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Pickle Party

A tasty family recipe inspired Terry and Sam Grosz of Delmont to organize a pickle party and invite their entire community.

Pickle packing is more fun with the help of friends and neighbors. At least Sam and Terry Grosz thought so when they began the annual gathering in 1994.

 

Terry and Sam Grosz of Delmont host an annual Pickle Packin’ Party. The gathering began several years ago when the Groszes visited family in California to attend a pickle party hosted by Terry’s cousin. They loved the pickles so much they brought the secret recipe, along with a dozen jars of pickles, back home in a suitcase.

They tried a small batch in their kitchen the following summer, staying true to the family recipe except for adding some vegetables. The next summer they invited friends to help them pack pickles under a tent. After making 100 jars in 12 hours, a Delmont tradition was born.

Eleven years ago the summer heat and flies, plus an ever-growing group, persuaded the Groszes to move the party from a tent to the Delmont Community Center. They use the rear of the building for cleaning the cucumbers and the community room in front for packing and sealing the jars.

Local Hutterite colonies supply cucumbers by the truck full.

The group has grown to about 50 picklers, and the process is considerably more streamlined since that first yard party. They are on a strict schedule, starting at 8 a.m. on a Saturday in July. Forty-five minutes are scheduled for the potluck lunch and the canning and cleaning are finished by 5:30 p.m.

The Groszes purchase the cucumbers from nearby Hutterite colonies, since they grow enough to ensure a uniform size for the pickles.  Invitations are mailed a few weeks before the party. Along with the usual date and time, the clever cucumber notes include an RSVP for how many quarts each partier wants to make. The Groszes order and purchase the pickle ingredients, but everyone brings their own jars, rings and lids and a potluck dish to share at noon. At the end of the day each person pays a per-jar price, based on the cost of the supplies. “It costs roughly $2 per jar,” Terry said. “That’s rent, gas, refreshments, everything.”

The first step to making pickles is prepping the cucumbers.  Hundreds of cukes are dropped in a cattle tank filled with water where the stem and remaining leaves are removed by a group of workers. In 2008 Howard Knodel, from Nome, Alaska, was on stem duty. He was visiting relatives in the area when Terry gave him a jar of pickles to sample. Impressed by the taste and crispness, he decided to join the party. “Terry told me if I was around I should come to the pickle party,” Howard said. “I’ve ordered 16 jars so I can bring them back to Alaska for my wife and boys.”

Delmont's pickle party is a community event, but the recipe remains top secret. Pickle partiers go home with as many jars as they want - for $2 each. 

After being stripped of leaves and stems, the cucumbers are run through the rinse/spin cycle of a washing machine. Three to five gallons of cukes are placed in the washer at a time. Towels are positioned around the sides of the tub to buffer the cucumbers from breaking or bruising. Mike Grosz, Terry’s son, runs the machine. “I’ve been washing cucumbers for about 10 years,” he said. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”

The washed cucumbers are carried to the community room in tubs where an assembly line of chatting, smiling picklers stand waiting on both sides of long tables. A turkey cooker with a canner placed on top serves as the hot water bath for the jars. Peggy Grosz, Mike’s wife, pulls the jars from the hot water. Her PVC coated gloves demonstrate the potential hazard to tender skin. “I’m the hub of the wheel,” she said. “If I quit everybody has to stop.”

Each person on the line after Peggy has a designated task: packing cucumbers, dill, hot peppers, garlic or vegetables, adding alum and finally pouring in the brine and sealing the jars.

Terry won’t share the recipe for the crunchy, savory dill pickles. “When my cousin gave me the recipe years ago, he made me promise not to give it to anyone. He died a year and a half ago, but I’m still keeping my promise.”

He’ll share the pickles though, if you bring your own jars.

Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the May/June 2009 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy, or to subscribe, call 800-456-5117.

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