The Only Pickle Worth Making - No. 9
When pickles give birth to even better pickles
Cookouts, barbecues, gathering with family and friends - they’re back this Memorial Day thanks to science and the vaccine! It’s a bit of a stretch, but we can also thank science for pickles - you know, fermentation is behind those crisp slices of salty sweetness you pile on a cheeseburger or serve to the side of smoky, crusty ribs. Isn’t it?
Except my favorite pickle recipe has nothing to do with old-school fermentation and everything to do with speed and ease. It makes pickles from pickles. It’s sort of homemade and so embarrassingly easy.
No growing and harvesting of cucumbers. This slacker recipe begins with pickles you buy at the grocery store, slice, and layer with sugar and seasonings, and stash in your fridge for a couple days.
Maybe you know this recipe and can share some intel on where it came from?
My Pickle Story Starts with a Crowded Holiday Fridge
We are in Chattanooga for Thanksgiving, and my MIL has a glass bowl full of sliced pickles marinating in the fridge. Literally taking up half the space in the fridge, but no worries because she has two other refrigerators in the garage filled with cranberry salad, dressing fixings, whipped cream, Cokes, and mayonnaise. It’s the South...
You’ve heard of people prepping their cranberry relish days in advance, well, she made her pickles, actually her sister Janet’s pickles, ahead of time for sandwiches. They’d been soaking for a day and had two more days to go.
Those pickles weren’t anything new to Chattanooga, but they were new to me. And so I begged for the recipe. Except my MIL avoided the subject in that coy sort of way that makes you either want the recipe even more or suspicious of said recipe.
When she finally caved and shared it with me, it went like this:
Drain and slice store-bought whole sour or dill pickles, and then layer them in a bowl with sugar - a lot of sugar! - and tuck them in the fridge so the pickles soak up the sugar and somehow transform into crisp, sweet, tangy slices to pile on turkey sandwiches.
I wasn’t just curious, I felt like a child waiting with anticipation for a special birthday! I visited those pickles every day, gave them a stir, per my MIL’s instructions. And on P-Day (pickle day), I was ready with turkey sandwich in hand.
These pickles were so good, better than I ever expected, and so crisp. Honestly, they were better than I had made by Georgia extension service recipes decades earlier when I first learned how to pickle and can. And best of all, these pickles were created for people who had never won 4-H blue ribbons and instead harbored fears of pickling. They were for people like my MIL who would rather play tennis or bridge than pickle and didn’t care one hoot about fermentation.
Dayna Does Pickles this Way, too
Seems lots of people have been making pickles the easy way. I guess I just never paid attention. Speed forward a year or two and my friend Dayna gives all of her friends a jar of Texas-style pickles. Except hers are more interesting, layered in the jar with garlic and peppers and spiked with hot sauce. Sweet, spicy, crispy, you could not ask for a better pickle, especially on a pimento cheese sandwich or atop fried chicken.
So I begged Dayna for the recipe. (I do a lot of recipe begging!)
She follows pretty much what my MIL had done except she adds loads of garlic and hot sauce like a good Texan. It seems you can add the aromatics you like - possibly mustard seeds or whole cloves or dill seeds as well - as long as the pickle to sugar ratio stays the same. I’ve now created “my blend,” adding slices of peeled garlic along with the pickles and crumbling in one or two of the hot cayenne peppers I grew in my garden and dried on the kitchen window sill.
Even when it’s not Thanksgiving, homemade pickles are the nicest way to dress up ribs and chicken, bedeck your best burger, or transform an ordinary ham sandwich. Which makes them a timeless recipe, suitable any time of the year when you’re having people over and don’t know what to serve.
My advice this Memorial Day? Don’t get in a pickle!
I just love a good shortcut. Don’t you?
And now, that recipe….Easy Homemade Pickles
My MIL’s recipe called for a 50-50 blend of sour pickles and dill. But I did a bit of recent pickle reconnaissance, and sour pickles are hard to find these days. (Look on the bottom shelf of your pickle aisle for really big jars.) You can definitely use all dill pickles in this recipe. As for the sugar, try to stay with my ratios because you need a good deal of sugar to make this work. If your jar of pickles is different than mine, remember some basic algebra and find the ratio for the size jar you are using. After three (four is even better) days in the fridge, spoon the pickles and juices into clean jars. I save Bonne Mamam jam jars for this very purpose! Run canning jars through the dishwasher to sterilize first before filling. And save the juice from the pickles when the last pickle is gone. I pour it into cole slaw. These make great gifts!
Makes about 4 half-pints
1 jar (46 ounces) whole sour or kosher dill pickles
3 cups granulated sugar
4 to 5 large cloves garlic, peeled
2 to 3 dried hot peppers
Drain the pickles and place on a cutting board. Slice off the stem and blossom ends of the pickles. Slice the pickles 1/4-inch thick.
Place about a quarter of the sliced pickles in a large glass or stainless steel (non-aluminum) bowl and top with about a quarter of the sugar. Slice the garlic and crumble the hot peppers and scatter a third of it over the top. Add another layer pickles, sugar, and garlic and peppers, and continue until you use all the pickles, sugar, garlic and peppers. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least three days. After day one, you can stir the pickle mixture once or twice a day. (Dayna stirs hers once every morning and again in the afternoon.)
One day three, pack the pickles and juices into clean jars. Seal and refrigerate. The pickles will keep for up to five months.
The May Cookbook Subscriber Giveaway!!
Is days away! Each month the name of a subscriber is pulled from the hat, and this month the lucky winner receives an autographed and personalized copy of my American Cookie cookbook. It’s perfect for summer baking with the kids, grandkids or your best friends. You have until May 31 to subscribe so your name goes in the hat!
Last week in my newsletter Subscriber Friday - I shared my Costco shopping list and a favorite recipe for skillet roasting cherry tomatoes. This Friday I reveal how to cook a diner-style cheeseburger indoors (in the case of rain on Memorial Day!). And I share the Top 10 foods for summer cookouts, from potato salad to Margarita Cake. You don’t want to miss out!