On the lower Eastside of New York City, wedged between the ever expanding Chinatown and terminally hip Soho, remains a spot that transports me back to an era gone by. Here lays a world that once belonged to the immigrants from Eastern Europe. These are the people that my family comes from, and its traditions and tastes are firmly ingrained in me -- even after a century and half since my great-grandparents arrived here. We were not a special family, just your average middle class family with a background rooted in the belief of a better life, full of hopes and dreams. That was the inspiration I was lead to believe that drove my potato-picking peasant-class ancestors to this land of opportunity.
As a child my parents would take us into Manhattan on Sundays from our culturally vacant Long Island hometown in order to experience the theater or a museum, and then of course, a stop in the lower Eastside. There around the infamous Delancey Street one could get anything, and at such a bargain. It was a shopper's paradise. Personally, I wasn't a shopaholic, and quickly bored of all these stores and their endless price slashed selections. How many pair of underwear did I need? What I really waited for was the visit to the pickle man. On Essex Street there stood the last vendor of pickles from the barrel in New York City. I loved this shop that occupied a small alcove on the street with just a simple awning to protect the pickle man from the elements. They sell not just the ubiquitous pickled cucumber, but peppers, tomatoes, cabbages (a.k.a. sauerkraut) and onions. The cucumbers come in a variety of sizes and preparations -- and I was always partial to the tiny, sour garlic ones, as opposed to the more mild half and half ones that my mother coveted.
4 pounds Kirby cucumbers (approximately 3 inches long)
1 quart distilled white vinegar
2 cups bottled water
3/4 cup kosher salt
5 large cloves garlic – sliced thin
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1/4 cup packed loveage leaves (or the heart of celery)
Wash the cucumbers very well removing any blossom that may be attached. Sprinkle half of the garlic, pepper, mustard seeds and loveage leaves on the bottom of the jar, using the remaining half in the center of the jar. Pack the cucumbers snuggly standing-on-end in a clean 1 gallon glass jar with a rubber ring seal.
In a 2 1/2 quart sauce pan bring the vinegar, water and salt to the boil, and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and while still hot carefully ladle the vinegar solution over the cucumbers making sure to come at least a 1/2 inch about the cucumbers with the vinegar solution. If not add some additional to fully cover the cucumbers. Cover securely and place in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 weeks.