Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon has a great website full of author interviews. Recently, I was reading one with Matthew Crawford who wrote a book called Shop Class as Soulcraft. Crawford has a Ph.D. in philosophy and owns a motorcycle repair shop in Richmond. He argues that our society no longer values manual labor. Here’s what he said to Powell’s:
[S]ome people, including some who are very smart, would rather be learning to build things or fix things [than getting a liberal arts education and working in an office]. Why not honor that? I think one reason we don’t is that we’ve had this fantasy that we’re going to somehow take leave of material reality and glide around in a pure information economy. Crawford believes we’re disconnected from handicraft not just at school and on the job but in our role as consumers, too:
[I]f you try to fix your own car nowadays, you may pop the hood and find there’s another hood under the hood; there’s a design trend to “hide the works.” It’s hard to get a handle on things. When the world lacks a basic intelligibility, it doesn’t elicit action and responsibility. The experience of individual agency can be elusive.
Coincidentally (or perhaps not), right next to the Crawford interview is an interview with Karen Solomon, author of Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It: And Other Cooking Projects. Solomon considers herself a crafter and wants to encourage people to “take that pride and ownership with their food that maybe they didn’t have before because they were buying it at the supermarket.” She says:
It becomes a fun craft project; it becomes something to be proud of; it becomes something to share as a conversation piece, and in that manner, it can be kind of infectious. To say, “Oh, do you like that butter that you’re eating on your toast, friend? Well, I made that myself.So what does all this have to do with me? Lots! If anyone has taken leave of material reality, it’s me. I have a liberal arts education. I work in an office in front of a computer all day. I live in a small apartment in a big city: no garden, garage, or shed. I have no idea how to fix a car. The only time I really get to work with my hands is when I make dinner, and frankly, when you live with a master craftsman like Lisa, it can be hard to make yourself useful. [Ed: Aw, that's sweet. You can make yourself useful and clean the bathroom. Kidding. Or not?]
That’s why the idea of making pickles spoke to me. When my dad told me that my great grandfather used to pickle cucumbers and green tomatoes in the backyard of their Montreal home every summer, that was all I needed to hear: I knew pickling was in my blood. I ordered up my jars, scoured the web for a simple recipe, and hit the farmers market with Lisa in a matter of days.
Our pickles aren't even ready to eat yet (they need a couple more weeks to achieve full flavor), but we're already planning our next attempt. Call it pickling as soulcraft. Call it reconnecting with my roots. Just don't call it a barrel of fun (because that's corny).
Spicy dill pickles
Adapted from Jamie at Home.
(Makes six 1-quart jars)
For the pickling liquid:
1 quart cider or white wine vinegar
1 quart water
2 Tbsp. sea salt
For the pickling marinade:
2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 large red onion, sliced thinly
1 fresh red chili, deseeded and chopped (we used 1 to 1 Tbsp. red chile flakes)
Vegetables and herbs:
2 lbs. cucumbers
1 handful dill sprigs, plus extra
Make sure you have some small sterilized jars ready to go. (To sterilize, dunk the jars and lids in boiling water for a minute or two. Remove and place on a clean dish towel.) Bring the pickling liquid ingredients to the boil in a big pan. Put the pickling marinade ingredients into a large bowl with your chosen herbs and mix well.
Place the vegetables in the boiling pickling liquid and leave for around 3 minutes—they'll probably rise to the surface, so keep pushing them down to ensure they are all immersed. Lift the pieces out with a slotted spoon and place them into your bowl of pickling marinade. Toss together—it will smell fantastic. (It did.)
Pretty much straightaway, put the hot vegetables and pickling marinade into your sterilized jars, filling them to the very top. Fill the jars with the pickling liquid, as well, dividing it evenly among the jars. Cover the vegetables completely with the liquid and put the lids on tightly.
Put the jars aside until they're cool. (We took the additional step of processing the filled jars by submerging them in boiling water for 15 minutes. This seals the wax so they’ll keep longer. Through subsequent research I’ve learned that processing the jars for a shorter period of time will give you a crisper pickle. We’ll see.)
Store the jars somewhere cool and dark—it’s best to leave them for about 2 weeks before opening so the vegetables really get to marinate well, but if you absolutely cannot wait, you can eat them sooner.