Pickle party: annual canning event draws fans from all over to Delmont

DELMONT — They’re claimed to be “the best pickles you’ve ever had.”

It’s a big statement, sure. But there may be justification for the Grosz family’s pickles. About 50 people—some traveling up to three hours away—recently spent their entire Saturday on a pickle-making assembly line. And they paid to take some of these famous pickles home.

For each of the last 18 years, family and friends and some newcomers have made their way to Delmont to be a part of the annual Grosz Pickle Packin’ Party held at the Delmont Community Center. Nearly 2,000 quart jars of pickles were produced during this annual one-day event.

Organizers Terry and Sam Grosz send out invitations more than a month in advance to prepare for the event. Starting out as a way to hold a family reunion and see distant relatives, now there’s what could be considered a “pickle family.”

“We see some of these people once a year and it’s grown to the point where I don’t know every person here,” Terry said. “But people are here to have fun and make some pretty good pickles in the process.”

The process starts in the back of the community center, where five propane turkey cookers are brewing up the brine for the pickles. It is kept as close to boiling as possible before it goes into the jars. By the end of the day, they’ve mixed hundreds of gallons of brine.

In the front of the building, a U-shaped assembly line is formed, where cucumbers are the first item in the jar, followed by a litany of vegetables and seasonings before the brine is added and the jars are sealed.

One of the sons in the operation, Brian Grosz, wears welder’s gloves to keep from getting burned cooking the brine. He said the pilgrimage to Delmont for the pickles starts with their quality.

“They’re good pickles, number one. They’re good pickles,” he said. “But I think so many people just like spending time with each other because we have a good time with each other.”

History of the party

For the last 18 years, the Grosz family has been holding a canning party on a July weekend. Terry said the idea started about 20 years ago when his cousins from California—who had 15 children—invited them out to participate in their pickling party as a way to see the family. They brought home 18 jars of pickles. When the party started, it was just five members of the Grosz family under a tent in the yard.

“It took us all day to make 120 jars,” Terry said. “The next year we had a few more and then it was a few more after that. We moved into the community center about 14 to 15 years ago and it just keeps growing.”

This year, the final count for jars made was 1,967, a figure that flexes each year depending on the number of people and how many supplies are available. The record for quart jars produced by the group in one day is 2,800.

“It can get to be a bit unwieldy,” Sam joked.

There are a few ground rules for the party. There’s a maximum of 36 jars per person packing pickles. People are allowed to deviate from the basic recipe but they have to bring their own ingredients that they wish to add. The cucumbers—each not longer than about five inches—come from about seven or eight area Hutterite Colonies near Delmont, Terry says.

About 85 invitations were sent out this year and it’s first-come, first-serve for the participants. There’s more than six hours of pickling, and a potluck lunch splits the day at noon.

The recipe

Terry made a promise to his California cousin years ago that he would never give it up, and he’s stayed true to his promise. He’s refuted inquiries from as far away as Arizona for the recipe. But he admits it’s not hard to figure out and there’s one secret ingredient he can always control.

“It’s TLC—tender, love and care,” Terry said. “Honestly, that makes a big difference.”

In addition to the vegetables, the brine includes vinegar, salt and cider to make the magic happen.

“Other than that, I don’t know what makes them so good,” he said. “We buy good cucumbers and clean them up good. It’s a combination of things.”

Speaking of cleaning the cucumbers, the Grosz family cleans by hand but also uses two washing machines that are loaded up. Bath towels line the inside of the washing machine and isn’t too rough on the cucumbers as long as it is set on low, Terry said.

On the assembly line, Terry said some people can become territorial about having the same job each year.

“If it was a dog or a skunk, they would have marked their area with their leg in the air,” Terry joked.

David Malters, of Mitchell, was not one of those people. He had the job of pouring the brine into the jars. They try to keep the brine as close to boiling as possible.

“If anyone else wants to burn their hands, they can,” he quipped.

He’s one of the people who has put in a few years at the pickle party and says the pickle jars have a habit of disappearing when family is around.

“I can’t hardly keep the stuff around,” he said. “They’re as advertised.”

‘They’ve got a zing’

The Grosz family was among the fortunate ones in the May 10 tornado that hit Delmont, avoiding serious damage from the storm that destroyed dozens of homes. On the invitations for this year’s event, a drawing of a tornado was sketched out and reading “a tornado doesn’t stop us … we’re getting pickled” with two cartoon pickles.

“I really don’t think we ever gave it a second thought about not having it,” Terry said. “But it certainly had a huge impact on our town, and there would have been a lot of people let down if we couldn’t have done it this year.”

First-timers at the pickle party, Cotton Koch and his father, Harold, were helping at 150-gallon tanks where the cucumbers sit in pools of water and are washed for a first time. From Madison and Chamberlain, the Kochs admit they’re new at the pickle party, so much so that they had never even tasted the pickles.

“We just heard about it and figured we had to try it out,” Harold said.

Hearing they had never eaten one of the prized pickles, Sheila Kluck interjected with a testimonial.

“They’ve got a zing,” she said. “You won’t find a crisper pickle.”

Kluck, from Richland, Neb., and her friend, Chuck Klement, of Columbus, Neb., are in the same gardening circles. They’re in the club of people who made a three-hour trip to Delmont.

“It is kind of crazy when you stop and think about it,” she said. “But they’re that good.”

Klement said he credits the Grosz family for taking on the big challenge of pickling cases and cases of pickles each year.

“You can tell this is something they put lots of love into,” he said. “They’re great people and my hats are off to them.”

Terry Grosz said he enjoys the fact that all walks of life are represented—lawyers, doctors, farmers, mechanics—and they’re part of what makes the annual pickle party what it is.

“It’s a case of happy people that enjoy themselves and like what they’re doing and they certainly like the finished product,” Terry said.

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