One of my most distinct early food memories is strange, to be sure.  I was on a vacation to Busch Gardens with my family, and I was feeling lousy.  Maybe it was the heat or maybe it was something I ate, but I remember feeling sick for most of the morning.  Eventually, my parents decided it was time to stop and get something to eat.

Needless to say, the prospect was less than appealing for me.  I made my way through the cafeteria-style line and saw only one thing that I thought my stomach could handle: a whole garlic pickle.  Why did I think this was a good idea?  Who knows.

Whatever the reason, it turns out I was right.  Not only was I able to eat the pickle, which was fresh, crisp and redolent with garlic and dill, it completely cured me!  I was able to enjoy the rest of the day in the theme park, and I have always credited my recovery to that delicious garlic pickle.

Since then, I’ve gone out of my way to try all kinds of pickles whenever the opportunity has presented itself.  I’ve tasted half-sours, garlic dills, kosher dills, gherkins, cornichons, bread-and-butters and new pickles.  I once tried a horseradish-infused vodka martini at least in part because it was garnished with a pickle.

But now I’ve taken my love of cured cucumbers to a whole new level – I’ve finally made my own pickles.  As it turns out, my favorite type of pickle (half-sour with plenty of garlic) is surprisingly easy to make at home.  More images and the recipe after the jump.

As easy as they were to make, it took quite a bit of looking to find a recipe that seemed to offer just what I was looking for.  After reading through numerous recipes for similar pickles, I found myself rejecting some because they had too many ingredients, others because they had too few.  But when I stumbled across a recipe posted by someone known as PuterCop on GroupRecipes.com, I knew I had found my starting point.

Here’s the recipe as provided by PuterCop:

Ingredients

  • 12 Kirby pickles (approximately 4″ long) (I quarter them into spears)
  • Lacking kirbys use firm smaller cucumbers
  • 3/4 cup pickling spice
  • 6 cloves of garlic (cut in half)
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 3/4 cup kosher salt
  • cold water (not chlorinated tastes yucky)
  • 3 celery stalks (optional I leave it out most of the time)
  • 2 roots of dill (approximately) or 1 tbl dill weed (not seed)
  • BIG glass jar (about a gallon size or mix liquid and a use a bunch of small jars)


Directions

  1. wash pickles and celery and arrange in a jar in an upright position along with half of the pickling spice, cloves of garlic and half of the dill. Set aside.
  2. Mix 6 cups of cold water with kosher salt and white vinegar.
  3. Place in a large bowl and stir until salt is melted. The vinegar is what you need to adjust for flavor usually not the salt
  4. Taste. Should be sort of sour but not really salty
  5. Put water and salt mixture and vinegar into the jar until the mixture covers the pickles.
  6. Add the balance of the pickling spice and the dill.
  7. Seal and shake like crazy for a few seconds to blend all ingredients.
  8. Let this stand on the counter at room temperature, uncovered, or with the top just sitting on the jar but not closed, for one full day (24 hours).
  9. Check by tasting and if it is satisfactory, let it stand for an additional 2 days, uncovered. Adjust vinegar as necessary.
  10. . When the pickles turn dark greenish, cover and refrigerate.
  11. They will keep for 2 weeks in the frig… if they last that long.
  12. For sour tomatoes use 12 small green tomatoes, use the same ingredients above except increase the salt to 1 cup
  13. Tomatoes take longer to sour. Leave them on the counter for 2 days, uncovered, then cover and leave on the counter or outside for another 2 to 3 weeks.
  14. Tomatoes are ready when they change color from light green to dull olive green.

I purchased my cucumbers on the Farmers’ Line at Eastern Market.  Though you may be tempted to go with Persian cucumbers or one of the other varieties you can frequently find at markets throughout the city, you should be sure to seek out cucumbers that lend themselves to pickling (some are even named pickling cucumbers to make it that much easier to identify them).  The dill came from Eastern Market as well, though the garlic, the pickling spice and the white vinegar all came from Harris Teeter.  I purchased two half-gallon jars from Michael’s Arts & Crafts, which provided me just enough space to divide the recipe into two jars.

The first time I tried to make the pickles, I followed his directions to the letter.  Although the flavors were there, I found the results too salty to truly enjoy on their own (though they made a delicious relish when chopped in a food processor).  So I tweaked it a bit, decreasing the salt in the recipe from 3/4 cup to 1/2 cup.

My second outing proved far more successful – the crisp texture blended perfectly with the flavors of vinegar, salt, garlic and dill, and I was able to quarter and serve the results at a picnic with friends this weekend.  When a friend who shares my love for good, garlicky sour pickles offered her praises, I knew I had a winner on my hands.

I am still amazed at how easy it is to make these pickles – if you’re the kind of person who feels that no self-respecting deli should be without a barrel of brined pickles just begging to be fished out and sliced, you owe it to yourself to give these little guys a shot.  The crunch and the bite of the pickles are a wonderful reward for doing it yourself, and the cost of the ingredients is still less than what you would pay in the store for a decent alternative to home-made.

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