November 3, 2014
pickles à la chaux éteinte
(lime pickles)
In early June, 1969, I quit school. I had just completed my second year at Rochester Institute of Technology, and my third year of college. Ever since I was first abandoned at the door of kindergarten class in 1953, a challenge I accepted somewhat stoically, daily attendance at school was never the high point of my day. I didn’t hate it completely, but I was bored for most of the thousands of hours I spent sitting on the hardwood chairs typical of every elementary and high school since the creation of the one‑room school house. I liked most of the subject matter, but very few of my teachers made learning interesting.
When I quit school, I did so with the intention of becoming a professional photographer. I had spent most of my off time the previous three years taking pictures, and I found it more fun than class and completing assignments. So I left school and opened a business doing advertising photography. I had a few clients, but I was severely undercapitalized and never made enough money to quit my second job. Plus, I was not a good photographer. A Notice to Report for Induction from the Selective Service System convinced me to close my business, sell all my cameras and other equipment, and eventually return to school to get a degree.
Three months after I quit school, I crashed a party and met the woman who, five months later, became my first wife. Eight years later, when we became separated, the first of three events that would vastly improve my photographic abilities occurred. It was a short course through the University of California taught by Ruth Bernhard. I remember nothing of what she said to us in her thick German accent. I do remember thinking that I had wasted my money. One day she had us walk around her neighborhood in the Pacific Heights section of San Francisco and look at everything through the bore of a cardboard toilet‑paper tube. It seemed like a stupid thing to do, but I was eventually able to narrow my vision without the aid of the tube. The narrower vision helps me see more like the camera lens. I now recommend the exercise to others.
The second event was another class I took years later. This one was taught at a local community center by a former assistant to Minor White. The main thing I learned from this class was to separate the temporal and spatial modes when I take pictures. Being able to ignore the temporal aspect of the picture has allowed me to spend more time on composition.
The third event was the invention of the digital camera and digital editing software. The digital camera with its viewing screen made it possible for me to easily revert back to my view camera origins. Today, even though my subjects usually have sufficient illumination for me to hand‑hold the camera, I always mount it on a tripod and use a cable‑connected shutter release. I have reverted to setting up each shot as if I was still using my large format view camera. It is rare when I shoot more than three poses of a dish that appears on this blog.
Getting back to my first wife: She was from the middle of Kansas. Her ancestors had homesteaded the land, and when I first met her, her mother’s father was still growing wheat and living on the family farm. Her mother used to put up sweet, bright green cucumbers that she called lime pickles. They were quite good, but I never really understood how the pickles got there name. Even after she told me that they were treated with lime, I kept thinking about the fruit and not the other stuff. Recently, I learned that calcium hydroxide is also referred to as pickling lime.
My former mother‑in‑law passed a number of years back, and I am in infrequent contact with my ex‑wife, but I recently asked her for her mother’s lime pickle recipe. She emailed me the recipe that the following preparation is based on. The recipe calls for seven pounds of cucumbers, more than a sack of sugar, and a very large bottle of distilled vinegar. It also calls for green food coloring.
Since I was preparing the recipe for small serving sizes, I reduced the seven pounds of cucumbers to just five cucumbers, an amount that would approximately fill a quart jar. I also made the pickling solution proportionally less sweet and less acidic. I tried one batch with the food coloring, but in the final recipe, I left the color natural. I didn’t skip the very important calcium‑hydroxide treatment, but I did reduce the concentration by half since its solubility rate (0.173 g⁄100 mL at 20 °C) is so low.
Kirby, or other pickling, cucumbers, sliced into 4‑mm (532‑in) thick rounds
calcium hydroxide
white wine vinegar
granulated sugar
fine salt
pickling spice
1. Place the sliced cucumbers in a non‑reactive bowl. Add tap water to cover. Drain the water and measure its quantity. Make a 1% solution by adding 1 g of calcium hydroxide for each 100 ml (338 fl oz) of water. This concentration is still much higher its solubility. When well mixed, the combination forms a very unstable suspension. The undissolved powder will settle out almost immediately after stirring. (If you must use English measurements, the ratio is about 1 t of calcium hydroxide for each 114 c of water.)
2. Return the cucumber slices and calcium‑hydroxide solution to the bowl. Set aside overnight to soak. Stir the mixture occasionally, if you have a mind to.
3. The next morning, drain the cucumber slices, and rinse them very well. Return the slices to the bowl and cover with cold water. Let soak for 3 hours or so. Change the water a couple of times, if you feel like it.
4. Create a pickling solution using the following quantities per 100 ml of the original calcium‑hydroxide solution: 40 ml (223 T) water; 60 ml (14 c) white wine vinegar; 70 g (523 T) granulated sugar; 0.3 g (116 t) fine salt; and 0.5 g (18 t) pickling spice. For example, if the original solution quantity was 750 ml, each quantity below would be multiplied by 750 ml divided by 100 ml, or 712. Stir the pickling solution until the sugar is dissolved. The quantity of the pickling solution prepared will be about fifty percent more than the original solution.
5. Add the drained cucumber slices to the pickling solution. Set aside overnight to soak.
6. The next morning, place the cucumber slices and the pickling solution in a saucepan. Bring to a very low boil. Cook for about 30 minutes, or until the slices become a little translucent.
7. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the hot cucumber slices to clean canning jars. Pour the hot pickling liquid over the slices to totally fill the jars. Discard any extra pickling liquid. Screw on the lids.
8. Refrigerate when cool.

© 2014 Peter Hertzmann. All rights reserved.