Saturday, August 10, 2013

Pickle Season

The winners of the advance reader copies of THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS for Weds., Thurs. and Fri. are Deb Romano, ceblain and Reine! Please contact julia at julia spencer fleming dot com with your address.

LUCY BURDETTE: We always plant more cucumbers than we can eat but we never regret it. Why? Bread and butter pickles!

Homemade pickles are head and shoulders better than store bought. And I have a great recipe for you that I've been using for thirty years. But before deciding to embark on this project, please promise that you’ll study the section in a pickle-making book about sterilizing jars and lids, and proper use of the boiling water bath. I may be a murder mystery writer, but I don’t want to kill anyone off in real life!

The recipe I use is from an old cookbook called PUTTING FOOD BY by Hertzberg, Vaughn, and Greene. You’ll need to plan ahead for this–it’s not a last-minute kind of project. But I’ve been making these for years and never had a bad pickle. 

8-10 medium cukes, cut into 1/4 inch slices
2 large onions, sliced
peppers, if desired seeded and sliced (we had 3 banana peppers on our bushes so that’s what I used)
1/3 cup salt--Kosher is best
2 large garlic cloves, whole
ice cubes or crushed ice
4.5 cups sugar
1.5 tsp turmeric
1.5 tsp celery seed
2 TBSP mustard seed
3 cups of white vinegar

Wash the vegetables well, slice and add them to a large bowl with garlic. Sprinkle the salt over and mix thoroughly. add ice to cover and mix that in too. Then leave the bowl for 3 hours. (The salt takes the liquid from the cukes.) Drain off the liquid and remove the garlic. 

Meanwhile, in a large stainless pot, combine sugar, vinegar and spices and heat to a simmer. Stir in the veggies and simmer for ten minutes. 

Pack into hot, sterile jars, remove air bubbles, add lids and place in the boiling water bath. Process ten minutes.

More tips on processing: Boil the jars for ten minutes before filling. Place the lids in a small pan of water and bring this to almost a boil and let sit while you prepare the brine. Sterilize the funnel and whatever you're using to poke air bubbles out of the filled jars. Throw away any jar that doesn't seal, or refrigerate to eat this week.

Tell us about your favorite pickles and you'll be entered into a drawing for Julia's November release, THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS! I know that's a silly question, but you want that ARC. Your hands are a little sweaty, your lips twitch...

So, half sours? Kimchi? Gerkins? You get the picture...


  1. Yum, yum, yum . . . I can remember my grandmother making pickles and I’ve always used her recipe for bread-and-butter pickles. My recipe is almost identical to yours, Lucy. [No peppers in it, though; just the cucumbers and the onions . . . Vidalia onions are especially good.]
    I used to make pickled watermelon rind, too [some people call it watermelon pickles, but it was always “pickled watermelon rind” to my grandmother]. It’s been several years, though, since I’ve been able to find watermelon with enough of the white rind to actually make the pickled rind. Sigh . . . .

  2. I like a good dill myself, especially with a sandwich. But I'd never try making my own. Sterile and clean do not describe my cooking methods.

  3. You've brought back some fun memories for me, Lucy-Roberta. When we were still in Atlanta, our house had this wonderfully big country kitchen. My mom, our friend Nan and I had an annual Bread & Butter Pickle Day. We would start early in the day and end late that evening, sticky and happy. And the three of us would have plenty of beautiful jars of pickles to give as gifts for an entire year - and they were delicious! We used a recipe similar to yours and now you've got me craving some good pickles! Our kitchen here in Boone isn't big enough to swing a cat in, but I bet I can whip up a few jars of pickles - I just won't be able to do it with gal pals to giggle with. I kinda think the giggles might have been part of what made them so good.

  4. Making my own seems too intimidating!

    I do love all sorts of pickles, though, especially half sour. If I'm eating at a restaurant I'll volunteer to eat any pickles that others at the table don't want. (That is, if I'm eating with family! One niece will split the half sours with me.)

  5. My favorite pickles: Roberta's fantastic bread and butter pickles. I ration them - and feel so sad when I tuck the last one into a tuna sandwich or onto a hamburger or eat it naked, fished out of the jar. The juice leftover is great as the base for cold slaw dressing.

    I am an adventurous ambitious cook but I have never canned. Like making bread, I'm afraid it's out of my wheelhouse. But I have a friend...

  6. I love pickles. My Mom and Dad both made them with cukes from their big garden. He made sweet and she made dill. I also love half sours. Not into canning though. Dee

  7. I LOVE bread and butter pickles. The best I've ever had were made by my former sister-in-law. I never got the recipe, but they were crisp, sweet with just enough bite of acid--absolute heaven. They were wonderful with food, but just as good by themselves.

    Hallie, what a great idea using pickle juice in cole slaw! Think I'll try that next time I make some.

    I did try making watermelon pickles--they tasted great, but with only one pickle eater in the house, even 2 jars were too much, so ended up dumping most of them.

  8. I hate pickles... hate them. But I love pickled onions and carrots on sandwiches and tacos!

  9. A long time ago I had friends who made pickled watermelon rind and I would save mine for them. Never got the recipe, though.

  10. When I farmed I made LOTs of pickles. Garlicky-dill, with my (now-ex)mother-in-law's secret recipe that all 5 of her daughters in law made every year. I made half-gallons using my own cukes, hot peppers, dill, garlic, and grape leaves. Only thing not locally sourced was the salt and cider vinegar. I can't abide sweet pickles, but a nice sour dill - nothing like it! I also pickled green beans and asparagus with the same recipe. But one summer I must not have sterilized correctly, because several large jars failed and molded up. Heartbreak!

  11. The more sour the pickle the better. when I was little, I used to eat them so sour my grandfather called me "pickle-puss" and would try to find me the most sour pickles. I will forever associate pickles with my grandfather.

    I craved and ate pickles after my chemo and radiation ended...probably about a jar a day. My doctor thought I might have needed the sodium.

    Now I can't get my boys to try pickles for love or money! And I can't understand why. Both my husband and I love them. But then my boys don't eat mashed potatoes either... weird children.

  12. I love bread and butter pickles but did not have much luck with them. I did make dill pickles by the gallon, or any other left-over, large-sized jar that I could find. Kids loved it when I make 'homemade' things. If I gave them store-bought, they claimed I was trying to poison them. I guess even at an early age they knew I'd end up writing about murder. LOL My oldest son takes on the tradition now. He just make picked cauliflower. Can't wait to taste it.

  13. REAL kosher dills do not have vinegar in them, and are not processed, but need to be refrigerated when they reach the state of sourness you want or they will disintegrate. My grandmother used to make them every summer when the smaller cucumbers were available from the nearby farms.

    What you need is to add enough salt to water to make a brine, and a big strand of dill for each jar, plus a garlic clove or two (cut in half if they are large) and a spoonful of pickling spice. And short, stocky cucumbers.

    Scrub the cucumbers clean in the kitchen sink in cold water (use a brush, but not one with bristles so hard that it will scratch the rind of the cucumbers). Have the (clean) quart jars ready (and maybe a crock or two (expand the spices proportionately if you are using a crock).

    Into each jar, place a garlic clove and a spoonful of pickling spice, and a large sprig of dill (or two) which should have the head (flowers) on it, and should be placed vertically or diagonally almost to the full height of the jar. Gently push the pickles in to fill the jar. Move them around to take up larger empty spaces-- you want the jar packed, but not so tightly the cucumbers won't have contact with the brine. Stick in another garlic clove or two as you work your way to the top of the jar, but stop stuffing the jar at least half an inch from the top.

    Gently pour the brine over the pickles till they are all covered. (The brine needs to be salty, but not so salty that you make a face when you taste it.)

    Place the jars and/or crock in a cool, dark corner of your kitchen (or a closet, or the porch, or the cellar) Cover loosely with a cloth dish towel (remember those?) or even a sheet of paper towel. Check on them every six to twelve hours. A scum will rise to the surface, and you can skim it off with a spoon and throw it away. (If one of your garlic cloves has also floated to the surface, you can wipe it off and stuff it back in).

    After a day and a half, pull out a small pickle and taste test it-- it should be a half dill, and you will be able to see that it is pickled from the outside in, while the center still looks more like the cucumber it was when you put it into the jar. The pickles should be fully pickled after three days-- but you can taste test for sourness. (Half the fun of this kind of recipe is tasting along the way.)

    When they are sour enough, screw the lids on them and store them in the fridge, which stops the pickling process. Before you can do that, at least one jar of them will probably disappear-- or maybe half a crock full (the rest of what's in the crock was probably eaten by tasters during the pickling process. Make sure people know to wash their hands before they grub around in the crock fishing for pickles.)

    We used to eat them throughout the month of August as a regular side dish along with corn on the cob and chicken on the grill (or fresh lake fish that my father had caught and grandmother had lightly breaded and pan fried)-- with fresh berries from the farms for dessert.

    Nowadays, you aren't supposed to share this traditional recipe because it isn't processed and therefore might contain whatever (it never killed any of us or even made us sick, and we ate a lot of them, but maybe we were made of sterner stuff). I think the brine kills off anything harmful, but make them at your own risk.

    These are the kind of pickles that sat in the big barrels on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in my youth. As an aside, to illustrate the cultural gap with today's kids, when I made these with my nephews around 1990, I dumped the cucumbers into the sink at what had been my grandmother's cottage, and asked, "Do you know what these are?" and the younger boy, who was around three and might never have seen a whole cucumber, guessed "zucchini?"

  14. My grandmother made the yummiest freezer pickles. They were sweet-tart, crunchy, and super easy to make. Unfortunately, no one has her recipe. On the dill side, my dad taught me to like peanut butter and dill pickle sandwiches. Anyone else?

  15. Ellen, I'm going to try making them your way! Sounds like my kind of pickles, and my kind of simple, too.

  16. Lady Ashburnham are my favorites. It's probably a regional thing.

  17. Not much into canning since my younger years of marriage when my husband thought it was cool. However here is a good refrigerator pickle recipe; I still have the giant jar I would use for it. This makes a spicy pickle. Mix 7 cups unpeeled cukes, such as Kirby, whole or thinly sliced; 1/2 cup chopped onion, 2 Tbsp pickling or kosher salt (not iodized) in a large bowl; cover and refrigerate overnight. Drain and discard the liquid. Set the cukes aside. Put in a saucepan: one and a half cups sugar; 1 cup distilled white vinegar; 1 tsp celery seeds; 1/4 tsp each of coarsely ground black pepper, red pepper flakes; 9 whole cloves; 3 cinnamon sticks. Mix it all up, heat to a boil and cook 1 minute, then set aside to cool. When it's cool remove the cinnamon sticks and save. Pour liquid over the cucumber mixture. Transfer to clean jars and add a cinnamon stickto each jar. Add enough of the remaining liquid to fill each jar. Cover and refrigerate at least 24 hours before serving. Makes 3 pints.
    Oh funny. my code is edripsy

  18. Huh? That is Pat D, not P. Must be my former alter ego back in the canning days.

  19. A good dill pickle is so challenging to find.

  20. Hallie, it's all in the tasting. It's like playing the piano by ear; follow the basic recipe and tweak it as you choose.

    (This kind of cooking is like the old joke about the guy who runs up to the piano player in a bar and says, "Do you know this place is on fire?" and the pianoman replies, "No, but hum a few bars and I'll fake it.")

  21. I loved pickled things.

    Favorite cuke pickles -- sour dills

    Favorite other relish -- chow chow

    Favorite pickled thing in the universe -- pickled plums.

    I wanted to married the owner of a pickled plum shop when I was little.

  22. I love bread and butter pickles but have never had anything but Mrs. Fanning. I'll have to check out the farmer's markets.

    I used to can with my mother, but it was so exhausting -- tomatoes, tomato sauce, grape juice -- and jam. I never wanted to do it again!!

    I read a food blog called "West of the Loop" and the young woman does a lot of canning.

    Once I bought pickled string beans at a school fair, and they were DELISH!!!!

    Food for thought, JRW, as always.

  23. My mother canned everything, pickles, peaches, green beans, potatoes, the list was endless. I loved bread and butter pickles, but over the years grew to love the dills too. Though I learned to cook watching her and my older sister, I never did any canning. I now get pickles from a small Amish store just down the road, but I always think I should be doing them myself.

  24. Hallie, I just started canning a couple of years ago. My first project was a joint effort with a friend: green tomato relish. It qualifies as a picklish thing, and my, it is good on salmon, especially.

    My daughter and I were going to make dill pickles last week, to use the cucumbers in her garden. I got all excited, ready to throw all my canning equipment in the car before we drove the 500 miles to their vacation place, and something made me ask her how many cucumbers they had. "Three or four". Hardly worth all that trouble!

    Shizuka, that is the cutest story, that you wanted to marry the owner of a pickled plum shop. I'll be smiling about it the rest of the day.

  25. Hallie, let me know how the dills turn out. I've always been afraid I'd kill the whole family with those...

    Ellen, the recipe sounds so good though...may have to break down.

    Shizuka, me too on the chow chow!

    Denise, you'll never go back to Mrs. Fanning:)

  26. Bread and butter pickles are the best. I cannot see myself making my own (maybe if I didn't have to can them...that process is just so daunting!)

  27. How did I miss a pickle post!

    I love bread-and-butter pickles made with tiny red hot chili peppers.

    Even more I love half sours poutine.

  28. My grandmother also made sauerkraut with just three ingredients: cabbage, water, salt. I saw her make it when I was a kid (I remember it in the cellar of the house she moved from when I was about 9 or 10), so I don't have an exact formula. But it is the same salt brine principle as the pickles.

    Of all the things I would ask if given just five more minutes with her, most of them would be recipes (and the name of the village they came from). I did manage to duplicate one cookie recipe, but another-- sought after by all of her grandchildren-- has eluded me for 40 years, alas.