Claire's Mustard Pickles
September is preserving season on Isle Madame. A time when folks gather ALL available Mason jars (likely dozens) and stock up on salt and sugar from the Co-op. Gardens are harvested and hours are spent in the kitchen chopping, cooking (at times), and canning.
Pickling has always been a big thing in my Acadian family. If you’re wondering what pickling smells like, simply open a bottle of vinegar and take a good whiff (whiff = smell)! Yup, exactly how you thought it might smell. As a teenager, opening the door when Mom was making mustard pickles or bread and butter pickles or pickling beets resulted in a scrunched up nose and a very loud, “GROSS, Mom!”, followed by stomping down the stairs to the sanctuary of my room where the stench couldn’t get in because my door was always closed. And I was sure to encounter the same smell when I walked into either grandmother’s house in September. Thirty years later, that smell brings a smile to my face and warms my heart. When you lose your Mom, it’s the little things that you miss the most - like her mustard pickles.
After finishing the last jar she had made (always with fish or fish cakes), I was determined to find her recipe and make my own. Although I had to piece it together (Mom was one of those who had a recipe and followed the recipe but when it was something she made often, there would be very few instructions), they taste pretty much exactly how Mom’s tasted.
This year, the kids and I helped my grandmother plant her garden. She’s 90 and she’s tough as nails, but she was recovering from eye surgery, so we got it started for her.
She always has enormous success with her cucumbers and although she was pretty skeptical of our gardening skills, we managed to pick roughly 46 cucumbers from our little cucumber patch this year. She still won’t admit that I have a green thumb…
This recipe comes together pretty fast once all the chopping is done and you’ve let them sit. I get about 15 (500 ml) Mason jars from this batch.
Claire’s Mustard Pickles
4 lbs white onions, chopped
12 cucumbers, chopped (I scrape out the seeds but leave the peeling)
½ c. salt
Place chopped onions and cucumbers in large bowl, toss with the salt and let sit overnight.
The next day: drain, rinse thoroughly and place in large pot. Add 6 c. white vinegar, bring to boil, lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes. In the meantime, mix your sauce ingredients.
Sauce ingredients (mix in large bowl):
12 c. white sugar
2 c. + 6 ½ Tbsp. brown sugar
6 Tbsp + 3 ½ tsp. dry mustard
3 ½ tsp. tumeric
1 ⅓ c. + 4 ½ Tbsp. flour
Once the onions and cucumber have simmered in vinegar for 5 minutes, add the dry ingredients a little at a time, stirring between each addition. Once incorporated, bring to a boil again and simmer for another 5 minutes.
Once cooked, follow regular canning/preserving procedures (for me, it’s sterilizing the jars and using new lids, adding the pickles to the jar while both are still hot, placing the cover on hand tight and letting sit on the counter. The lids should start to “pop” meaning they are sealed. Any jars with lids that don’t pop go in the fridge for storage while the sealed jars are placed in the pantry).
DISCLAIMER** I am sharing this as an example of an Acadian recipe passed down through generations. I am NOT a professional food preserver. I make these for our own consumption and therefore if we eat a bad batch, well, that’s on us. If we take a jar from the pantry and it’s a weird colour, we throw it away. If we are unsure of the seal, we put it in the fridge and eat that one first. They’re never around long enough here to exceed shelf life.
I know the measurements are wonky and you could probably consolidate them, but my math skills are sub-par and I wanted to follow the recipe as closely to Mom’s as possible and this is how she had it written.
This is our go-to condiment with haddock, sole, halibut, cod, boiled potatoes, and salt cod fishcakes. My grandmother’s little garden (8 cucumber plants) yielded 3 batches of mustard pickles which were shared between my grandmother, my Dad, and some for us. :)