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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Day Five and Six. Gaze longingly at your pickles to be.
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.
Photos by James Ransom