COLUMNISTS

Pickle patches practical for large farm families

Jerry Apps
You could tell the size of farm family by noting the size of their pickle patch, as picking pickles was an entire family project, including all of the kids.

In the 1940s and 1950s, just about every farmer in our western Waushara County neighborhood had a pickle patch. Some were as small as a quarter acre; others were as large as an acre or more.  You could tell the size of farm family by noting the size of their pickle patch, as picking pickles was an entire family project, including all of the kids.

Our city cousins wished to correct our language when they visited the farm and we told them about our pickle patch. They tried to show their superior knowledge as they said, “These are not pickle patches. They are cucumber patches. A cucumber does not become a pickle until it is processed.”

We continued to call them pickle patches. From mid-July until early September, if the rains came and warm weather continued, we picked cucumbers two or three times a week. 

We picked them in five-gallon buckets and when a bucket was filled, we dumped pickles into a gunny sack. In the evening, after the milking was done and the cows let out to pasture, we loaded the sacks of pickles into the back of our old 1936 Plymouth and we were off to the pickle factory in Wild Rose. The H. J. Heinz pickle factory, more correctly called a cucumber salting station, was located across the railroad sidetrack from the E. L. Knoke sawmill.

Arriving at the pickle factory, we dumped our sacks of pickles into a big green machine that sorted our pickles into five different sizes. Number ones were the little ones, sometimes called gherkins, and number fives were the big, wrist-size lunkers.  

Payment was based on size. Number ones paid the most money. Number fives the least. We waited until the sorter finished, and each size weighed. After waiting few more minutes, we received a check for our pickles. The pickle patch provided much needed money for our family.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS; A check in hand at day’s end helped us forget a sore back from several hours of pickle picking.

Jerry Apps

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work, go to https://jerryapps.com/ or contact him at jerryappsauthor@gmail.com.