The more people you love, the broader the definition of family becomes.
I was 11 when my family moved from Oklahoma to Connecticut — a move that became a formative experience for me and my appreciation of having friends. For a long time, I felt like no one knew me — not really. Not longer than a year or two. But as I've grown older and lived away from most of my family for years upon years, the friends I've made have become a kind of family to me.
And when I married my husband, I inherited his family, too.
I may not have any grandparents, but I have a brother, sisters, parents, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, their parents and siblings, my husband's parents and siblings, cousins, second-cousins and cousins-in-law.
Is that a thing?
It should be.
That is how I refer to my husband's cousin's wife, Tanya. I call her my relative, even though we're not technically related — not by blood, anyway.
Tanya's blood flows from the Ukraine all the way to Utah with the customs, traditions and family values from her heritage still intact. It seems to me her family lives in a way that families did in an age gone by because the rest of the world has slowly lost the elements that keep us together. When Tanya's family built a new home recently, they made room for her mother and grandmother to live there too, so four generations of their family could continue to live under one roof.
Her grandmother makes borscht while her mother goes to work. They tend a garden and grow everything they need: fresh dill, cucumbers, beets, onions, cabbage, beans, tomatoes, squash and more. They each do their part in a family that seems to have the secret recipe for maintaining stability, support and a genuine affinity for each other.
One of the times I visited Tanya and her family, her grandmother brought out a bowl of freshly made borscht with whole cloves of garlic, a freshly baked loaf of bread, some sliced watermelon — and homemade pickles.
The whole meal was a delight, made from scratch, with simple means. But I am a sucker for homemade pickles. I love nothing more than the crunch and crisp of a sweetly salted homemade pickle. I raved about the taste as Tanya translated my words into Ukrainian for her grandmother to understand.
I may not have all of the ingredients for multi-generational family togetherness, but one sunny afternoon, I did learn the recipe for the perfect pickle. An art form like that — and the generations of family knowledge behind it — should never be forgotten.
Viera Orishich's pickle recipe
Ingredients per jar:
3 garlic cloves
6-8 whole peppercorns
2-3 whole allspice kernels
small bunch of dill
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoon vinegar
10-15 small pickling cucumbers
Instructions: Wash the cucumbers really well, cut off the ends, and soak in plain water for two hours. Make sure each cucumber is not split or soft or it can spoil the whole jar.
Sterilize your jars (it is recommended you use wide-mouth jars) in the dishwasher and boil canning lids before use.
Put garlic, peppercorns, all spice, dill and bay leaf on the bottom of the jar, then carefully pack cucumbers in tightly, but not so tightly that they will be smushed when you put the lid on. Add salt, sugar and vinegar to top of pickles, then pour boiling water into the middle of the jar until the cucumbers are covered (pour the water into the middle of the jar because the glass can shatter if you pour the boiling water down the side of the jar). Fill to the rim.
When you are ready to seal the jars, place a rag on the bottom of a pickling pot, then a wire rack to hold the bottles, then another rag on top of the bottles to protect them from shattering while being processed. Fill the pot with water until the tops of the jars are covered.
Bring the water to a boil, then once the water is boiling, set your timer for 10 minutes. When the time is up, remove the jars carefully from the pot and screw rings on top tightly, then let them sit. Pickles are ready to be eaten after sitting for a few days.
Beware — if the water around the pickles begins to appear muddy, despite all of your hard work, the pickles have spoiled. Begin again.
Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother, Fleeta.