Thursday, June 16, 2011

Pickles for Opopie

My dad loves to reminiscence about his cherished Brooklyn childhood and, in particular, about The Park Manor. This was the kosher catering hall his grandfather, Henry Denmark, owned on Brooklyn's Eastern Parkway and ran with seven of his sons and daughters in the 1930s, 40s, and early 50s. My dad describes it as the premier kosher catering establishment of its day and it was certainly the center of my family's world. Back then, most Jewish couples in Brooklyn were married there, posing for photos on the grand marble staircase, just as my grandparents, Sam and Anna, did here. Don't you love that veil? Sadly, somehow it got lost over the years.

Young boys celebrated their bar mitzvahs at The Park Manor, including my dad--but his was held on a weekday, not Shabbat. My great-grandfather wasn't about to lose a night's business to family, even his oldest grandchild.

The Park Manor clearly was my dad's home away from home from the time he was a young boy, and his favorite thing to do was hang out in the basement kitchen taking snatches of the kishka, knishes, and kreplachs being made for the huge affairs. He learned how to carve a beautiful fruit bowl and make a variety of appetizers, thanks to a cook there named Rosie. His favorite was made with a rectangular piece of crustless white bread on which was spread a mixture of skinless and boneless sardines mashed with lemon and mayo, topped with slices of hardboiled egg whites and garnished with pimento and green olive. My dad still loves skinless and boneless sardines prepared like this. Um, this explains a lot about our eating habits.

But what my brother, sister, and I heard about endlessly as children were the temptations of the pickle barrels stored along with containers of huge Spanish olives in the kitchen's walk-in refrigerator. From the age of 10 or so, he'd steal into the refrigerator and grab a couple large kosher dills at a time, only sometimes shooed away by his favorite person there, Izzy, who worried that the kid would get sick from them. Never. My dad loves sour kosher dills, specifically new ones.

He had to say goodbye to all that when my grandfather moved the family to Los Angeles when Dad was 16. But LA is where he met my mom and it turned out that one of the side benefits of marrying her was continuing the pickle obsession via her mother Tillie's homemade dills. Tillie has been gone for almost 20 years and Mom doesn't make them anymore so about that time my dad switched his affections to bread and butter pickles.

Well, of course, when I learned how to make bread and butter pickles from Quality Social's Jared Van Camp and Sam Burman, my first batches went to Dad -- long called "Opopie" by my nieces and nephews -- as a birthday gift. He asked for more. This Sunday is Father's Day and what better gift for him than more pickles. This time, however, I combined Jared's recipe with the traditional Ball recipe from The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, which has what I believe are the best instructions on how to do the much-dreaded water bath. Follow them religiously and you'll find it's actually a breeze.

Thank you to Specialty Produce for these gorgeous pickling cukes!

I found that the Ball recipe called for too many onions and not enough liquid, so for the second batch, I made adjustments, reflected below. Then, since I had leftover pickling cukes, I made a small batch of Jared and Sam's recipe, which has more liquid in proportion to the vegetables, fewer onions, and doesn't actually cook the cukes over heat. Instead you heat the pickling liquid  and pour it over the raw vegetables, which then sit for a week in the fridge. So Dad gets two versions. Wonder which he'll prefer... Happy Father's Day, Opopie!

Bread and Butter Pickles
(printable recipe)

Adapted from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

3 pounds sliced, trimmed pickling cucumbers
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup kosher salt
2 cups white vinegar
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1 teaspoon allspice berries
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 stick cinnamon
3 cloves garlic, peeled

1. In a glass or stainless steel bowl, combine cucumbers, onions, and salt. Mix and cover with cold water. Let stand at room temperature for 2 hours. Then transfer to a colander, rinse with cool running water and drain.

2. Prep the jars and lids while the cucumbers are marinating.
      3. In a stainless steel pot, combine the vinegars, sugars, mustard seeds, celery seeds, allspice berries, turmeric, cinnamon stick, and garlic. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugars. Then add the vegetables, stir and return to a boil.

      4. By now the jars should be sterilized and hot. Remove one, drain the water, and pack the vegetables to within 1/2 inch of the top, then ladle hot pickling liquid into the jar to cover the vegetables but still leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove the air bubbles and make adjustments to the headspace if needed by adding more pickling liquid. Wipe the rim, center the lid on the jar, and screw the band down until it's just tight. Put the jar back in the canner and fill the remaining jars one at a time.
      5. Add more water to the canner and make sure that the jars are completely covered with water. Put the lid on the canner and bring to a boil. Process for 10 minutes. Remove the canner lid and turn off the heat. Let the jars sit in the hot water for 5 minutes, then remove the jars, let them cool, and store.

      Should make at least 6 pint-size jars of pickles.

      And here is the Quality Social Bread and Butter Pickle. You choose which to try.

      Quality Social Bread & Butter Pickles
      (printable recipe)

      5 pounds pickling cucumbers
      1/2 cup salt
      1.5 cups water

      1 onion, sliced
      2.5 cups cider vinegar
      2.5 cups white vinegar
      2.5 cups white sugar
      2.5 cups light brown sugar
      1 teaspoon celery seed
      1 teaspoon allspice berries
      1/2 each cinnamon stick
      1.5 teaspoon yellow mustard seed
      1 teaspoon turmeric
      2 cloves garlic

      1. Slice cucumbers in 1/4-inch disks and set aside in a large bowl.
      2. In a medium sauce pot, mix half the water and salt together and heat to dissolve the salt.
      3. Remove mixture from heat and place in a measuring cup. Fill the cup with ice to reach 1.5 cups.
      4. Place the cooled mixture over the sliced cucumbers and allow to sit overnight in the refrigerator.
      5. The next day remove the cucumbers from the brine and rinse well.
      6. Mix all the other ingredients in a medium sauce pot and bring to a boil.
      7. Remove mixture from heat and pour over cucumbers. Place back in the refrigerator and allow to sit for one week.

      What this doesn't say is that you'll put the cucumbers in clean glass jars, then pour the mixture over the cucumbers in the jars. Put the clean lids and bands on the jars and store them in the fridge. Jared was unsure how many pint-sized jars this would make, but I'm guessing about 10. And, you'll notice, no water bath.

      Happy Father's Day!

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      1. I like the looks of the 1st recipe myself - will have to try!

      2. Caron, this is my great-grandmother's B&B pickle recipe that was lost...I'm certain your first recipe is almost exactly the one I have been dreaming of - thank you for this great gift!

      3. Thank you for those memories - I too spent many hours in the Park Manor basement kitchen - watching Pauline make kishka, or Richard the Chef make Roast Beef for 300 people. My favorite treat though was not in the pickle barrel, but upstairs, behind the bar, there would always be a leftover bowl of Maraschino Cherries! Heaven.

        We miss you all and say Happy Fathers Day to Opopie for me.

        Little Bobby Denmark

      4. THANK YOU so much for this post! I work for the current occupants of the Park Manor, The First Baptist Church of Crown Heights. He's been in the building almost 50 years now. Many memories have been made by a different group of Brooklynites, cherished all the same. I ran to the location of those stairs and thought about the love and hope shared by so many for so long in this edifice. Would you happen to have more pictures of the Park Manor?

        1. Wow, so it's still owned by the church. I'd heard that. I'll have to ask my dad about whether there are more pictures. I've only seen one other, of some of the family in front of the awning. The others, I believe, are the wedding pictures on the staircase. Someday when I come to visit, I'll make a trip to the neighborhood and perhaps you could show me around. Thanks for writing!

        2. Yes still owned by the same church! I showed the picture to a few members tonight and their faces lit up with amazement! It is truly a blessing to have discovered your picture and share your family's memory with our church. Would love to see others if you have, either way thank you so much for this one!
          Absolutely, if you are ever in the neighborhood, feel free to contact me and I would love to show you around! is my email. I can't say thank you enough!