It is the eve of my ninth birthday. I am lying in bed, awake, staring at the haphazardly-glued glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling. The pickles I had in my salad for dinner are sitting in my stomach, their acid working its way through my body. The streetlamp outside is flickering, but every light in my house is off. My parents are long asleep. The clock is inching towards midnight, and yet I am wide awake. Tears are silently streaming down my face, burning a trail in my freckled skin. I am biting my tongue, holding back the sobs for fear of waking everyone up. One fact keeps repeating in my head: after tomorrow, I will only have 91 more years to live. I am almost down a decade. Time keeps slipping by, death is creeping nearer, and I am painfully aware of my mortality. I fall asleep eventually, exhausted by the utter terror of my age, and I dream psychedelic, Alice-in-Wonderland-inspired dreams, full of extra-large flamingoes and spiralling staircases on which I am too big to fit.
It is the eve of my sixteenth birthday. I am standing outside of a friend’s car on a hill overlooking Be’er Sheva. My friend Karina is looking at the clock, counting down the time until the hands strike midnight and I turn a year older. We are looking up to a star-filled sky, which for once is unobstructed by the lights of the city’s 175,000 denizens making their way through the night, sleeping, working, talking, making love. I feel so big and so small at the same time, but above all, grateful – for the people around me, for the others in my life, for the way things are going, for this view. Afterwards, we pile back into the car and toast to my health with shots of cheap vodka and bites of brined pickles.
It is the eve of my twenty-seventh birthday. I am dancing up a storm in my living room, surrounded by friends. A long table by the window is laden with Israeli hummus, cheese, homemade baba ganoush and, most importantly, pickles. Music that sounds like the soundtrack to the amorous coupling of R2-D2 and Tik-Tok is pounding from my speakers, and yet I couldn’t be happier. The clock is inching towards midnight, and as I realize it, I pound back a shot of bourbon. The next morning, I will wake up with a killer headache, a friend crashed out on my living-room couch, no appetite, and 20 pounds of small cucumbers ready for pickling on my counter. Running on empty, I will spend four hours submerging jars in hot water baths, boiling lids, and eventually producing 18 beautifully-packaged jars of spicy garlic dill pickles. But for the moment, I am oblivious to that fate; all that exists in the world right now is pounding dubstep, flickering candlelight, and liquor strong enough to burn a hole through my esophagus.
It is the eve of my twenty-eighth birthday. I am walking outside with Greg, crying. My nerves are frayed after two weeks spent surrounded by five people, three cultures, four languages. I have just had a huge fight with my sister, and I’m ready to give up on this whole family thing, let alone my birthday. I walk through the dark paths of Parc Lafontaine, bemoaning my fate, when Greg casually walks me to an envelope taped to a small stump. I open it up to find a card in my name, informing me of a week-long camping trip that is to start the Monday after my parents’ departure. The card is sweet and earnest, and it cuts me to my core. The woes of family arguments are set aside, if not forgotten, and I pull him to me in a big embrace. I feel happy and loved. I do not care that tomorrow, I will be a year closer to the end of my third decade. Time may be slipping away, but when every day is filled with so much love, so much sadness, so many reasons to be alive, I am not bothered. If anything, I am excited – about tomorrow, next week, next month. But most of all, I am excited for the pickles I am going to can in the next couple of weeks, firmly establishing a new tradition. Pickles for my birthday – after all, what can be more apt to celebrate the passing of another year?
These garlic dill pickles are redolent with the heat of dry chilies, fragrant herbs, and a strong brine. Adapted from an old Mennonite recipe, they remind me of the briny Russian pickles of my youth, the dented cans of preserved cucumbers that line Israeli supermarket shelves, and of birthdays past. I hope that you give them a try, whether canned in a traditional hot water bath, or aged in the refrigerator; they are sure to bring a pucker to your lips in any shape.
- For a jar of pickles:
- 2-3 cups of small Cornichon cucumbers (or as many as fit in a 1-litre jar), washed and dried thoroughly
- 2 cups of water
- 1 cup of white vinegar
- ⅙ cup sugar
- ¼ cup pickling salt
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 dry red chilli peppers, whole
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon of horseradish (optional)
- several sprigs of dill
- Thoroughly wash and dry your cucumbers. Pick through for any ones going soft, and discard.
- Thoroughly clean and sterilize a 1-litre jar with a two-piece lid. If canning pickles in a traditional hot-water-bath method, prepare all of your tools (I follow Food in Jars' Marisa McClellan's excellent guide for canning, http://foodinjars.com/2013/07/new-to-canning-start-here-boiling-water-bath-canning/).
- Line sterilized jars with dill, garlic, bay leaf, chilli, and horseradish. Pack with scrubbed cucumbers, leaving one inch of room between the top of the jar and the lid.
- Bring water, vinegar, sugar and salt to a boil in a large pot. Pour hot brine over the cucumbers, ensuring the one inch of room at the top remains (but no more!). Seal jars. If following hot-water-bath canning procedures, boil jars long enough for the cucumbers to discolour, 10-12 minutes. Otherwise, place jar in fridge.
- Wait 2-3 weeks to taste. When ready, serve pickles with vodka, hummus, or whatever floats your boat.