"Could I possibly have the recipe?" I asked her.
She hesitated and I presumed it was one of her "secret" recipes that she did not like to share, but no, that was not the problem at all.
"It's a really old recipe with strange directions," she said, "but if you can figure out what they mean and follow them carefully, it does work. It is very important that you follow the directions carefully and don't change anything."
My first thought was that she could easily write it so I could understand it, whatever the problem was, but when she handed it to me to copy for myself, I saw the issues right away.
The recipe called for "a gallon of water and enough salt to float an egg."
"I've never measured it," she said. "I just keep adding salt to a gallon of water until an egg floats."
Oh, well, all right.
The next ingredient was "a ten cent tin of alum." If you have bought any groceries lately, you have probably not seen anything for ten cents, and you probably haven't seen a tin of alum either.
"Just find a small container of alum and buy it," were her not so helpful instructions.
At least the rest of the directions were clear—sort of. On day four when you layered cucumbers and sugar, you assumed it was granulated sugar and you also assumed that it needed to be enough sugar to form a real layer, not just a mere sprinkling. She didn't really help me with that one. "Until it looks right," doesn't help if you've never seen it before.
But I took that recipe home and went at it.
Day 1—Wash and slice enough cucumbers to fill a clear gallon jug. Dissolve enough salt to float an egg in a bit less than a gallon of water, and pour over the cucumbers. Put on the lid and set aside for 24 hours.
It must have taken me 15 minutes to get the salt right. I kept adding it by the tablespoonful, determined to find a set amount and that stupid egg kept sinking right to the bottom of the pot. Finally I tossed the tablespoon measure aside and just poured it in. At something just over a cup, the egg sank under the water, then slowly rose so that a piece of shell the size of a quarter showed above the surface and the egg bobbed up and down freely when I jiggled the pan.
Day 2—Pour out the salt water and rinse the cucumbers. Dissolve the alum in the same amount of clean water and pour it over them. Cover and set aside for another 24 hours. I had finally found the alum at a small town grocery store just ten miles up the highway. Even all those years ago, its price had risen nearly 700% to 69 cents.
Day 3—Pour out the alum water and rinse the cucumbers. Pour distilled white vinegar over them until covered. By that third day, they had shrunk enough that the cucumbers no longer filled the gallon jar, and you needed nearly a gallon of vinegar to cover them.
Day 4—Pour out the vinegar. DO NOT RINSE. Sterilize either a gallon glass jar or several pint jars. Add a layer of pickles and then a layer of sugar, again and again until you fill the jar(s). Put on the lid and set it in your pantry. By this time, the pickles are so preserved, you don't even have to seal them! In a week or two, the sugar will have dissolved and mixed with the vinegar that remains on the pickles and make the sweet pickle juice. Chill before serving.
My family loved these pickles. Some days I put a new pint jar on the table with a meal and it was emptied by the time we finished eating. And here is the thing I want you to think about today: it was an old recipe. It sounded a little odd. In fact, I had to translate it here and there into something that fit today's ingredients. But I still had to follow the recipe for it to turn out right—nothing was intrinsically different about what I did. And it still worked. Never have I seen another recipe like it. No other pickle recipe tells me I don't have to seal them in a canner so that we don't all get botulism. The procedure preserves them that well.
God has a recipe too. People today think it's odd. They look at it and think it won't work anymore. They think they can change it and it will still turn out fine. Certainly no one's spiritual health will suffer if we just change this one little thing to suit us.
Botulism is a pretty nasty disease. So is sin. So is disobedience. Be careful when you decide that God's old recipe is too much trouble, too hard to understand, or no longer relevant. I'd hate for you to get fatally ill over it.
Thus says Jehovah, Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way; and walk therein, and you shall find rest for your souls: but they said, We will not walk therein. And I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet; but they said, We will not hearken. Therefore hear, you nations, and know, O congregation, what is among them. Hear, O earth: behold, I will bring evil upon this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not hearkened unto my words; and as for my law, they have rejected it. (Jer 6:16-19)