Friday, August 11, 2006


Today I did something I haven’t done for years. I made eight jars of yellow bean mustard pickles. Now I have no idea what even sparked this occasion. It’s not that I was ever too crazy about yellow bean mustard pickles. But still, the more I thought about them, the more I began to recall how a dab of these pickles managed to so easily (almost carelessly), knock up the blandest plate of food a comfortable notch with their bittersweet ambivalence.

And so I picked the beans and went on a hunt for jars. Divorce, separation, and ultimate physical or emotional distancing are a malady in today’s world. But even with so many personal relationships that fail, and sock relationships that fail, jars and lids are the experts in relinquishing relationships. What irks me most is a jar will pretend it can match a lid and a lid pretend it will match a jar until we’re right down to the wire. Sterilized jar, sterilized lid, contents hot and bubbly, and then, and only then, does the battle ensue between the thread of the lid and the thread of the jar. The lid will easily thread its way down to the last millimeter of space and there it will stop. Stubbornly refusing to press its rubbery softness gently against the jar so that the heat can weld them together. Every time I curse them and wonder why I get these primeval provisional urges to engage in this heated battlefield.

But I digress. So now, with jars and lids checked for relationship stability, sterilized, and ready to go, I begin to assemble the ingredients for the pickles. Now what I need and don’t have is a cup of dry mustard. I have no more than a tablespoon. And you know how much I loathe the dreaded trip to town. It is not going to happen. Somehow these pickles are going to be made even if I have to gather red ants or pine beetles and grind them for ‘hotness’. Like the neighbor says, “Recipes? Never sweat it. They are just meant to be rough outlines.”

So I raid the spice cupboard. I label spices when I buy them with the date. Nothing can ruin the delicacy of a spiced dish like old putrid spices. But lo and behold I find two large jars of whole mustard seeds, labeled June 2006 and June 2006. (Oh, the infirmity of an aging mind).

I gaze at the contents of the two jars and find myself recalling something about faith only needing to be as big as a mustard seed. And recalling seeing a delicate little necklace with nothing more for a pendant than a mustard seed encased in a small ball of clear glass. There is some magic within the heart of each of these golden blond seeds. I draw from them faith that I can make mustard pickles without powdered mustard. Faith, no bigger than a mustard seed, but that is all the faith I need.

I gaze on my mortar and pestle and know that grinding mustard seeds in there would be like smashing rocks in the gravel-pit with nothing more than a bit of steel pipe. What if I add coarse salt crystals? That usually works like a charm for grinding other spices. But mustard seeds are so hard and circular, I can tell they are going to be obstinate as beach sand. Really, sometimes I think they should sell concave rocks and stones like are used to grind grains in third-world countries. On a gluten-free diet? Need rice flour? No one can afford it at current prices but if you throw a handful of rice into my rock, I’ll have some for you in no time.

But I have no concave rock and matching stone so out comes the coffee-grinder. This I must do in secret. Hub would shudder if he knew what I was doing with my coffee-grinder. But a couple quick surges and that mustard seed turned to the finest powder. I put a bit through a small screen to see what chaff was present. Very little. Certainly not enough to warrant sifting the rest of it.

Now we are a society that has moved into foods with a bit of kick-ass hotness. The ground mustard seed when I tasted it seemed to be less pungent than dry mustard. So I doubled the amount and added a generous pinch of cayenne.

We now have mustard pickles. Delicious mustard pickles with fresh spices. Yum.

Now truth is, you’re not likely to find a recipe for mustard bean pickles in a modern-day recipe book or even pickled beets. They are about as archaic as dinosaurs. But still, no one can deny, they do have a tang that works as a delightful condiment with plain fare. And for others, they take one back to the joy of the smells and tastes of their youth. Going on that little trek has definitely made today’s conquest well worth the effort.

So what’s your take on mustard bean pickles? Do you still make them? Do you relish them, enjoy them? Or have you ever even tasted them? And for those who browse gourmet aisles, have you ever seen them in the shops?

And in conclusion, I have to ask one more question. “Do your jars and lids match up?”


Blogger goldenlucyd said...

Great post, Roberta---very rich. Since I've never done any canning I can't answer your final question, however I think it's part of that great existenial mystery... You know, like why are there 10 hotdogs and 8 buns? If I find the answer in the Great Beyond I'll try and let you know! Hope you're havin a peachy weekend.

6:17 PM  
Blogger Eleanor said...

Definitely time to break the silence, I think! Sorry about not commenting more over the summer, Roberta. I've been reading, but just too darned tired to say much.

As for mustard beans, yes, I've eaten them, many times, and I thoroughly enjoy them. Mustard anything suits my palate, actually. My grandmother used to make a mustard pickle mix, using assorted vegetables, and it was to die for. I've never bothered making mustard pickles of any kind, though, as I'm the only one here who likes them. Can't be bothered to go to all of that work for just me. But I've found a really scrummy, almost as good as homemade type at a store that imports goodies from England. They're not cheap, but a jar goes a long way with just me eating them.

And yes, my jars and lids do match up! Being the perfectionist that I am, I've made sure that there are no possible mismatches when I grab the canning supplies from the basement each season. But I have been known to do lots of substituting and improvising with recipes, as you did with this one. Even perfectionists forget to keep certain things in the pantry. ;) Often the end result of the improvisation is far better than the original recipe.

10:36 AM  
Blogger Roberta said...

Hi Lucy. Thanks for stopping in. Just want to reiterate once more how much I enjoyed reading about all the grand excitement in your life in recent days. Thanks for the offer to help, but maybe these 'existenial mysteries' as you so aptly call them, are meant to heighten our intrigue and fascination with simple routines of daily living.

Dear eleanor, so glad to find you are recovered. I found your comments so interesting. The mustard pickle mix sounds awesome. I found your comments comforting as well. Nice to know that keeping jars and lids matched up is not a singular problem that only I, alone, must deal with.

2:28 PM  
Blogger She Dances in Dragon said...

Mustard bean pickle? You can pickle beans with mustard? Are cucumbers involved in any way?

The more I think about pickled beans, the more I think I'd like them. :)

My jars and lids only match until I get them wet. But if I get the ring part of the lid boiling hot, pull it out with tongs and screwing it onto the jar while wearing an oven mitt; it fits pretty well.

1:47 PM  
Blogger Roberta said...

SD in D, I guess mustard pickles can be anything that works. The neighbour makes mustard pickles with a wide variety of veggies. The ones I prefer are strickly yellow bean, no cukes involved.

It would take more than boiling and an oven mitt to make my jars and lids match up. Mostly because they are not Mason Jars -- they are a wild diversity of recycled mayo, mustard, cheese-whiz, jam jars, etc.

12:49 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home