My Personal Pickle Parable


First, when making pickles, you must have the perfect pickle recipe. I happen to have one- it’s my great-grandmother’s recipe, from many a hot Iowa summer, written in my grandfather’s own hand, which somehow makes it cooler than cool, and guaranteed to make magic pickles. It’s also helpful to have a wooden-handled vintage pickle cutter. Helpful, but not necessary. Cooler, but everyone will live if your poor pickles have straight sides. They’ll feel sorry for you, but they’ll still like your pickles.


Like many old recipes (and patterns too) it’s short on details, long on flavor and success. It assumes a certain familiarity with the kitchen. It assumes you know what kind of cukes, how to prep them, and what a quart of cukes looks like. I love this about old recipes- it feels like the writer is talking to me over a painted wooden table while we share tall glasses of sweet tea, with ice tinkling and melting in the late afternoon sun. “Put the cookies in a medium hot oven…”, “Pack in hot jars…”, “Process your jam…” All of these assume a certain shared intimacy. You KNOW how to pack jars, dear. You KNOW that a med-hot oven lets you hold your hand inside for only so many seconds. It’s… intimate.


My pickles, onions, garlic and pepper are chilling in the salty ice, while I suds and bleach my canning tops. If you’re going to pack, and don’t want broken glass all over the kitchen, jar and food must be the same temperature or thermal shock will make jars pop into a million pieces. Icy pickles never go in hot jars. Never.

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You need all of this stuff. And after you follow the directions, you get the best sweet pickles on Earth. (and I hate sweet pickles. Really, I do- but not these. Maybe it’s because they’re so wrapped up in gossamer memory, or maybe it’s because they really are that good. Does it matter why?) Make them. I have given you a gift. Make them.


This is what you get. Blessed, delightful, little briney, sour, sweet gems from the garden. You can hot process them, and make them shelf-stable. I do that sometimes. This batch I cold-processed, and they will have to be refrigerated, but cold processed pickles stay much crunchier. If you’ve got the cold space, I prefer them- but the shelf-stable ones are almost as good- AND you can ship them to all your favorite pickle people. We’ve already busted into our second jar.

This is a recipe the kids can totally help with- especially if you have a nifty vintage slicer- it’s not sharp enough to de-finger anyone, but cuts the cukes into great shapes. Now go make some pickles. Don’t tell anyone I gave you the recipe. You’re welcome.

11 thoughts on “My Personal Pickle Parable

  1. Yeah- at some point, maybe I’ll do a post on it. It’s a 3″ binder with clear sleeves, chock full of handwritten recipes I’ve saved over the years. NO way could I fit them all in a recipe box, and this way they are protected.

    Also, whenever possible I keep the recipe written by the original person. And I add my own notes, regarding changes, when we had it, how much we loved it, what was going on that day…

  2. Tracy, I love this. You’re such a fantastic writer, painting such beautiful pictures for me. I don’t like sweet pickles either but I may have to try this, probably with my mom. And I agree about the recipe book. It’s awesome. I hate recipe boxes cuz they just don’t fit enough. Both my mom and I do the binder thing. I hope to inherit my mom’s someday because, like yours, it has original handwriting of lots of people. I love the idea of adding the first time you had it and what was going on that day. It’s like a culinary scrapbook.

  3. Some of us don’t know as much as you do. What kind of cukes? I planted some “pickling” cukes this year, and I’m still befuddled as to what to do with them. I also let some of them get big as my arm, which isn’t good. But I want to pickle, I want to pickle! I need more info!!

  4. Nooooo! Heather, you cannot pickle with cukes as big as your arm! Make them into birdhouses or somethings! If you planted pickling cukes, you probably have the right kind. They should be 5-7 inches, have really bumpy skin, and be dull medium green. I should have taken a picture of mine…

    I don’t make dill pickles, but I hear it’s easy. If you want to make these, I can walk you through it. Call me.

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