Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Sour Grapes

This post isn't really about sour grapes- I just thought that made for a better title than "Sour Pickles". Plus, I don't really like calling these "sour", even though I suppose that's what they are. Call them whatever you want- just try them out. You won't be disappointed. They're super easy, low-fat, low-calorie, they don't take long at all, and are only a little bit addicting.

First, the original recipe, handed down from my grandfather-


1 gallon crock
8 cups vinegar
1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup dry mustard

mix dry ingredients, add a little vinegar at a time until well mixed, then add remaining vinegar and place in a crock.

wash and dry pickles, put in crock, add a small piece of alum for crispness.

Now as I said, that's the original recipe. My family has made it many times over the years and it always goes over well with everyone who tries it. I highly recommend trying it as-is, not only because it's very good, but also to use it as a sort of flavor reference point for when you start messing around with the ingredients, like I do.

I made these for the first time in a very long time a few months ago, and as I was dissolving it on the stove I tasted the vinegar/spice mix and decided it was a little too vinegar-y. So I added a little more of each of the dry ingredients, not measuring anything out of course, until it tasted about right. A week or so later when they were ready, I tried them out and thought they were pretty much outstanding. So I brought some into work for people to try and they were a big hit. Gave some to my folks one day too- that turned out to be a mistake. My dad loved them, so he gave me some money to buy stuff to make more for him, plus went out and bought some english cucumbers for me to try out as well. I was not expecting all this extra work. I got the recipe from him, after all. Couldn't he have just gone home and made some himself? Maybe asked for some pro tips? The lesson to be learned here is this: whenever you make something that is so good and you know people are just going to love it, make sure you have a recipe on hand to give to them when they ask you to make them some. "Can I make you some? I'll do you one better! Here's the recipe! Now you can make them anytime your little heart desires!" It doesn't matter if you don't actually have a recipe- make one up. Keep it on hand for just such occasions. If you do have one, but it's a "top secret" recipe that you don't want to share with anyone, just give them a fake recipe, something that looks similar, but is actually not at all the same. Then when they try it out and it's not nearly as good as yours they'll think you're just the shit and you'll build up a reputation. Of course, if simply handing them a recipe won't do, like say if they're your parents or something, and trying to brush them off with just a piece of paper will make you look rude and ungrateful for all the cooking they've done for you, there is another option: just don't share your stuff with them. If they don't know you got the goods, they won't know to ask for them, right? Of course, then you'll have to keep the knowledge that you are, in fact, the shit, to yourself, but hey, we all have to make compromises somewhere, right?

Alright, moving on... check out these fine looking cucumbers I picked up at my local Asian grocery store for 75 cents a pound!

Apparently they're in season all year-round, at least around here anyway. The photos don't really do them justice- they really looked like they were fresh from somebody's garden in the middle of July. But as a matter of fact, I bought them January 21st!

Now, the recipe calls for a "small piece of alum" for crispness. Some people say you shouldn't use alum, that it's bad for you or whatever. I think I read somewhere that if you ingest a couple ounces it will kill you. I don't know. I do know that it's FDA approved, for what that's worth, and that 2 ounces is a lot- accidentally ingesting that much would be like something along the lines of accidentally ingesting an entire bottle of aspirin; it's just not going to happen. If you're still not sure, I'd just recommend doing a little online research and getting all the info you can, then you can make the decision that's right for you. As for me, I use the stuff. (Then again, I also use and love MSG and aspartame.) I've made pickles with and without it, and the difference is huge. Without, they're super soft. Disgusting, in fact. I threw a whole bunch out because of it. With the alum, they're super crunchy, and stay that way for a good two weeks or more. As for a "piece" of alum, the only alum I've been able to find is granulated, and the label doesn't give much in the way of instruction on how to use it. It usually just says "follow the recipe". From my own online research, the consensus is that you shouldn't let the cucumbers (or whatever it is you happen to be pickling) just soak in the alum solution the whole time. A short soak, followed by a rinse, then pickling is what's recommended. So when I make pickles, here's my procedure:

dissolve 1 teaspoon alum in 1 gallon of water.
add rinsed whole cucumbers and let soak for 1/2 hour, then rinse and dry.

For some reason though, the 1/2 hour usually turns into an hour. But that's just me. I'm easily distracted.

As far as the rest of the recipe goes, usually I start off the same as the original recipe- 8 cups vinegar, 1/2 c. each of the dry stuff, but then I just keep adding a little more of each of the dry ingredients until I like the way it tastes. I heat mine on med-low in a pot on the stove- makes the dissolving much faster and easier. Note that if you do it this way, you really need to cool the mix down to room temp (or lower) before adding the cucumbers, or they probably will get mushy, even with the alum. I say "probably" because that's what I've been told repeatedly by my mother, and as any mother will tell you- mothers are never wrong. So I figure better safe than sorry. (I usually use the cool-down time to slice the cucumbers anyway. I used to slice them into rings, but now I prefer spears.) It's hard to say exactly how much extra of the dry stuff I add. I did write it down one time, and I'll post it here, but please don't follow it exactly; you're far better off tasting as you go. (Another reason to keep the heat on med-low- I just dip my finger directly into the mix on the stove and taste it like that. If you find yourself adding more dry mustard, it may clump if you add it directly into the vinegar, but if you sprinkle it on very lightly, it usually mixes in fine. Alternately, you can mix it with a little salt and/or sugar and it will dissolve much easier.)

8 c. white vinegar
8 c. apple cider vinegar
1 1/4 c. dry mustard
1 1/4 c. sugar
1 1/4 c. salt

This recipe will get you two gallons of pickles. I do like to mix apple cider vinegar and white vinegar half and half. It's fun to experiment with different types to see how the flavors differ. I like the flavor profile I get from white vinegar, though, so I always use at least half white. As for salt, they make pickling salt, but I use kosher. My understanding is that pickling salt dissolves better, leaving a less cloudy brine, but the dry mustard will cloud it up anyway, so I say use whatever's cheaper. Dry mustard can be expensive, but most stores have a bulk foods section and you can get it much cheaper that way. As for the container, pretty much anything non-reactive will do fine. Those large Gladware/Rubbermaid/etc. things would probably be great. Me, I recycle the one gallon mayo containers we get at work:

Just stuff it full of cukes, and pour the vinegar mix over and you're pretty much all set. These don't need to cure in the fridge. Room temp is fine. At room temp, they should be ready in about 4 days. At cooler temps, like your basement in the wintertime, or the fridge, it'll take about a week or so.

You simply must try these pickles. They're quick, easy, and delicious!

(And only a little bit addicting.)


Christine Vyrnon said...

I LOVE PICKLES! My mom always said pickles (and drinking pickle juice) were why her kids had such good teeth... something about the acidity. I was a hardcore pickle addict as a kid. Mum used to jar pickles and we all had to help. Will keep this recipe in mind for future reference.

How's it Taste? said...

I think you'll really like these- it's a simple recipe, and to look at the ingredient list, it doesn't look like much, but then when you try them... damn tasty! Especially if you can get the extra additions right- last time I made them, I added a little too much salt. I think I was just in a hurry though. If I'd taken my time they'd have come out perfect. But, I like salt so I didn't care much. : D

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the pickles instead of giving us the recipe in view of the fact that we gave you the recipe in the first place. Grandma and Grandpa loved your article. Keep up the good work.
Mom & Dad