CSAcation: “Girl Books” and Dill Pickles

When I went to the market last week to pick up my CSA, I was instructed to take 6 adorable little cucumbers – pickling cucumbers. About 3-5 inches long and dark green, these lovely little veggies presented me with a very obvious, very mystifying agenda:  I must make pickles.

As I’ve already said in my post about making strawberry jam, in my imagination, making pickles (or, to go broader, the act of pickling) is a steamy, fussy, dangerous endeavor. But surely, just as jam can be made through refrigeration, so too could pickles. Right?

What would happen to us if girls only ever read “girl books”?

I stopped on my way out of the market to take a picture of a ridiculous shelving label on top of a row of Baby-sitters Club books (my market has a small used book store attached to it). I loved those books when I was little. They tapped into that part of me that desperately loved babies and wanted so badly to be old enough to babysit. Much like with Sex and the City and other ensemble shows, it was always fun to figure out which babysitter I identified with. I’ll say, nowadays, Mary Anne, because I still tend to be a little more on the quiet side, and maybe a little bit Dawn. I always remember her as being into gardening and nature things, which I translate into adult terms of saying she’d definitely be a girl who buys fresh, local produce (or grows her own), cooks, etc. Or maybe she would have gone into the Peace Corps or something, which isn’t something I would do. That’s the beautiful part about those girls:  they’re frozen in time, and that means we can imagine the most amazing futures for them.

The sign, then, on the shelf sort of bugged me in a way that surprised me. It labels a shelf that contains both the Baby-sitters Club books and also Boxcar Children. While my brother definitely wouldn’t have read Baby-sitters Club books, he was just as into the Boxcar Children as I was. He even bought a Boxcar Children Cookbook at one of the Scholastic Book Fairs when we were little. These books weren’t shelved correctly.

But truly, those shelves aren’t labelled correctly. What would have happened to all of us if girls only ever read “girl books”? And for that matter, what constitutes a boy book or a girl book? It seems an arbitrary distinction. In boy books, a character survives in the wild? So do all four of the Boxcar Children. In girl books, their are gushy relationships? How is that different from the relationships boys form with their dogs in boy books?

I think of friends of mine who do things that, historically, probably weren’t considered open to women. My friend Andrea used to run her own business where she took people out on kayaking trips, guiding them through weather, pointing out birds and trees, and traversing water like she was born in it. My girlfriend, Amanda, serves in the military, deploying on a carrier just like the boys. And I think those things happen because somewhere along the way, the divide between “boy books” and “girl books” disintegrated.

In high school, my dad introduced me to one of his friends, and as is the way with grown-ups who meet high schoolers, he asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. “I’m going to be a chef,” I said. No wavering. No tonal question mark at the end (I’m going to be a chef?). And no “wanting to.” I was going to. That was that.

The man grimaced and then looked at my dad. “You going to break the news to her, or should I?” he asked. Then he turned to me. “Women can’t be chefs.”

Gasp! Sacrilege! Keep that hate speech away from me!

Looking back now, I think that was probably a man who chose his books based on what was on the boy shelf.


I took my little pickling cucumbers out to the car, got out my phone, and looked up “refrigerator pickles” and started my search. I do traditionally “girl” tasks – I like gardening and cooking (so do a lot of men, I know, just follow me on this). My girlfriend describes the way I act in the kitchen as having a “quiet confidence,” which makes me happy. I also write, which I’m considerably less confident about. Both of those areas of life – cooking, writing – are historically male-dominated. In some ways, that domination still plays itself out, but mostly, it’s integrated. Boys and girls in the same kitchen. Boy books and girl books mingled (written by, or intended to be read by). And a jar of pickles for everyone!

After two days of pickling, I finally got to try my little creations today, and they’re wonderful. I’m so astounded when I try something foreign to me and it actually works. They’re spicier than I thought they’d be, so I might scale back on the garlic – but then again, I might not. It’s a pleasant spice. The dill shines through, and they are just vinegary enough. I’m very pleased.

Refrigerator Dill Pickles

Jar(s) with lid(s)

6 pickling cucumbers

10 sprigs fresh dill

4-8 cloves fresh garlic, minced

6 tablespoons white vinegar

1-2 tablespoons kosher salt

Distilled or spring water

1. Wash and sanitize your jars and lids.

2. Slice the ends off the pickles, then cut in half lengthwise, then cut those halves in half, lengthwise. You should end up with four long quarters of each cucumber.

3. Depending on the size of your jar, you may be able to get all your ingredients into one jar; I had to use two. If that’s the case with you, divide your ingredients evenly between the jar, putting in the garlic, dill, salt, cucumbers, vinegar, and topping off (right to the brim) with spring water.

4. Screw top on tightly and give it a good shake.

5. Put the jars on top of the refrigerator for 24 hours. After that, give the jars a good shake again, then turn upside down, and leave for another 24 hours. After that, put in refrigerator, or open it up and enjoy!

Recipe adapted from a recipe that appeared on diyNatural

4 thoughts on “CSAcation: “Girl Books” and Dill Pickles

  1. I never read anything but the first Boxcar children book (to my shame, I was more into the cheap shock of Goosbumps). My favorite was vintage Hardy Boys, as my neighbor had a garage full of hardcover copies from about 1945 (and this had a lot to do with my obsession with that period). There were two Nancy Drew books, which I enjoyed just as much and never thought of as “for ” girls.

    Then when I was about 9 or 10, I went to the library with my grandfather and brought home a stack of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books. My grandmother gives me a raised eyebrow and says, “Why are you reading Nancy Drew? That’s for GIRLS.”, followed by a barrage of insensitive questions designed to determine whether I was homosexaul or not. Deeply ashamed of myself, I never touched another “girls” book for the rest of my childhood (until I read Fried Green Tomatoes a decade later, but that was allowed because my grandmother liked the movie).

    Social conditioning is behind most of the boy/girl distinction. In the 1920s-1940s, girls have much tougher and more progressive roles in fiction than they did in real life. This was when Nancy Drew was a serious detective and Lois Lane carried a handgun in her purse. But after the war, hyper-femininity was socially mandated, and all female fiction had to be softened. In the early ’60s, the Nancy Drew books were bowlderized to make her nicer (For example, “nancy said” would be changed to “nancy said sweetly”, ). As feminism took root in real life, mothers were horrified and demanded that their daughters reading material not endorse such blasphemy.

    Books are catching up with the times, though. In the adult world, a guy can read Patricia Cornwall or Kathy Reichs (both with female leads) and its just crime novel, not chick lit. But the dichotomy still exists for children, and it’s aided by the homophobic backlash of the 80s and 90s. Boys pretty much get shamed (read: verbally abused) if they don’t fit a certain mold, the “tough guise” as Jackson Katz calls it. Cover designs are very obvious, and certain books a boy just can’t be seen with.

    Maybe I’m wrong, but girls do seem to have a little more freedom in this regard (thanks to feminism, perhaps?). As a child, mother read the Hardy Boys without any questions or remarks about “boy books.”

    Funny you bring this up in a blog about pickles … making pickles was something I never got to help with as a child because of the “women’s work” concept. It was okay to help granddaddy in the garden, but to try and help grandmommy with the pickles would’ve made me seem “light in the loafers” (to use their term), so I never asked.

    (Sorry to write a book length entry here, but gender studies are my passion.)

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