½ TBS non-iodized pickling salt

1 ½ TBS pickling spice

1/2 cup distilled white vinegar

*NOTE: pickling cucumbers should be small in diameter and should be gathered in the early morning before the sun has a chance to warm them, which can make them go soft.

To ready the kitchen:           

You’ll need a gallon of distilled white vinegar, wide-mouth quart jars, lids and rings, a five pound bag of pickling salt, several tins of pickling spice, a bag of fresh garlic and several stalks of fresh dill.  Most grocers supply fresh dill in July and August if you haven’t a garden, but wait to buy dill until you’re ready to make pickles.

To make the pickles:

  1. Clean quart jars in the dishwasher the night before and set them upside down on clean cloth.
  2. Pick or buy the cucumbers in the early morning.
  3. Fill the sink with icy-cold water. Wash each cucumber with soft cotton cloth and prick at both ends with fork.  Set them aside on a cotton cloth.
  4. Pack cleaned cucumbers in quart jars, lengthwise, as tightly as possible without bruising.
  5. In each packed jar put: dill weed, garlic, pickling salt and pickling spice. Drizzle vinegar over spices.
  6. Pour ice-cold water in each jar. Cover the cucumbers with water until quart is filled to the bottom of the neck.
  7. Follow manufactures instruction on proper handling of canning rings and lids.
  8. Before quarts are closed, clean top rim with a non-terry cloth towel to remove particles of spice or rock salt. Screw on lids.  Shake to dissolve salt and store in cool place for several weeks.  Store pickles in refrigerator after opening.