When I was growing up, my father made pickles: lots of pickles. He also made sauerkraut, horseradish and a few jars of pickled Habanero peppers, but mostly he made pickles. My Pop is the veritable Pickle Man.
I have so many pickle stories that it’s hard to know where to begin. First, there was the way he bartered with pickles. On more than one occasion, a jar or two of pickles were traded for a doctor’s visit or a favor he wanted.
“Beth, you know those tools I use to get the ship in the bottle?” he’d say. “Well, there was this dentist I went to and…”
Then there was the “hot pepper test.” When Big Papa met my father for the first time, he was offered a pickled Habanero and moments later, a slice of cheese. I breathed a sigh of relief. My Dad must like him, I thought. He offered Big Papa the cheese.
Fortunately I’d already clued Big Papa in to this “family secret.” The milk in the cheese cuts the pain from the pepper. Pepper without cheese and you’re in trouble. A glass of water to try to rinse away the offending fire in your mouth equals BIG trouble (water spreads the “Capsicum” the heat-simulating chemical). But take a bite of pepper and then chase it with a bite of cheese, or a sip of milk or yogurt, and you’re golden.
My Dad’s pickles are noteworthy for another reason. They are made without vinegar. That’s right, no vinegar. And, unlike many pickle recipes, neither the cucumbers nor the water in the jar are boiled. That’s how it is done. It’s how my father made pickles and his father before him in the old country, in Poland.
If you make them, I promise you’ll never taste pickles as good as my Papa’s. These are not floppy, rubbery pickles. You take a bite and are greeted with a hearty crunch. Once you taste the spicy kick of hot dried pepper and suck in the invigorating hit of dill, you’ll swear off any other pickles.
I hope that was convincing. If not, I’ll be disowned. After all, I am my father’s daughter.
My father, now nearly 87, still makes pickles, though not without my help. Forty years ago he had a disabling stroke. Even though it paralyzed his left side, he continued making pickles. But over the past few years, dementia has taken its toll and the arthritis and neuropathy make it difficult for him to do what’s necessary to pickle a peck, so that’s where I come in. And Big Papa. This year was Big Papa’s first as pickling sous chef.
“Make sure to put the cucumbers in with the vine end down. Why? I don’t know. That’s how it’s done. Here, let me show you how to do it.”
“Chop the garlic. You chopped it, right? Do you want me to show you how?”
“You can squeeze a few more in that jar. You and your sister used to have a contest to see who could get the most in one jar. Here let me show you how you can get a few more in there (said while jamming cucumber sideways into an overflowing jar).”
“Don’t forget to put in one tablespoon of salt.” “Don’t forget to put in one teaspoon of salt.” “Don’t forget to….did I tell you the story about the night when your mother invited over…”
And so it goes. These days he’s forgotten the exact amounts and he’ll derail the pickling process to go down at least a dozen rabbit trails of tales from days gone by. But in the end, jars are filled and over the next few weeks our emerald treasures undergo a magical transformation, from mere cukes to glorious dill pickles.
- Pile of small pickling cucumbers (select smallish, firm cukes), washed and scrubbed with a soft brush – OR (if you’re really brave) a bunch of Habanero peppers.
- Kosher salt (must be Kosher!)
- Pickling spices
- Dill seed
- Fresh dill (nice to have but not essential if you have the dill seed)
- Garlic (cloves peeled and coarsely chopped)
- Celery stalks (optional)
- Dried hot chili peppers (optional)
- Wide mouth quart mason jars
- Measuring spoons
- **no vinegar…that’s right NO vinegar!
Place cucumbers inside jars (with the end of the cucumber that came off the vine pointed toward the bottom of the jar – you can tell because it has a small indent/brown spot). Leave approximately ½ to 1 inch of headroom at the top of the jar. You can pack them tightly but try not to mash the cukes.
To each quart jar, add:
- 2 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon pickling spices
- 1 teaspoon dill seed
- Small stalk of dill folded (if using fresh dill)
- 1 clove chopped garlic
- 1 celery stalk (optional)
- 1 dried hot chili pepper (optional)
Fill each jar with cool tap water and cover the cukes. Use sterilized (or new) lids and seals. Cap tightly (my dad always gave the jars my sister and I capped an extra turn for good measure)! Rotate the jar back and forth a few times to dissolve the salt a bit and disperse the spices and garlic (some will settle at the bottom).
Place pickles in a cool dark place (a basement is ideal). Store for 7days for “half sour;” 10-14 days for “full sour.” Then, place pickles in your refrigerator. They will keep for several months unopened. I recommend placing newspaper underneath the jars, which may leak a little.
When you open the jars, they may fizz, so opening in your sink is a good idea. The water may be cloudy and this is okay. Also, the color of the pickles will have changed from bright green to olive green.
Take out a pickle. Eat with chutzpah! I’m willing to bet you won’t be able to stop at one.
Want to nosh on more deliciousness? Check out Wanderfood Wednesday!