September 7, 1852

Cucumber

Tuesday Sept 7th

1852  I have not sewed much again to day

I was at work on pickles  swept the parlour

washed the windows &c &c and did not sit down

to work untill after dinner.  This afternoon 

Mrs Seba Howard  Miss M J Alger called

& Abby passed the afternoon.  We called 

to see Augusta.  Julia Pool is there taking

care of her she is not able to sit up much

 

“Pickles are very indigestible things, and ought rarely to be eaten,”* declared Sarah Josepha Hale, editor** of Godey’s Lady’s Book, and author of many poems, novels, cookbooks, and household guides. Respectful as Mrs. Hale invariably was of women’s domestic virtues and products, she clearly had no love for pickles, a kitchen staple. Their only value “in cookery,” according to her, was the flavor they added to vinegar.

Evelina and most other housewives and cookbook writers disagreed with Mrs. Hale. Pickles were standard fare, and this time of year many a housewife in many a kitchen was busy turning a cucumber harvest into pickles for the winter ahead. Lydia Maria Child, another popular 19th century writer, offered a detailed recipe in The American Frugal Housewife:

Cucumbers should be in weak brine three or four days after they are picked; then they should be put in a tin or wooden pail of clean water, and kept slightly warm in the kitchen corner for two or three days.  Then take as much vinegar as you think your pickle jar will hold’; scald it with pepper, allspice, mustard-seed, flag-root, horseradish, &c., if you happen to have them; half of them will spice the pickles very well.  Throw in a bit of alum [ammonium aluminum sulfate] as big as a walnut; this serves to make pickles hard. Skim the vinegar clean, and pour it scalding hot upon the cucumbers. ***

The last step in the process was to store the pickles in glass jars. as opposed to ceramic containers. Most 19th century pantries and cellars held tall, slightly blue or green glass pickle jars on their shelves. So it was at the Ames’s.

After the morning’s work and midday dinner, Evelina welcomed Eleutheria Howard, Miss Alger and niece Abby Torrey into the parlor. How strong the smell of pickles in the house must have been! The ladies then left to call on poor Augusta Pool Gilmore, who was still ailing from an intestinal disorder. Her sister Julia was staying with her.

 

*Sarah Josepha Hale, The Good Househkeeper, 1841, p. 71

**Mrs. Hale actually preferred the term “editoress.”

***Lydia Maria Child, The American Frugal Housewife,” pp. 61-62

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