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!