Bamboo Pickles, Family Recipes and Friendship

My grandmother's recipe notebook includes many handwritten recipes.

My grandmother’s recipe notebook includes many handwritten recipes.

            I love a hand-written recipe.  Some of my favorite recipes are ones that were hurriedly scrawled on the backs of church bulletins, while others are beautifully scripted on special cards.  When a cook takes time to write a recipe by hand, I believe that document seems to reflect some of the writer’s personality.  Although I enjoy the convenience of word processing, I treasure my collection of hand-written recipes.  Don’t get me wrong; I also love a good cookbook.  Every time I vow I will never again buy another one, there is always a tempting new publication, filled with mouth-watering recipes and beautiful color photographs, which finds a spot on my bookshelf.  There should probably be a twelve-step program for cookbook addicts like me.

            Not long before she died, my maternal grandmother, Lora Bolick Minton, gave me her recipe collection.  When she presented me with the three-ring recycled notebook that held directions to make some of the most delicious dishes I ever ate, I realized I owned something that was truly priceless to me.  At the time, we both knew cancer was invading her body and against my feeble protests that she still needed her recipes, she replied, “I want you to have them.  I don’t need them anymore.” 

            I understand the need to have recipes.  While cooking is my stress relief and my dream job would be to professionally develop new recipes with the organic ingredients I grow at my farm, it is comforting to read step-by-step instructions that combine specified ingredients to produce consistent results.  Recipes satisfy the librarian in me and I appreciate their orderliness, but perhaps there is more to recipes than just making delicious food.

            Along with Granny’s handwritten recipes are others she clipped from newspapers, picked up at the supermarket in the store’s weekly newsletter or received in the mail from friends.  One unique recipe is “for pneumonia” and is in Granny’s mother’s handwriting.  Mary Elizabeth Bean Bolick, born in 1885, raised ten of her eleven children to adulthood and in the early 1900s, with no nearby hospitals and few local physicians, Caldwell County residents often relied upon medicinal herbs, tinctures and other homemade medicines to treat illnesses.  This home folk remedy is a mixture of camphor oil, carbolic acid, turpentine, and lard, dissolved over heat.  The recipe instructs to dip warm, clean cloths into the mixture and apply them to the chest of the sick person, changing cloths every fifteen minutes.  I am not sure if Granny ever used this recipe, but I am glad to have this special gift, with its insight into a more self-sufficient time, from my great-grandmother. 

            Other recipes I treasure are those shared with me by friends.  Margaret Carter Martine, a longtime friend, has given me many recipes over the years, some in her handwriting, such as a delicious roasted potato dish, and others copied from typed cards, magazine articles and cookbooks.  Margaret and I share a love of good food, prepared well, and enjoyed with friends and family.  Of all the recipes Margaret has given me over the years, my favorite is one that was created by her grandmother, Edith Kyles Ferguson.  A resourceful woman, Mrs. Ferguson used the bamboo growing on her farm to make pickles and it was her recipe, prepared by her daughter, Edith Ferguson Carter, that delighted my children’s taste buds with the salty, tangy flavor and crisp texture.  When Margaret taught me to harvest and pickle bamboo, my kids were thrilled to finally have all the bamboo pickles they wanted and they often, for a snack, opened jars and ate every single pickle.

            I make pickled bamboo each year and though my pickling solution is slightly different than the original recipe, (I use the handwritten recipe given to me by my husband’s grandmother, Vestal Anderson) my children, now adults, eagerly look forward to enjoying this special treat.  Last fall, I shared some pickled bamboo with a group of my high school classmates.  (Yes, we still stay in touch and although we live in different towns, we often speak and frequently visit each other.)  Two of my friends asked if I would share the recipe and we made plans to harvest and pickle this spring. 

            Last week, we met at the home of our former high school English teacher, Louise Adderholdt, who allowed us to harvest from her abundant crop of bamboo.  Louise’s husband, George, graciously showed us the property where a thick grove of mature canes and emerging shoots were visible.  We set to work, and despite the warm day, we donned long-sleeved shirts, jeans and gloves to protect us from prickly bamboo limbs and lurking creatures in the thick vegetation.  Wielding pruning shears and a sharp machete, we cut our way through the patch and dragged the shoots to a collection point.  Karen and Kim decided to take some mature canes to use in their gardens to trellis bean vines and we trimmed branches until the long poles were clean. 

Karen and Kim display our harvest

Karen and Kim display our harvest

            After dividing our harvest, we loaded our vehicles and lashed the long poles to Kim’s Jeep and Karen’s truck with cords and a bit of duct tape supplied by helpful George.  As we drove away, we noted we were hot, dirty and extremely happy.  Bamboo harvesting is probably not an activity most people would enjoy, but our group looked forward to processing pickles and eating the fruits of our labor. 

 

Bamboo fills the back of Karen's truck.  These shoots will yield thousands of tasty pickles.

Bamboo fills the back of Karen’s truck. These shoots will yield thousands of tasty pickles.

Kim with her Jeep, packed full of bamboo

Kim with her Jeep, packed full of bamboo

Karen with bamboo poles lashed to the side of her truck.  She reported some strange looks from other drivers

Karen with bamboo poles lashed to the side of her truck. She reported some strange looks from other drivers

 

 

Bamboo Pickles

Harvest tender shoots of fresh bamboo.  Carefully strip each outer husk from one section at a time.  Working quickly, slice the bamboo into rings.  Bamboo begins to harden when it is exposed to air, so it is easier to immediately slice each section as it is peeled.

Kim demonstrates slicing exposed bamboo.

Kim demonstrates slicing exposed bamboo.

Work carefully around each joint section and peel the tough outer skin from the joint sections.  The joints, canned separately, make excellent canape servers for egg salad or other appetizers.  The tender tops of the shoots are difficult to work for pickles, so those may be used for another dish or discarded.  When slicing, if you notice a dull sound, discard the bamboo, since it will be too tough for pickling.

Bamboo joints

Bamboo joints

After all bamboo is prepared, place in a large pot, cover with water and bring to a gentle boil, cooking for about 10 minutes and then drain bamboo and immediately place in ice water to blanch.  Using pint jars (wide mouth are easier), add a tiny bit of alum, a dash of red pepper flakes and a clove or two of garlic (I use fresh from my garden) and a sprig of dill.  Dried dill may be substituted.  To make the pickling solution, combine 2 cups white vinegar and 1 3/4 cups water in a large pot.  Add 4 tablespoons kosher salt and heat and stir over medium heat until salt is dissolved.  Note: Gran Anderson’s original recipe includes 3 tablespoons sugar, but I eliminate this from my pickling solution.

Dill, garlic, red pepper and alum are in the bottom of each jar

Dill, garlic, red pepper and alum are in the bottom of each jar

Pack hot jars with bamboo rings, separating joints, if you like.  Gently press to pack tightly.  Add pickling solution and leave about 1/2 inch head space.  Place hot jars in water bath, boil for about 10 minutes.

Water should completely cover jars, boil gently

Water should completely cover jars, boil gently

Immediately remove jars from water, invert onto large, heavy towel for six minutes.  Inverting helps to sterilize the head space.

Invert jars for 6 minutes, then upright

Invert jars for 6 minutes, then upright

After jars are inverted for six minutes, place upright and cover jars with towel.  Leave for 24 hours and check to be sure each jar is sealed.  If any do not seal, you may repeat the water bath process or store in the refrigerator.

This year, I added some hot and sweet peppers to some jars, for visual interest and added flavor

This year, I added some hot and sweet peppers to some jars, for visual interest and added flavor

 

Canned bamboo joints

Canned bamboo joints

For a delicious, crisp pickle, full of tart flavor, these bamboo pickles are hard to beat.  Harvesting bamboo with friends is a bonding experience.  Making pickles with a generations-old family recipe?  Priceless . . .