Lemon-Soured Cucumber Pickles

saltwater dills, shrunk

While I was promoting the first edition of The Joy of Pickling at the Oregon State Fair, in 1998, a woman asked me if I’d make lemon pickles. Certainly I’d pickled lemons; I started to show her the various pickled-lemon recipes in the book. She clarified her question: Had I made fresh cucumber pickles with lemon juice in place of vinegar? I had not.

So this woman, Glenda Lund, mailed me a recipe—because people did that sort of thing, before the turn of this century (and hardly ever since then).

The recipe called for 1 quart lemon juice to 3 quarts water to 1 cup salt. I didn’t know what to think. USDA folks wouldn’t like the recipe, I knew; they hadn’t studied cucumber pickles made with lemon juice, and they would countenance the inclusion of the recipe in my book only if I increased the amount of lemon juice to 3 quarts for 3 quarts water, to match their rule of thumb for cucumbers pickled with vinegar. That would make horribly sour pickles.

So I left the recipe out of the second edition of The Joy of Pickling and again out of the third edition. After all, I had plenty of other recipes to develop and add to the book. But I kept Glenda’s handwritten letter in my file of ideas for future editions.

This year, as I considered how to use the last few batches’ worth of cucumbers from the garden. I thought of Glenda’s recipe. I had never even tried it. After twenty-one years, I should do it now.

I did not, after all, have to process the pickles; instead, I could store them in the refrigerator. The cool temperature of the fridge, combined with the acid and salt in the brine, would prevent the growth of pathogenic microbes for at least several weeks.

So I would make a refrigerator pickle, and I would reduce the recipe to one-quarter of the original so that all the pickles would fit into a 2-quart jar.

Next I had to consider the source of the lemon juice. Since Glenda would have had to squeeze about 30 lemons to produce a quart of juice, I figured she had probably used bottled lemon juice. But I don’t like the taste of that stuff, and I had plenty of fresh lemons in a basket on the buffet. Fresh-squeezed lemon juice is more acidic than bottled lemon juice, but generally not very much so. I would use real lemon rather than ReaLemon.

Now that the pickles have aged for about two weeks, I can say that they’re like no other cucumber pickle I’ve eaten before. They are quite sour enough. They taste briny and lemony and clean, and I would like to eat them with feta cheese and oily black olives. I would like to feed them to everyone I’ve ever met who hates the taste of vinegar.

Here, finally, is my version of Glenda’s recipe for—

Saltwater Dill Pickles

 3 cups water
1 cup strained lemon juice
¼ cup pickling salt
2 grape leaves
Enough whole pickling cucumbers, 3 to 5 inches long, to fill a 2-quart jar
2 large dill heads, with foliage
6 to 8 garlic cloves

In a covered saucepan, heat the water, lemon juice, and salt just to a boil. While the liquid heats, lay the grape leaves in the bottom of a 2-quart jar. Cut away the cucumbers’ blossom ends, and pack the cucumbers into the jar, interspersing the dill and garlic among them.

When the liquid comes to a boil, pour it over the cucumbers, covering them completely. Close the jar with a plastic cap.

When the jar has cooled, store it in the refrigerator. Wait a week or so before serving the cucumbers.

 Makes 2 quarts

Thanks, Glenda!

 

 

 

 

 

Quick Bite-Size Chunk Pickles


When Sharon Wiest suggested I teach students at the Culinary Center in Lincoln City how to make a sweet, hot cucumber chunk pickle, I had to think hard. Did I have any recipe in The Joy of Pickling for a pickle made from thick crosswise cucumber slices in vinegar? Nope. Did any of half a dozen other preserving books I quickly consulted have such a recipe? Not a one.

Nearly every general preserving book published from the 1960s on has a recipe for bread-and-butter pickles, made from cucumbers sliced very thin—1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. These sweet, spicy slices are most often served today with hamburgers. Wouldn’t bite-size, less intensely flavored pickles have more general appeal and usefulness? I dreamt up a simple recipe.

I’ve since found recipes for chunk pickles in a few older cookbooks, and perhaps one of them is closer to what Sharon had in mind. But with their mild sweetness, light spicing, and diluted vinegar, the pickles made as follows suit modern tastes for plenty of chile and garlic and less acid and sugar. At least my husband likes them—he devoured most of a jar in just a few minutes.

Sweet, Hot Chunk Pickles

3 pounds 3- to 4-inch pickling cucumbers, sliced crosswise ½ inch thick, ends
discarded
3 tablespoons pickling salt
2½ cups cider vinegar
2½ cups water
2/3 cup sugar
5 to 6 tablespoons diced fresh red hot peppers (such as Fresno, serrano, or jalapeño), or 2½ to 3 teaspoons hot pepper flakes
10 to 12 garlic cloves, sliced
2½ to 3 teaspoons yellow mustard seed

In a bowl, toss the sliced cucumbers with the salt. Empty two ice cube trays over the cucumbers. Let them stand for three to four hours.

Drain the cucumbers, discarding any ice cubes that haven’t melted. In a saucepan, bring the vinegar, water, and sugar to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

 Into each of five clean, hot pint mason jars, put 1 tablespoon diced hot peppers (or ½ teaspoon pepper flakes), 2 sliced garlic cloves, and ½ teaspoon mustard seed. Fill the jars loosely with the drained cucumber chunks. If you have plenty of extra chunks (as is likely if your cucumbers were chubby), fill a sixth jar in the same way. Pour the hot liquid over the cucumber pieces. Shake the jars a bit and press on the cucumbers to settle them, leaving ½ inch headspace. Release air bubbles by turning each jar and, if needed, pushing a pointed chopstick or similar tool down the inner surface of the jar.

Close the jars with two-piece caps. Process the jars for 5 minutes in a boiling-water bath, or immerse them in water heated to 180 to 185 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes.

When I made this pickle at home, many of the cucumbers I used were too malformed for pickling whole; some were very thick at the stem end. These thick parts I halved lengthwise. If your cucumbers are large, you might cut them all lengthwise before cutting them crosswise.

If your cucumbers are particularly slender—or even if they’re not—you might prefer to cut your chunks thicker than ½ inch, as thick as 1 inch.

Finally, dill usually isn’t used to season sweet cucumber pickles, but this pickle really isn’t all that sweet, and it would look especially pretty with a dill head against the glass in each jar. If you love dill, please add it!