Sunday, September 10, 2017

A little history of a famous pickle

Around the turn of the last century, a British Army Officer named Thomas Ashburnham, settled in Fredericton, New Brunswick. His father was the 4th Earl of Ashburnham but as Thomas was the fifth of seven sons, there seemed little likelihood of his inheriting the title.

In Fredericton, he used to drink and gamble and at the end of his evening, he would call the phone company to order a horse and carriage to take him home. The night operator who answered most evenings was a local girl, Maria "Rye" Anderson. Rye had a wonderful voice and a pleasant manner and before he knew what had hit him, he had fallen for her. He asked to meet her in person. That happened and in 1903, they got married.

They joined two downtown houses together with a porte-cochère and became the centre of Fredericton social life, entertaining friends and family lavishly. This is what the house looked like in those days:

Painting of Ashburnham House by Fernando Poyatos

Against all odds, all Thomas' older brothers died and Thomas became the 6th Earl of Ashburnham. Rye Anderson, the telephone operator from Fredericton, became Lady Ashburnham.

Lord and Lady Ashburnham moved to England to take over the ancestral home but that didn't work out very well. The family didn't really accept Rye and she was homesick. So they returned to Fredericton and resumed their entertaining ways on Brunswick St.

Unfortunately, in 1924, Lord Ashburnham became ill on a trans-Atlantic journey as he travelled to England to deal with family business. He passed away in May 1924 in London. He is buried in the family vault at Ashburnham Church.

Lady Ashburnham continued to live in their Fredericton home. She died in 1938. The house on Brunswick St. survived for some time. It eventually was divided into apartments — my friend Ann lived there for awhile! — but it was not kept up as it should have been. On Google Street View, it looked like this last year but I've read that it has since been torn down.

Lady Ashburnham's legacy, interestingly enough, is a pickle. She was not domestic herself and didn't do any of the cooking for her delicious dinners but her sister Lucy lived in the household and took care of the kitchen. In Fredericton, the elegant mustard pickles served on Brunswick St. — made by Lucy — became very popular and were known across the city as "Lady Ashburnham's Pickles."

And so they are still known today. I've made these pickles everywhere, including on a Coleman stove on deck when we lived on the boat on the Miramichi, tied up at Loggie's Wharf in Chatham; at the old house in Black River Bridge; in Montreal; of course, in Fredericton. I've even made them on television on a show called Foodessence. They didn't turn out that well. We had to keep restarting them. We had to serve the camera, not the cucumbers. The important thing for television was that they looked good.

I made Lady Ashburnham's Pickles most recently earlier this week.

Those are cucumbers (soaked in salt and water overnight), onions, red and green peppers. They're pretty before you even get started.

There are always variations in a pickle recipe. Most people have adapted it to suit themselves. I stick pretty closely to Lucy's recipe although now that I think about it, Lucy probably didn't use the peppers. I like adding the peppers — they look so nice for one thing.

The one small change I made this year was not planned. I was halfway through the process when I realized I didn't have any yellow mustard seed. I did, however, have brown mustard seed which we bought in the spring for the rhubarb chutney. So brown mustard seed it was and it's fine because the pickling was successful and the pickles are delicious.

I think of Lady Ashburnham — Rye Anderson — whenever I make her pickles. I think of Lucy too and wonder what her life was like, living with her sister who married into British nobility, working in the kitchen, seeing Rye get all the credit for her pickles.

She could never have imagined that more than a hundred years later, her pickles would still be made and enjoyed — and her sister would still be getting all the credit.

Sometimes, life just isn't fair.


  1. Very in formative, didn't know this stuff, though I ate the pickles.

  2. My mother in law, Anna Joyce Law, would stay with her Grand father, (he lived near the Boyce Farmer's Market) in the fall and cut cucumbers for days, for Lady Ashburnham. I always thought my mother in law made the best pickles!

  3. Well that building definitely still stands as I'm typing this from my living room in that building... Cool bit of history. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thanks for the story. Only disappointed that you did not include the recipe.

  5. We still make these! If potatoes are served, the Lady Ashburnham pickles are also a part of the condiments on our table!