Sunday, August 08, 2010

24-hour Pickles

One of the more shocking revelations of the internet era - for me, anyway - has been that many of my grandmother's delicious and ancient recipes were actually just things she picked up from magazines and cookbooks, or things that were passed on to her from other people who cribbed them from these sources.

One favorite childhood memory was of her 24-hour Pickles. These weren't an every-year treat, but were something we enjoyed once in a while. I got the recipe from her before I headed off to grad school in Delaware (a nasty, brutish, and short experience) so that I might be able to recreate a favorite taste during my far-off exile.

I modified the recipe slightly from her original, based on my observations of the stuff at the bottom of a jar of Claussen dill pickles. (After these pickles, Claussen dill pickles are my favorites.)

24-hour Pickles

(Makes about 4 one-quart jars)

2 quarts (4 cups) water
1 cup vinegar
1/3 cup salt (most recipes call for non-iodized salt or even special pickling salt, but this recipe works fine with regular iodized table salt)
1/2 cup sugar

Cucumbers, quartered

Fresh dill (2-3 4" sprigs per jar, favor feathery leaves over seeds)
Garlic (1-2 cloves per jar)
Red pepper (USE SPARINGLY)

Boil water, vinegar, salt, and sugar and allow to cool. I experimented with boiling the water first, then adding the other ingredients and returning to a boil. This way less of the vinegar boils off.

While that stuff cools:

I don't boil or sterilize the jars and lids, just wash them thoroughly. Any glass jars will do, preferably with metal lids. Naturally, pickle jars work best! But I've also used peanut butter, mayonnaise, and spaghetti sauce jars. As these jars are now mostly plastic, you may need to actually purchase appropriate jars.

Quarter cucumbers and stuff them into jars. I usually cut them into eighths. You could also probably just slice them into pickle chips - I'm going to try that next time.

Add some dill to each jar. 2-3 sprigs, each about 4" long, should be adequate for each jar, but you can add more. While the flavor comes from all parts of the plant, I prefer the feathery leaves and little round buds and avoid using any dill seeds.

Chop garlic into tiny pieces and add to each jar, at least 1-2 cloves per jar. More if you like garlic. (After handling the garlic and dill, your hands will smell delicious for days.)

Add black peppercorns, maybe 6 - 12 per jar. Not sure what these do to the flavor, but if they're not there, they're missed.

Add cloves of allspice, maybe 2 - 3 per jar. I'm not sure when I started doing this - maybe this year. Damn, the pickles I made this year are good.

Add red pepper flakes - SPARINGLY. This year I used EXACTLY three flakes per jar, and that's what I'm recommending. I've ruined batches of pickles by adding too much red pepper. The hot peppery flavor came to dominate all the other flavors in the pickles. To get the same effect, take a cucumber slice, dip it in pickle juice for five seconds, rinse it off thoroughly, and then add a few dashes of Tabasco. Without red pepper the pickles taste bland, but too much and they don't taste like pickles.

Once the liquid, or "brine", has cooled add it to the jars stuffed with cucumbers and spices. The more tightly packed the jars are, the farther the brine will go.

Let the pickles sit in the refrigerator a minimum of 24 hours. (I admit I have stolen a few before the full 24 hours.) Eat and enjoy.

I make no claims about how long these will keep, or if you will die of botulism or something from not sterilizing the jars and lids. Also, The Joy of Cooking insists that you should remove the garlic after the first 24 hours to avoid bacterial growth. So, do that if you feel you must.

Note: If you prefer, you can make a half-batch. For your convenience, here are the half-sized ingredient measures:

1 quart (2 cups) water
1/2 cup vinegar
1/6 cup salt = 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons
1/4 cup sugar = 4 tablespoons

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