Aunt Emma’s Cucumbers

July 18th, 2011

It looks like a good year for cucumbers here at Tangled Branches South. I picked the first a few days ago and continue to find a few every day. No bitterness so far. Last year in the heat and drought, we harvested zero edible cucumbers – every one was impossibly bitter. But this year so far, so good.


Poona (light green), Snow's Fancy Pickling (dark green)

Most northern European cuisines have some variation of this dish, but in my family they’re known as Aunt Emma’s Cucumbers. If I remember correctly, Aunt Emma contributed this recipe to a church cookbook, from which my mother made it. I’m sure I have a copy of that cookbook, I’m just not sure where it is. At some point I copied the recipe onto an index card (remember those?) and from there copied it into several recipe software programs. I don’t have any of the recipe software programs anymore, but I still have the index card.

Dilled Cucumber Slices
3    Medium cucumbers
3    Small onions
½ teaspoon Dill weed
1 cup  Sugar
½ c up Vinegar
½ cup  Water
4 teaspoons Salt

Slice cucumbers and onions.  Layer slices in a bowl.  Add dill weed.

Boil sugar, vinegar, water, and salt.

Pour over cucumbers.


Aunt Emma's Cucumbers

Dilled Cucumber Slices aka Aunt Emma's Cucumbers

Now, that’s the way I have the recipe written down, but that’s not how I make it. First off, I just guesstimate the amount of cucumber and onion, but for the batch above I used 6 small pickling cucumbers and 2 small white onions. You’ll notice that in the recipe the proportions of sugar/vinegar/water are 2 parts sugar, 1 part vinegar, and 1 part water. I use rice vinegar, which is a bit less acidic than distilled white vinegar, and so I make it about equal proportions of sugar, vinegar and water. For last night’s dish, that was about 1/3 cup of each. Not quite enough to cover the cucumbers and onions because they will give off moisture as they sit and will be totally immersed after a couple hours. And I cut the amount of salt in half (or even a bit less), so it was about 1½ or 2 teaspoons salt (Korean sea salt). And normally I would up the amount of dill a bit, but the dill I used was freshly cut and dried this last week and very fragrant, so I kept it about ½ teaspoon this time. One more change – I don’t boil the vinegar mixture – just stir everything in a big mixing cup until the sugar and salt are dissolved. I put it in the fridge and it’s ready to eat in 2 hours or so. I suppose it would keep for a few days, but we rarely have any left over that long.

Elsewhere in the garden, the tomato avalanche continues. I made fresh salsa a couple times and Alsatian Gazpacho once. I blogged about Alsatian Gazpacho a long time ago – the post is in the archives of the old site.

I’m going to have to start writing down what I’m cooking from the garden each day – can’t remember at the end of the week what we ate at the beginning of the week so I can document it here for Wendy’s Garden-to-Table Challenge. 🙂

Oh, last week, I said I’d tell you what I made from 3 okra pods. I made Corn, Okra and Tomatoes, based very loosely on a recipe in James Beard’s American Cookery. Basically just a sauté of, um, corn, okra and tomatoes.

I used mostly Snow’s Fancy Pickling cucumbers to make Aunt Emma’s Cucumbers. Appropriate, because they supposedly originated in Rockford, Illinois, not far from where I grew up and not far from where Aunt Emma gardened and cooked. Aunt Emma was actually my great-aunt, daughter of Emil Beilke and Emilie Trebes.

I became curious about the Snow Pickle Farm, since the only easily-found references to it were in seed catalogs. Through, I learned that J. C. Snow along with wife Mabel, sons Hiram and Kenneth and brother-in-law Chester Carman, lived on River Road in Rockford, as of the 1910 US census. His occupation is listed as “Pickel Farm”.  His 1917 WWI draft registration card says his occupation is Farmer, Pickle Mfg. By 1920, they had added two more sons and the address is listed as North Second Street. He is still a farmer in 1920. Looking at a 1905 plat map of Winnebago County, there is a parcel owned by H. Snow along Rock River in Section 12. Looking at current Google maps, there is a Snow Avenue off North Second St. leading towards the River. I’d bet that this was the approximate location of the Snow Pickle Farm. By 1930, Junius C. Snow still lived on North Second Street with his wife, sons, a daughter-in-law and a sister-in-law, but has gotten out of the pickle business and into real estate.

2 Responses to “Aunt Emma’s Cucumbers”

  1. […] Aunt Emma’s Cucumbers […]

  2. Wendy says:

    interesting story!

    I was just thinking about corn today and about how hard it would be to be a farmer whose livlihood would be from selling corn. I mean, the whole field, most of the whole summer – it would be a struggle. I can see why real estate might seem a nice option.

    your pickle chips look fantastic. I can almost taste the dill.

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