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
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!