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Pickled Celery

Since Jonah’s death, there have been any number of activities I’ve not engaged in, some because I haven’t been ready, and others because I’m basically a very lazy person and haven’t wanted to expend the energy. This story fits into both categories.

When I was a little boy, I loved when my dad would cut up celery and throw the pieces into a jar of pickle juice (minus the already-eaten pickles). He grew up poor in New Jersey and I imagine this was one of those “delicacies” his family could afford back then. Also, since a child’s favorite foods seem to remain that way for life, pickled celery found a new shelf-life in the fridge of our upper middle-class home. So many times, I witnessed him continuing the practice that had been a tasty part of his own childhood. This, by the way, was also how I came to enjoy jelly juice (I can remember, as a young boy, watching my dad sit at the kitchen table with a tall glass of water, stirring in a spoonful or two of grape jelly) and chewing gum (boxes of which he always kept in the left-hand drawer of the desk at his office).

Jonah loved pickled celery too (see “Shout-outs,” March 9, 2010). As he’s the only one of my three children who ever cared for it, it certainly makes me wonder why. But actually, I was such a picky eater, it’s a curiosity how this peculiar little dish ever found its way into my life. Jonah had been a little more adventurous with food so, once it arrived to our home, it’s not so surprising that he gave it a try. Because he was enthusiastic about continuing this old-time, somewhat quirky tradition, I reveled in serving as the bridge between the generation before me and the one after.

G’pa Herman shares first secrets of pickling with Jonah February 1990

G’pa Herman shares first secrets of pickling with Jonah
February 1990

I suspect that, given time, we’d have discovered more commonalities between Jonah and his Grandpa Herman. There had been more visits with Ellen’s parents when the kids were little, so we got a chance to see that Jonah had shared with Grandpa Jake an insatiable curiosity about how things work, an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, and an unremitting passion to make sure that people are okay. But as far as Grandpa Herman’s interests were concerned, we can only wonder. Jonah never much cared for golf or tennis (or any other sport, for that matter … although he would have delighted in the time my dad put the wet golf balls in the oven and nearly burnt our house down). Academics, in Jonah’s eyes, were a universe away from curiosity and knowledge; my dad would never have been pleased with Jonah’s schoolwork, but I have a feeling they would have eventually shared a love for reading. And Jonah would simply never have tolerated my dad’s willingness to lose money in the stock market; Jonah held on tightly to his savings and, despite his distinctly liberal political views, was very much a fiscal conservative when it came to his own purchasing power (see “Eating (In and) Out of House and Home – Part Two,” August 13, 2010, for more about Jonah and spending money).

But pickled celery? My guess is, it hasn’t skipped a generation of Dreskin men yet (even though Aiden may never let it sully his own gastronomic purity). Since Jonah and I were both great practitioners of slothness, it would always take a long time before we’d muster up the ten minutes to clean, slice and immerse the celery into the juice. We’d then keep a close eye on one another throughout the three days of the pickling process. Our motto was, “No pickled piece of produce before its time.” And woe to the soul that got caught with his fingers in the pickle jar before three days had come and gone. When the celery was ready, we’d heartily consume the batch in just one or two sittings. I relished these moments with my son. 🙂

A week or so back, for the first time in the three years since Jonah left us, I made a batch of pickled celery. The ten minutes of preparation time went smoothly, though not without a sigh or two that he wasn’t there. Three days later, I ate the celery. It was as good as ever. Maybe even a little better, because there’s a remembering that now goes along with it (and a tiny part of me really liked that I didn’t have to share it with anyone). But I get what’s going on: I’m eating for two now.

It’s kind of nice not having anyone stick their fingers in the jar. I interrogated the rest of the family to assess any likely threat that others might make a grab for the tiny, marinated morsels. But they’re all mine now. For better and worse, I’m on my own.

I’m glad pickled celery has come back into my life. I used to smile as Jonah and I prepared the concoction, thinking of how much my dad had enjoyed it. Now, I’ll smile when I think of how much they’d both liked it.

And if you should happen to stop by when a batch is ready, I may even let you have a piece of two.


3 Responses to “Pickled Celery”

  • Paul Kipnes:

    Great story. Thanks for the new memory of Jonah, your dad, and pickled celery. In fact, I’m gonna make some. If I like it, it’ll be always in honor of Jonah.

  • Franny:

    Billy, sounds really yummy to me. Save me a piece and/or I’ll remind you for the recipe when we see you in days – so happy!!

  • I can see his face so purely shocked and jealous at someone sneaking a pickled snack before it’s time! Thanks for drawing him so well, Billy. What a memory!

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