Timely Tales from Time On The Planet...

The Art of Gina Morrill-Olson &

(As told to Glenda Wallace - August 14th, 2020)


Montana artist Gina Morrill-Olson likes to keep things moving -- the faster the better. Proof is found in her annual visit to the beautifully eerie landscape called the Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, where she pushes herself and her 2001 Triumph motorbike (Blue, a Bonneville model) to scary fast speeds. Her top speed to-date on two wheels: 121.425 mph.

Gina Morrill-Olson (photo © Rick Hawkins)

And yet, as a talented and well-known tattoo artist (with five grown children - two biological) who now creates syrups for a local distillery, Gina understands the value of slowing down, doing things the old way, of allowing life to progress at its own pace.

Example: Every fall, she pulls out her Granny's Sweet Pickle recipe and begins the weeks-long process of turning time-limited, hard-to-find pickling cucumbers ("I can't grow them for the life of me," she says) into long-lasting jars of crisp goodness for family and friends.

This year, Gina was just about to brine when her husband, Mort, was diagnosed with Covid-19. They went into quarantine at their eclectic home in Missoula. A former Army engineer, Mort works with a local homeless shelter. He was sick in bed for days, but has since recovered and is again building motorbikes, creating metal sculptures, helping his community, and teasing his wife.

Mort and Gina (photo © Michael Whatney)

Gina says friends offered aide during quarantine, but "we have a pretty good pantry with canned goods, dried stuff and the freezer. We didn’t need a lot of outside help. I think being prepared for whatever helps."
She adds, "I always have stuff to do. Books to read. My parents were busy people. My grandparents were Depression Era people. Do it yourself. Be prepared. It’s not endless waiting...if you have a routine and projects."

...Such as creating the brine for sweet pickles....

Butterfly tent helped a Florida couple launch the lives of 16 monarch butterflies
Gina at the Salt Flats (photo © Liane Langlois)

Note: Gina admits to being very disappointed that her 2020 trip to the Salt Flats was cancelled.  Fingers crossed, she's planning for Utah spring of 2021. 



Gina's Sweet Icicle Pickle Recipe comes from her paternal grandmother Vivian Morrill, who died at age 84 in 2001, the year Gina and Mort married.

My grandmother "lived in southwest Missouri, near Branson. I bet you she lived less than 20 miles from where she was born her entire life," says Gina, who recalls being "slightly intimidated" when she asked for the recipe.

"My grandmother wrote me once or twice a month and I asked that she write it down for me."  She did, and today the cursive writing and recipe from her granny resides safely in a binder under a plastic cover.

Granny Vivian Morrill's Handwritten Recipe for Sweet Icicle Pickles

Granny Vivian Morrill's Handwritten Recipe for Sweet Icicle Pickles

"I never actually made this recipe with my granny," Gina says. "But I had done a fair amount of canning, and I watched my mom make jelly. So I just followed the recipe.

It's an "unusual recipe," she notes. "You have to brine the cucumbers for a week before you can do anything, and it makes for these really crisp pickles."

Another discovery? Granny didn't inherit her famous Sweet Icicle Pickle recipe from her own mother, as Gina had assumed.

"As I've been doing more research, I found a recipe in the Ball Pickle Book," she says, that is very similar to the Morrill family way of making sweet pickles.

"I found it more modern. It doesn't do some of the things granny would do. She did an alum rinse for a day."

Gina describes the family routine for sweet pickle making as this: Brine for a week in salt water. Rinse that off. Soak for a day in just water to get out the salt. Then add alum and soak that for a day, and then it would go to sweet pickle -- a vinegar and sugar solution -- and soak them in that for a week.

She says, "Granny would heat up the solution every day and pour it over the product. I don’t think the Ball recipe has that level of detail. It's just started in brine…."

Gina concludes, "The Ball recipe is actually easier to follow, because [granny] uses different terms. She tells you that you need a pint of sugar. She uses pints and quarts, rather than cups, and if you don’t do that translation every day, you find that confusing.

During this time-absorbing project, we have learned a lot about butterflies, monarchs in particular. 

Our biggest “bug” surprise? How the butterfly emerges as fat as a caterpillar, then pumps all that blood or fluid or whatever into the black veins of the wings to expand them. We also learned to identify between male and female butterflies and we've planted a huge patch of parsley to attract black swallowtail butterflies.

Today, rather than alum, Gina uses Ball Pickle Crisp (calcium chloride), which "you can buy in the spice aisle at the grocery store."

She also confides, "I add more pickling spice. I make them more spicy than Granny would have. I remember her using a small handful of pickling spice and I use two or three.

I will also get fresh ginger and slice it up really thin, like sushi ginger. Slice it up really fine like that, and you get double-pickled cucumbers, and a cucumber ginger. It's a little different than sushi ginger. It's kind of nice.

I also add dried pepper pods."

Sweet Pickle Recipe and a Montana Artist's Tradition

Every year in the late summer, Gina's dad, Layne, gets at least two jars of crisp sweet pickles. He's slowing down, she says. He used to require a dozen or more. And I'd make them at Christmas, too. He puts them in his potato salad."

Gina concludes, "I carry on [the tradition] because I feel that’s how she still speaks to me. I joke that it’s like I have this little tiny Granny who sits on my shoulder and talks in my ear. I feel like, when I do this today, she is talking to me and telling me things. 'That’s way too much ginger.' That’s when I hear her."


Note: Gina's dad Layne passed away from non-Covid-related health issues in early 2021. No doubt, she will feel him and her Granny close next pickling season.


Want a copy of Gina's [Ball's
?] Sweet Icicle Pickles Recipe?
Click here to download the PDF.


Now, wann'a see the ARTWORK
Gina has created, some during Covid Time? Click Image!

Little boy on a motorbike looking very determined - painting by Morrill-Olson

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