Title aside, there are sadly no pickle recipes in this book. I love pickles. It’s hard to find them without Yellow dye #5, though. We don’t have food allergies here, thankfully, but are we so vain that we have to artificially color our food? I don’t mind cucumber-colored pickles. More natural. Pickles on the brain. I guess I’ll have to add my own pickles to the meal. The title is actually in reference to a fabric print– we call it paisley. Evidently, in 1930s Kansas, it was called “persian pickle.” I can see that, I guess. I can only picture the fabric in green paisley, though, due to the power of suggestion. Come to think of it, my husband wore a “green persian pickle” tie to work yesterday. Loved it! The fabric mentioned in the book belongs to the oldest member of the Persian Pickle Club. Her husband bought her a bolt of it instead of the length she had requested; it therefore has lasted through the years and pieces have been lovingly incorporated into the quilts of each and every member.
The Persian Pickle Club is a quilting group in a small Kansas town during the era of the Dust Bowl. Hard times made easier by a rockin’ support group. You have no idea. These women, ranging in age from 23 to Methuselah, share secrets and support like no community you’ve been part of. It’s heart-warming and inspiring, although the drawbacks to living in a microcosm of a town also come into play. Hospitality is a key theme throughout the book. The “Pickles,” as they refer to themselves, take care of each other in word and deed, whether it’s help with farm work, rides to the meetings, postpartum care, or making the best out of a bad situation. They protect each other from unneeded help as well; namely the meddling preacher and his wife, who perhaps mean well, but are constantly rebutted by the Pickles, who consider them outsiders. Hospitality has its limits, I suppose.
But, the food! Kansas housewives have it down when it comes to hospitality food: cookies, cakes, scones, salads… Here are some of the sweets mentioned: bread pudding, jumbles and hermits (both cookies), ice cream, (faux) rhubarb pie, gooseberry pie, butterscotch pie, brownies, scones, fruitcake, pineapple upside-down cake, kuchen (German dessert), burnt-sugar cake, divinity, molasses pie, sour cream-raisin pie, ash cake (even the drifters made desserts with what they had), and icebox pudding. Are you in a sugar coma yet? These Kansas farmwives must have been baking all of the time! I can picture this, actually. My childhood best friend lived on a working farm. Her mother was always in the kitchen– and she was an AMAZING cook. As in, the blue-ribbon type, as she entered multiple items in the county fairs every year. She baked constantly. I spent years trying to duplicate her blueberry cake (came close), and it wasn’t uncommon for her to be frying homemade squash doughnuts for breakfast. Breakfast! Is that heaven, or what? I spent a good bit of time at their house when I was younger; looking back, I don’t remember many of her dinners, but I have lots of fond memories of her baked goods.
“If I knew you were coming, I’d have baked a cake, baked a cake, baked a cake. If I knew you were coming, I’d have baked a cake, howdja do, howdja do, howdja, do?” If you know that song, it’s now in your head for the rest of the day, sorry. It says a lot about the Pickles that even during these unimaginably hard times, they are open with their time, with their hearts, and with their larders. Bringing someone food is a labor of love, trust me. I must not have many friends, at least locally, because when my baby was born, only two people brought me a meal. But let me tell you, that was GOLD. It gave me a fresh perspective on the importance of hospitality and community. Chompers and I have a chance to share some love and hospitality this week, as a neighbor just had a baby. She has a toddler, too, so bless her heart, she’s really stretched thin. As much as new moms can totally dig into a cake or a pie, some real sustenance is called for as well. The Pickles knew this, too, of course, and supplemented their sugary treats with hearty salads and meals. For this blog post, I was tempted to try Mrs. Judd’s “perfection salad,” a gelatin salad filled with carrots, celery, and cabbage, popular in the early 1900s, but I’m not a huge fan. (Now the Jello salad that has marshmallows, whipped cream, and pineapple in it– oh, yeah, that’s another story. Just keep the veggies out.)
For our hospitality meal, I decided to make a pasta salad. Marinates well in the fridge if they don’t want to eat it right away. I make a kickass pasta salad, and I will teach you my ways.
- Get the colored veggie pasta… because we eat with our eyes. Spirals or bows make it fun.
- Generously salt your water, cook the pasta to al dente, and spread it on a baking tray to dry out (because no one wants bland, mushy pasta in their salad).
- Add frozen broccoli to your pasta water– it’ll cook at the same time and, presto!– already a green veggie included.
- Add lots of colorful fresh veggies and some fun surprises like cubed cheese, pepperoni, and (guess what?) pickles!
- Make this dressing. Just do it. It’ll make you slap yo’ mama. (Oh, gosh– I’ve lived in the South too long.)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 Tbs. mayonnaise
1 garlic clove, minced
salt and pepper to taste
2/3 cup BASIL infused olive oil
Mix first three ingredients and add salt and pepper. Measure oil in another cup. Slowly whisk oil into mixture, first in droplets, then in a slow, steady stream to make an emulsified vinaigrette.
You may not need all of the vinaigrette for your pasta salad. If you have leftovers, it makes THE BEST marinade for lamb stew (or probably any red meat).
There. You know my secrets. I can’t believe that I haven’t made pasta salad yet this summer. It’s the perfect summer meal. Luckily(?), it will be summer in Texas for at least another 6 weeks. Add some grilled chicken or chickpeas to it for a punch of protein. Hungry yet?
Oh, let’s bring baked goods, too! My grandmother was a Kansas farm girl (and an avid quilter). She taught me how to make snickerdoodles when I was about 5 years old. For years, I thought that she made up the name “snickerdoodles.” 🙂 Alas, she can’t take credit, but she was the type of person who would have done that. She set the example of a gracious, generous hostess all of her life, so I will send a plate of snickerdoodles in her honor.
Sorry about the lack of a Friday Night Dinner this week. I’ll make it up to you, promise! Let’s pretend that I was in Fez on business.