Homemade dill pickles bring in thousands for telethon over the years*

By Correne Martin

Delightfully sour and tangy, cool and crunchy, the perfect snack or sandwich topper—now that’s a good dill pickle.Rose Stram Pickles

Consider yourself lucky if you’ve ever savored Rose Stram’s dill pickles. Labeled as “prize-wining” by her family, though she admits they’ve never garnered any official awards, Rose’s jars of gherkins are sensational, to say the least. Just take it from this privileged taste tester. (Photo-Rose Stram, of Prairie du Chien, has been making her mouthwatering homemade pickles for nearly four decades and, for many of those years, she’s donated them to the Eagles’ Heart and Cancer Telethon to be auctioned for charity. She’s donated a few jars and a cookbook to this year’s telethon. They will be on auction at the Eagles Club.)

Since 1974, Rose has been pickling cucumbers with her own basic recipe, found in a cookbook she can’t even remember today. And for many of those years, the 84-year-old has been making them not only for the grandkids, but also so she can donate them to benefits and fundraisers around the Prairie du Chien area. In the early years of the Eagles’ Heart and Cancer Telethon, Rose, who grew up cooking alongside her mom, started contributing a couple jars in an effort to help raise funds for the cause.

“They usually bring at least $100 or more,” she shared. “A lot of times, they get donated back and bid on again. One time, they brought in over $300.”

Rose can’t recall how many years her pickles have been up for auction on the telethon. But for simplicity’s sake, using easy math, even if Rose’s pickles brought in $100 at the telethon for the last 30 years, it’s realistic to believe her homemade pickles have generated around $30,000 for the Eagles’ Heart and Cancer Telethon. (The telethon will take place this Saturday, Jan. 25, from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., at Bluff View School in Prairie du Chien, on local Channel 6 and at ustream.com.)

That’s quite a contribution, particularly for someone as humble as Rose who said she doesn’t even eat many of her own pickles. It’s her family and the fundraisers that motivate her to keep busy, every summer, personally picking fresh “straight eight” cucumbers from her own garden at 5 a.m. daily—with a little help from a family member or two.

Rose also reaps in several loads of cucumbers from the gardens of her neighbor, Elaine Natwick, and her son Dale, as well as from friends John and Norma Gillitzer. Just as soon as they’re picked, Rose gets to work washing them and prepping them to be canned.

“Fresh pickles are the key,” she said. “When I have enough to make a batch, I make pickles.”

One unorthodox method Rose employs when washing the cucumbers is to use her washing machine to fully clean them. First, she hand washes any mud from the pickles, but then she uses the delicate cycle, without soap of course, to finish the process. She removes the pickles after they spin just once. Overall, this has made the physical part of the work easier for her.

“It was a tip I got from a Country Woman magazine a long time ago,” Rose noted, grinning, “and it works pretty well, especially to get the pimples off. People can’t believe it.”

In addition to the fresh pickles, Rose’s recipe calls for a full head of fresh, green-seeded dill. Another very essential ingredient is well water. When Rose first started making the dills, she used treated city water, and the recipe just wouldn’t turn out. But when she and her husband, Charles, bought the old Oak Grove Inn on Highway 27 and moved out of town, she realized quickly that it was well water that made all the difference. Today, even though she lives in the city of Prairie du Chien again, she has a well pump from which she accesses her pickle water.

If you’re interested in the rest of Rose’s recipe, you’ll have to contact her. She might interest you in buying her self-published cookbook too, which includes the dill pickle recipe on the back of the front cover.
In total, Rose usually cans over 100 quart/gallon jars a summer. Two years ago, she made 110 quarts.

Summer may be far away yet, but the thought of Rose’s homemade pickles may awaken your craving for a picnic lunch—complete with a juicy hamburger and a few dill pickles on the side. As you make plans to enjoy the telethon this Saturday, you might want to stop by the Eagles Club in Prairie du Chien, where Rose’s “prize-winning” pickles will be on auction.

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*By Correne Martin, Courier Press