The biggest source of entertainment in my husband’s family is that I’m a prissy city girl (yes, one of them actually called me that). Which is HILARIOUS, because I’m no such thing. I’m a camper, a hiker, a fisher, I can shoot a gun, and I even taught my husband the joys of off-road driving (which my wallet regrets to this day).
Ryan’s whole extended family really does live in teeny towns, and it can be a culture shock to visit them. His birth town in Nebraska has one stop light, everyone in town meets for coffee and gossip in the morning at the gas station, and when I was there I got to pet sheep and pick a watermelon. And a cow tried to kill me. Presumably because he had a problem with prissy city girls who want to pet cute cows. The best lunch in town was at the elementary/junior/high school cafeteria, so that’s where we ate. I also ate rocky mountain oysters, which the locals ordered for me as a joke. But I ate them even though I knew what they were, because I can take a joke and I’ll try anything once.
Last year when his paternal grandma died, we visited his father’s hometown in Montana. This one is a bit larger (3 gas stations and a Pizza Hut), but it was definitely hard living compared to what I’m used to. And it was COLD. Seriously, how do people survive there? I’ve never been hugged so much in my life and we were running into Ryan’s distant relatives everywhere we went. But, I didn’t understand the food and was dying for a salad by the time we got back to Billings for our flight home.
After those two trips, I was more than a bit tentative when we found out last week that his maternal grandma had passed away… so we were off to Turtle Lake, North Dakota. Population 581. Home of the USA & World Championship Turtle Races. I immediately ate a bowl full of veggies and started planning snacks I could pack in case I couldn’t find anything that sounded ok to eat. Also, after our trip to Eastern Montana last year, I was expecting plains of dry grass and bare trees.
Oh, let me tell you. I couldn’t have been more wrong about what North Dakota was going to look like. It was GORGEOUS. Everything was so green and pretty, the weather was perfect, and there were fields of giant sunflowers as far as you could see.
As to the food… it was hit or miss. There was a LOT of fried food, which is good for a treat, but hard to eat all the time. That said, the people in Turtle Lake almost all have gorgeous gardens in their pretty yards. Ryan and I spent 2 hours one morning walking the whole town checking out gardens.
After the funeral, some local ladies provided a great lunch for us of ham sandwiches, pickles and baked goods. I took one bite into a pickle and was a changed person. They were homemade! I’ve never had a homemade pickle! It was like nothing I’ve ever tasted, and I immediately started gushing loudly about them, which got me a lot of weird looks (weirder looks than the ones we got when we showed up in the one town cafe for breakfast and accidentally took someone’s usual table).
Turns out, almost everyone makes their own pickles there. Not only that, they jar and can all kinds of things! Beets (blech!), apple pie filling, ruhbarb pie filling, veggies, fruits, jams, pasta sauce, preserves… I was in HEAVEN when Ryan’s Aunt took me down to her basement and showed me all that she had stored there.
The highlights of my trip were fishing in Turtle Lake listening to Canadian geese while watching a gorgeous sunrise… and making my own pickles! Ryan and I helped his Aunt make her yearly pickle stash, and it was so easy! Instead of the regular recipe format, check out the actual recipe card below. All it takes is a cooled brine, cucumbers, pickling spice, garlic, dill (fresh) and hot dried peppers. Easy! I can’t wait to try these here.
So fine, I am a city girl, but visiting small towns is such an education. We had a good time, we get to add another pin to our world map, and I’ve got about 10 recipes (mostly German food) I collected up there that I can’t wait to try. First up is pickles, of course. Anyone got any cucumbers in their backyard?
UPDATED: Seems like people want to actually try this, but the recipe needs some decoding. So, I give you my version of how we did the pickles below. I can’t remember if we added the extra 2 Tb of pickling spice into the container, but the recipe calls for it, so I included it.
- 11 C. Water
- 2 C White Vinegar
- 1/2 C. Pickling Salt + some
- As many cucumbers as you can get ahold of
- Dried red chile peppers
- Garlic cloves, whole
- Dill (fresh)
- Bring water, vinegar and 1/2 C. pickling salt to a boil for 3 minutes. Allow to cool completely.
- Prep cucumbers by cleaning them and removing any spines if they’re fresh. Cut the ends off, then cut each cucumber into pickle-sized spears. Usually in 1/4ths, but 1/6ths if it’s a big cucumber.
- Put a handful of dill in the bottom of a large container with a lid. Like a large ice cream container. Place cut cucumber spears on top of the dill so that they’re standing upright. If there’s a lot of room left, you can layer more cucumbers on top (they can be laying down, it doesn’t matter).
- Throw in 5 garlic cloves, 2-3 dried red chile peppers, 2 Tb pickling spice and another small handful of dill. Cover the entire thing with the cooled brine. Close container and place on counter top overnight.
- Put container in the fridge for a week, then eat or jar.