West Tisbury: Mom’s pickle relish


The vinegar and sugar-sweet smell of pickle relish suffuses my kitchen as I am writing this morning. It’s a recipe my mom used to make and, since her death, I have taken over, making it as Christmas presents for my brothers. We have all adopted our various ways of carrying on, although her casually handwritten recipes often precipitate a volley of phone calls trying to figure out the precise amount of an ingredient or conversations about how one of us has experimented and refined a recipe to make it turn out properly. We don’t know how she did it.

I don’t know how she did what she did, period. She worked all day, then would work into the night doing projects or making her special recipes. The fragrance of baking cookies or bubbling pots of spaghetti sauce, jam, or pickle relish found their way into our dreams, as surely as the starlight coming through our bedroom windows. The sound of baseball games on the radio as she worked was as much a part of summer nights as breathing.

This particular recipe calls for chopping huge amounts of cucumbers, carrots, onions, peppers, and celery that get salted and left in the refrigerator overnight. Remember that she did this in the days before Cuisinarts were invented. Even with the Cuisinart, I spent a couple of hours yesterday preparing the vegetables and brine. Every minute was worth it, as that wonderful smell is my companion for the next three and a half hours. Then comes the messy part of boiling jars and scooping out the sugary relish from pots into jars. Even with newspaper-lined countertops I end up with sticky spots and drips everywhere. But eventually there will be a dozen or so jars of golden-colored pickle relish wrapped and ready to deliver to Connecticut by Christmas time.

It feels funny to be thinking about Christmas while our woods are still green and the air just beginning to turn cool. Leslie Baker came by last week, carrying a bouquet she called “the last zinnias of the summer.” They are too fresh and beautiful to be the last. A coral red variety and my favorite chartreuse “Envy” zinnias, they are sitting on the windowsill behind my living room sofa, the place where I read and write. It’s also the place where all winter long the sun pours in in the afternoon, the place to sit and drink tea with friends when they drop by, as Leslie and I did on Friday, a foretaste of the winter afternoons to come.

Nice to catch up with Leslie. She taught at Featherstone this summer and was busy with the committee getting their new art barn ready for its opening exhibition, so we had seen little of each other. The past two weeks her daughter Emma Gorenberg has been visiting with Leslie and Dave and, of course, Leslie was totally taken up with Emma.

Emma is a veterinarian at Cornell specializing in Large Animal Internal Medicine. Her friend Anna Christensen was also home visiting her parents, Julia and John. Anna is an attorney, practicing in Philadelphia, where she lives with her husband Dan. The girls (I probably shouldn’t call them that anymore, but it’s hard not to think of them as they were) spent plenty of beach time together at Lambert’s Cove, and shared cookout dinners with their families.

Another afternoon I ran into Kathy Logue at Cronig’s and said, “Can you follow me home for tea?” She did, and I had another visit with a dear friend I had hardly seen all summer. Her daughter Megan Mendenhall will be coming home for Columbus Day weekend. Megan is a student at Smith College in Northampton. We started planning for a mutual birthday celebration of some sort when Megan is home. Our three birthdays all come close together and celebrating birthdays is always special.

It’s nice to be reconnecting with friends, as we all are able to do as fall comes and life begins to resettle into its off-season patterns.

Speaking of off-season patterns, the West Tisbury library will reopen on Sunday afternoons beginning next Sunday, Oct. 15. Hours are 1 to 5 pm till next May.

The library’s Annual Fairy House Building Day is this Saturday, Oct. 7, from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm. Please bring natural materials to use and share. You may also drop them off in advance at the library. Stones and sticks, mosses, shells, whatever you think would make a good addition to the building supplies on hand. Please note: If it’s raining, the event will be postponed until Thanksgiving weekend.

Saturday afternoon at 4 pm, there will be an artist’s reception for William O’Callaghan for the opening of his show through the month of October. “Fairy Tale Portrait” features photographs of his sculptures in his garden and in places around the Island, also portraits of his friends and family in fairy tale settings.

The library will be closed on Monday for Columbus Day. Schools and town offices, too.

Tuesday, Oct.10, there will be a presentation by the Cannabis Control Commission beginning at 10:30 am to 1 pm. They want to hear from community members regarding concerns and issues regarding adult use of marijuana on the Island.

Cesar Atzic Marquez will be at the library on Friday, October 13, at 10:30 am for the first of this season’s Open Chamber Music Rehearsals. All are invited, either to bring your instruments and play, or just to listen. Rehearsals will continue through the fall and winter on Fridays this year, instead of Sunday afternoons as they have been the past couple of years.

FYI: Plan ahead for the Island Flu Clinic. It will be held at the Regional High School cafeteria next Saturday, October 14, from 10 am to 1 pm.

I can’t believe it’s October already. The Derby will be over in another week. Days are getting shorter, the change in the light noticeable. I am turning lights on to make dinner and to greet Mike when he comes home from work.