Small Batch

Seven Day Pickles

By • July 5, 2013 • 74 Comments

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Every Friday, a DIY expert spares us a trip to the grocery store and shows us how to make small batches of great foods at home.

Today: Cathy Barrow (a.k.a. MrsWheelbarrow) shares a recipe for 7-day pickles that have brought together a community of pickle-lovers.

Making Pickles

For years now, I’ve made a sweet, tangy pickle I named for my Grandmother’s housekeeper, Luvey, who brought us an ice cold jar or two every summer. Lunches of hard boiled eggs and sweet pickles were a favorite after gardening or running through the sprinkler.

Those pickles haunted me for years and it wasn’t until I discovered a note in my grandmother’s recipe cards detailing a technique more than a recipe -- a seven day process -- that I tasted them again. Ten pounds of cucumbers transform into, well, a boatload of pickles. The first year I made half a recipe. Since then, I’ve made the whole ten pounds. They’re that good.

Two years ago, in New York to visit the Food52 offices, I wandered through Union Square Greenmarket. Imagine my surprise when I spied Seven Day Pickles on the table of a Mennonite farmer. That was a slap in the face, I’m telling you. And so I researched widely, even reviewing recipes in the Mennonite Cookbook (a gem, by the way). Lo and behold, there is a long tradition of Seven Day Sweets. Consider me humbled.

So, fast forward a few months and Food52er Emily Nunn came to visit. We got to talking about my seven day pickles, and Emily said her cousin Martha had a fourteen-day pickle that seemed very similar. And so it goes. 

Pickles

In the four years since I posted my first recipe, Food52 has become so much more than a collection of recipes. Before Food52, I had no friends who cooked the way I did, who obsessed over recipes, who carried home odd foods from international grocery stores. Until I met you all here, I had no place to share my passion. This pickle tale is just a metaphor for the extraordinary way Food52 has changed my life for the better. I know I am not alone.

Emily shared Cousin Martha’s recipe and the great pickle experiment began. Two recipes, similar ingredients, dissimilar curing times and technique, all culminating in a taste test with Food52 roots.

Who better to be the arbiter of brine than Jenny and her daughter, previously known as the Incipient Pescaterian, now a full-fledged Pickle Fan? We allowed PF to make the call. Unwilling to name a winner, she declared both great pickles with two unique pickle experiences: the seven-day pickle was more assertive and vinegary, while the fourteen day was crisper and much sweeter.

Jenny tried the seven day sweet and, with some degree of awe, said “These taste just like my grandmother’s pickles.”

And so it goes.

Seven Day Sweets

Makes 3 pints

2 1/2 pounds Kirby or pickling cucumbers, freshly picked
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 1/2 teaspoons alum, a naturally occurring mineral that crisps the pickle
1 quart apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon pickling spice, tied up in a cheesecloth bundle or tucked into a stainless steel tea ball
1 cup white sugar

Pickles Making Pickles

Day One: Soak the cucumbers in ice cold water for 30 minutes. Drain the water and scrub the cucumbers well to dislodge any remaining dirt. Slice a small amount off each end of the cucumber, then slice into half-inch slices. A mandolin is useful, but not necessary. Pack the slices into a half gallon jar or two quart jars. Cover with boiling water. Cover the jar and let it sit overnight on the counter.

Salt

Day Two: Drain the water away. Do not rinse. Dissolve the salt in one quart of boiling water. Pour the salted water over the cucumber slices while still warm. Cover and let it sit out overnight.

Making Pickles

Day Three: Drain the water away. Do not rinse. Add the alum to one quart of boiling water. Pour the alum water over the cucumber slices while still warm.

Making Pickles

Day Four: Drain the water away. Bring the cider vinegar to a boil. Tuck the pickling spice sachet into the jar with the pickles and pour the warm vinegar over the pickles. Cover and let the pickles brine for three days.

Making Pickles

Day Five and Six. Gaze longingly at your pickles to be.

Making Pickles Making Pickles

Day Seven. Drain the pickles, reserving 1/2 cup of the vinegar. Dispose of the spices. Place the pickles in a large bowl and sprinkle the sugar over the pickles and add back the vinegar. Cover and set aside for one hour. Pack the pickles into pint jars and scrape all the sugar and syrup over them. Cap the jars and set aside. Turn the jars over every day for a few days, as the sugar draws liquid out of the pickles to make a syrup, then store in the cupboard. There is no need to process them in a boiling water bath. Chill the pickles well before serving.

7 Day Pickles

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here. 

Photos by James Ransom

Tags: small batch, pickles, preserving, recipe, how to, step-by-step, how-to & diy

Comments (74)

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8 months ago Marlene

If I am using two quart sized jars, do I double the amounts of... salt, alum, pickling spice, etc? and water?

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8 months ago MrsWheelbarrow

Cathy is a trusted source on Pickling/Preserving.

The recipe is scaled for two quarts or one half gallon, so the amounts of alum, salt, etc are all appropriate as written. Have fun and enjoy the pickles!

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8 months ago Marlene

Do I refrigerate these at any time during the process? I'm at day four and was wondering...

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8 months ago MrsWheelbarrow

Cathy is a trusted source on Pickling/Preserving.

No, they aren't refrigerated at any time during the process!

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8 months ago Marlene

After the first day the water was cloudy and had a slimy little slick on top. Is this ok? I'm at day two and the pickles are floating. Will they sink? I'm worried about the few on top exposed to air.

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8 months ago MrsWheelbarrow

Cathy is a trusted source on Pickling/Preserving.

Yes, it gets cloudy - that's fermentation! Don't forget, the liquid is replaced every day. If pickles are floating, place a plate, saucer, bowl or whatever on top to force the floating ones under the liquid.

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8 months ago Marlene

Thanks! I can't wait until they are ready to eat. This is my first attempt a pickles.
:-)

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9 months ago chelsabea

Made these this week and they are amazing! My husband and I both love them.

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9 months ago MrsWheelbarrow

Cathy is a trusted source on Pickling/Preserving.

Yay! Welcome to the forever club.

Stringio

9 months ago Stacy Brasfield

Mrs Wheelbarrow, My pickles looks a lot like the picture shown on this page. I think the pickling spices (cloves, allspice) and the black tea leaves may impart a little color, but it isn't noticeable.

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9 months ago cindy

Thank you for the quick response. I will try a half batch of the slices and a half batch of the spears. With fingers crossed.:)

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9 months ago cindy

Hello, this looks like the perfect recipe for me. Wondering if I can quarter slice(like spears)instead of medallions?

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9 months ago MrsWheelbarrow

Cathy is a trusted source on Pickling/Preserving.

Hi Cindy, this recipe is geared for chunky slices, not spears. I can't promise the same results if you change the shape.

Stringio

9 months ago Stacy Brasfield

Also, I used black tea leaves in place of alum to keep the pickles crispy, and it worked beautifully. They contain tannin.

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9 months ago MrsWheelbarrow

Cathy is a trusted source on Pickling/Preserving.

Stacy, that's a very cool idea. Did the tea leaves dye the pickles a darker color?

Stringio

9 months ago Stacy Brasfield

Will the lacto bacteria be alive throughout this process? I love sweet pickles and healthy gut flora both!

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9 months ago Richard Gervase

I am at day 7 and the sweet pickles are now divided into 4 pint jars. Question: they are less than half full with liquid. I will turn them for the next few days, but is this correct? I'm wondering how they'll keep if half are in the liquid and half not. I've saved ll the vinegar/spice solution from days 4 to 7 so please let me know if I should add some to my pints. Thanks!

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9 months ago MrsWheelbarrow

Cathy is a trusted source on Pickling/Preserving.

Hi Richard, The syrup continues to form over the next few days as the sugar pulls from the pickles. If it is very low, make a simple syrup of equal parts of the vinegar solution and sugar, boil it for a few minutes and top off the jars.

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9 months ago Richard Gervase

Thank you for the speedy response!

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9 months ago deb oswald

The pickles should be completely covered in the liquid! They continue to absorb flavor in the jar! :)

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9 months ago Richard Gervase

But were yours completely covered when you first put them in pints? With only 1/2 cup of vinegar reserved mine are not full. Or perhaps I was supposed to use all of the vinegar EXCEPT for 1/2 cup?

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9 months ago MrsWheelbarrow

Cathy is a trusted source on Pickling/Preserving.

Yes, they should be completely covered. Did you let them sit for awhile before packing the jars?

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9 months ago Richard Gervase

Yes, I let them sit for an hour after sprinkling 1 cup sugar and adding back 1/2 cup vinegar solution. That's the right amount of vinegar, right? If so, I'll give it a few days and see how much liquid is drawn out of the pickles. We should all be asleep!

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9 months ago deb oswald

I was asleep! Having seen this type of pickle before, the uncovered ones can get sort of dried out- I wouldn't think after a couple days that it will be a problem anymore. I have to make these now! :)

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8 months ago emily

I followed recipe exactly and had same problem. I let them sit for a week and finally boiled more sugar/vinegar and poured over to cover. 1/2 cup liquid for four pints just seems so little!

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8 months ago Richard Gervase

Emily -- I ended up doing the same and the pickles have been a big hit -- about to run out. Still not sure about the liquid quantity but it was easily fixable.

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8 months ago MrsWheelbarrow

Cathy is a trusted source on Pickling/Preserving.

So interesting you've had this issue... I never have. I don't know if I pack them tighter? Or actually leave more liquid on them? HMM I have to make another batch to see.

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8 months ago Richard Gervase

More tightly packed -- I think that's it! I just reviewed the recipe and think I found my error. Since the pickles were in a half gallon jar for their seven-day journey, I had it in my head to spread them across four pint jars. But I just noticed that you indicate a yield of only three pints. That probably explains my shortage of liquid to cover. I saved all the liquid on day 7 so I imagine mine tasted the same -- delicious -- but have just had more room to swim around. Mystery solved, I think.

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9 months ago Tim G.

Alum is shorthand for potassium aluminum sulfate, and although it is a natural mineral, so are mercury and plutonium. Just say "NO!" to aluminum consumption in all forms, and maybe you'll dodge Alzheimer's disease, too, since aluminum buildup is found in the brain plaques of Alzheimer's victims. Cause, or effect? Do YOU want to find out the hard way?! I don't!

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9 months ago Kate Little

Hello-
Thanks for this recipe as we have had a bumper crop of cukes this year. I had a question however exactly what 'cover' the jar means. Loosely cover? Tightly cover? Seal? I tightly covered the first day but when I opened the jar it nearly exploded in my face. For the following days (I am on day 4 today), I have used a jar without the rubber ring so that the pressure doesn't build up. They seem to be processing OK but when I drain them, they don't smell very good. Is this normal? Will the smell change when I add the vinegar today?
I hope that I don't have to throw the whole batch away seeing as I did make 10 pounds. I just don't want to make something that could be potentially toxic and/or dangerous.
Please clarify on what exactly is meant by 'cover the jar'.
Thanks so much and I look forward to hearing from you!
Kate

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9 months ago Cathy Barrow

Hi Kate, they do smell funky and fermented until the vinegar goes in the jar. That first day the pickles really ferment and can build up some gases. I have always covered the jar with a tight cover that clamps on. There is nothing toxic there. You've got a big batch of fermented pickles that are going to be delicious in a few more days.

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9 months ago Kate Little

Thanks for the response- I will move forward then with the rubber ring back on the jar to seal it up. I do think that you should clarify that in the recipe- the first day I was planning on just covering it with a cloth. I assume that would have messed up the fermentation? Must the gasses stay in the jar? Sorry for the confusion- just want to do it right! Thanks again for the quick answer and all of your great recipes! Kate

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9 months ago Kate Little

Sorry- just one more thing- below you say that there is LOTS of salt, but it doesn't seem like there is very much added (1 tablespoon above - 1/4 cup for a gallon of water in the recipe). Is that correct? Tasting the pickles at the moment I can't detect that much of a salty flavor. Thanks for your patience with my questions! Kate

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9 months ago MrsWheelbarrow

Cathy is a trusted source on Pickling/Preserving.

Kate, I think you could cover it with a cloth, cheesecloth or a cap, it will not make a difference in the end product. Keeping the gases in or letting them go will make no difference. These are very forgiving pickles (as long as you remove the blossom end of the cucumber. And for me, it's plenty of salt, but doesn't make a salty pickle, it's just enough to aid the lacto fermentation that starts the process. They definitely don't taste salty when they are done, they taste very sweet.

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9 months ago Kate Little

Thanks so much! I really appreciate it- Kate

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9 months ago Jennifer Morris

Would these still come out okay if I made pickling spice without the mustard seed? My daughter is deathly allergic to mustard, but loves pickles - so I've been working on recipes sans-mustard. I just wouldn't want to do this if I was gonna end up with so-so pickles. Any thoughts?

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9 months ago MrsWheelbarrow

Cathy is a trusted source on Pickling/Preserving.

They will be just wonderful with or without mustard seed. Pickling spice is such a personal thing - I can't stand celery seed in mine, others balk about allspice - make up a spice blend that works for you!

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9 months ago Jennifer Morris

Thank you - I appreciate the answer! My little girl turned 6 and is heartbroken that there are no pickles left from last year's making and she's eyeing the cukes that we picked yesterday on the counter! I will get started today :)

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9 months ago Ceege

Looking forward to making these as soon as my local farm has the cucumbers. I have never heard of alum. Where do I buy this product. I live in Ohio. Thanks!!!

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9 months ago deb oswald

Alum is available in the spice department of your grocery store!

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10 months ago Noreen McKechnie

Totally agree with Mrs.Wheelbarrow on this growing up these weren't even put in mason jars, just old jars from commercial products. Can't wait till the silver skins are out, nothing I "like" better than peeling 20 pounds of the little sweeties. When I do just silver skins I use reg. pickling vinegar .

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10 months ago MrsWheelbarrow

Cathy is a trusted source on Pickling/Preserving.

Noreen, I've never seen these silver skins - where do you find them? When do they become available?

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10 months ago Noreen McKechnie

I am living in Ontario Canada so they may go under a different name elsewhere. They are about an inch in diameter and have white skins, often seen at farmers markets in pint baskets for those who know better than standing peeling them for ages. Hope this helps. I peel them by dumping them in a large bowl and pouring boiling water over them for a few minutes

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10 months ago msophelia

would love to understand the science behind these - what is it that makes these shelf-stable without having to process (hot water bath) them? thank you!

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10 months ago MrsWheelbarrow

Cathy is a trusted source on Pickling/Preserving.

I don't know what the science is but there is a LOT of salt and a LOT of vinegar and a LOT of sugar. I believe one of the fabulous things about these pickles is that they are not cooked, keeping them very very crisp. If you are concerned, water bath process pint jars for no more than five minutes.

Eac_victorian

10 months ago msophelia

oh, i trust that they're shelf stable. :) just curious to know how it all works, as i'm relatively new to canning/preserving. looking forward to trying your recipe!

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9 months ago ashley's brain

I wonder the same thing, msophelia. Perhaps these also ferment a bit and that also adds to the shelf-stability?
I've got to try these! (and while I wait on days 5 & 6, I'll search the interwebs for why these are considered shelf stable.)

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10 months ago Noreen McKechnie

I grew up with 7 day pickles as well, however the ones that I remember had cucumber small onions and cauliflower. Now when I make them I use silver skin onions e only.

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10 months ago MrsWheelbarrow

Cathy is a trusted source on Pickling/Preserving.

Oh my... with onions? I think I have to do that!

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10 months ago AntoniaJames

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My mother made them with the tiniest little pearl onions, too. As an adult, I have been known to put a sliced shallot or two in my sweet pickles when the pearls are not readily available. I hewed closely to the line when making dear Luvey's sweets last summer, but I plan to add a few tiny pearls, if I can get my hands on them, in this year's batch. Growing up, we always, without fail, put sweet pickles (along with watermelon rind pickles!) on our Thanksgiving table (in the prettiest little cut glass dishes, from my great grandmother). My mother quietly allowed me to put those sweet pearls aside for myself when I put out the pickles, as long as I gave her one, which she'd just as quietly pop into her mouth with a knowing smile. Such a sweet memory. ;o)

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10 months ago dc

Not much of a sweet pickler, but I'd love an easy dill/garlic/sour pickle recipe. My great uncle used to make some, he left the crocks but no recipe.

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10 months ago dc

Sorry! this do look fab tho'!

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10 months ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

dc, you're in luck. The supremely talented MrsWheelbarrow published in the Times today this recipe for sour pickles: http://www.nytimes.com... I must say I was happy to see it, too, because as much as I adore Luvey's recipe, we have at least one person in my household who much prefers the sour. So this year, I'm making both! ;o)

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10 months ago MrsWheelbarrow

Cathy is a trusted source on Pickling/Preserving.

Thank you, AJ!

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10 months ago deb oswald

My mom used to make 14 day sweet pickles that would fill the house with the smells of summer to me. And it was fun to watch the pickles in the crocks of cucumbers on the counter make their mystical change. If you want to see a bunch of old-fashioned pickle recipes, find "The Farm Journal Freezing and Canning Cookbook". Besides the pickles there is a recipe for a boiled raisin cake that is TO DIE FOR.

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10 months ago MrsWheelbarrow

Cathy is a trusted source on Pickling/Preserving.

It is fun to watch them change! I've got a huge crock turning cloudy and bubbly right now. Boiled raisin cake? YUM. I have seen a similar recipe in the Mennonite Cookbook.

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10 months ago healthierkitchen

These are just delicious! I make a half batch as I'm the only pickle eater in my house, but I do share some with friends!

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10 months ago MrsWheelbarrow

Cathy is a trusted source on Pickling/Preserving.

Thanks, Wendy! I'm so glad you've started making them regularly. What does it say that I make the whole batch even though I'm the only pickle person in this house. Hmmm.