In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

August 18, 2015

Gift Brings Sister Generose Out of Pickling Retirement

By In the Loop

Cucumber seedlings inspired Sister Generose, now nearly 96, to come out of pickling retirement. Sometimes it's a song or a smell that brings back a memory. For Sister Generose Gervais, it was a cucumber seedling. Two of them, in fact.

We're told that when Sister Generose walked into her office this past spring and found two "Sweet Success" cucumber seedlings on her desk, she "knew in an instant they were a gift from her longtime greenhouse friend Jerry McGinnis." And she knew just as quickly the message the gift conveyed. "This was his way of saying, 'Remember the good old days,'" she says.

In this case, the good old days were those in which McGinnis helped Sister Generose "plant 45 hills" of cucumbers that she'd turn into pickles. Lots of them. In fact, her efforts even caught the attention of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune back in 2012. As the newspaper noted, Sister Generose has "sold thousands of jars of pickles" over the years at the Sisters' Fall Festival, and all for a good cause. Money raised from her pickling operation (and the rest of the festival) supported the Poverello Fund, which helps patients who need financial assistance with hospital charges at Mayo Clinic Hospital. As we've reported in the past, "Sister Generose and her partners-in-pickling" would can for days leading up to the sale, logging up to 18 hours a day in the hospital kitchen. At their peak, the Sisters produced "as many as 900 jars of pickles some years for the fall sale." And people would "line up an hour or more before the festival" so as to not miss out on the goodness.

Health issues forced Sister Generose to give up pickling, a skill she learned growing up during the Great Depression, in 2012, the Rochester Post-Bulletin reported. Instead of pickles, that year shoppers could purchase a pickle jar "with a decorative label and copy of the recipe in Sister's handwriting." That turned out to be the last for the Sisters' Fall Festival, as well, a decision a Mayo news story said was made because those in charge "are older and are in favor of retiring." (We understand.)

But one retirement didn't stick. Those seedlings inspired Sister Generose, now nearly 96, to come out of pickling retirement. She asked Todd Ness, groundskeeper at the Saint Marys Campus of Mayo Clinic Hospital, to find a good spot to plant the "two babies." He chose "an empty flower planter outside the Saint Marys chapel," a location blessed (we're guessing) with ideal growing conditions. That location, plus a little TLC from Sister Mary Lou Connelly and Sister Theresa Hoffmann, worked miracles, and soon "the plants bloomed and sprang forth with cucumbers." Enough, we're told, for an entire batch of pickles, which Sister Generose sliced and pickled herself. She was "happy to be back in the pickle-making business," our source tells us. And she was quick to note that, "The little cucumbers didn't even cry when I pickled their mom and dad!"

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Sister Generose gave us permission to share her recipe, below, written in her hand. Click the image to enlarge.


Tags: Employee Stories, Sister Generose Gervais

Sister Generose Gervais is an amazing woman. As a Mayo Clinic employee we are very lucky to have her at Mayo Clinic Hospital Saint Marys Campus


When my daughter was younger she had many appointments at St. Marys for procedures. The highlight of the appointments was walking past Sister Generose’s office. It always gave us hope and a sense of calm. I was unable to ever purchase her pickles or get a jar with her recipe. But if the decorative jar is ever offered up again I will be sure to get over there an purchase one.

I think we at Mayo Clinic are so lucky to have her. She is such a huge inspiration.


Can you still buy the pickle jar with the decorative label and copy of the pickle recipe in Sister’s handwriting?

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