Make delicious spicy, sour pickles based on a family recipe found in a 100 year-old cookbook
Faced with a bumper crop of late season cucumbers a few weeks ago, I decided to use a few for a spicy pickle recipe I found in a 1924 cookbook published by the First Lutheran Church Bible Club of Dayton, Ohio.
I really like the recipes in this book because they were written at a time when a lot of homes didn’t have electricity, gas, or indoor plumbing, so the cooking methods and instructions are interesting. For example, there is no “set the oven to 350 degrees.” It’s “fire the stove until water droplets dance on a heated pan.”
Additionally, in the early part of the 20th century, most people never traveled more than 50 miles from where they were born, so the foods and flavors of a region were unique to it.
In the case of this cookbook, it’s the descendants of German immigrants, so there’s lots of recipes involving pork, lamb, and various root vegetables (including one recipe for “Faux Krab” made from a lamb’s head, which I have no plan on trying, ever).
Anyway, back to what I started this with, which is a recipe titled “Spicy Pickled Cucumber” contributed by Mrs. A. Baumgarten.Her note reads: “this is a favorite in the shop,” which I take to mean a market or deli (though it could have been a hat shop for all I know). I’m intrigued by what a real homemade pickle might have tasted like 100 years ago, so I decided to give it a go.
The recipe is a slow fermented one, so rather than a couple days in brine and vinegar, this one takes two weeks to finish, but the results are well worth the wait. These are spicy, tangy, crispy pickles that pack a lot of flavor in every bite.
Better yet, the finished pickles keep just fine at room temperature, so you can make a big batch that’ll keep you in pickles for months without taking up space in the fridge (unless, of course, you like your pickles cold).
This recipe will yield 1 gallon (4 quarts / 4 liters) of finished pickles
- 8-10 Fresh cucumbers (picklers will be crunchier, but small standard cukes work too)
- ½ gallon (2 quarts) of water
- ⅓ Cup pickling or kosher salt
- ¼ cup dried dill weed
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tbsp whole peppercorns
- 2 tbsp whole coriander
- 4 dried hot peppers
- 4 large garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 tsp whole allspice berries
- 4 cups (approx.) white vinegar
- Mix salt with water in a large pot and heat until salt is fully dissolved.
- Remove the hot brine from the heat and add in the dill weed, bay leaves, peppercorns, coriander, and hot peppers. Set aside and allow it to cool.
- Wash cucumbers to remove dirt and the spines. Slice off both ends of the cucumbers and quarter them lengthwise.
- Pack your cucumbers in a large jar (I use an old 1 gallon pickle jar, which is convenient), or several smaller jars.
- Add the garlic cloves and dried peppers to the jar(s).
- Pour in enough of your cooled brine to completely submerge the cucumbers.
- Empty any remaining liquid from the pot, taking care not to pour off any of the solids – bay leaf, peppercorns, coriander, etc. – and use a large spoon or scraper to ladle the herb and spices into the jar(s) with the cucumbers.
- Weight with a plate or pickling weights heavy enough to keep cucumbers fully submerged in the brine (I use a plastic lid from a resealable container weighted with a baggie full of water.) Cover your jar(s) loosely and put in a cool place away from light.
- Check the jars every couple of days. As the pickles ferment, the brine will turn cloudy, but if you see a white mold forming on the top, scrape it off with a spoon to keep the ferment from going crazy.
- After 10 days, remove the top and weights from the jar(s) and pour off about 1/3rd of the liquid.
- Add the allspice berries to the jar(s)* and fill the jar the rest of the way with white vinegar.
- Seal the jar and return to a cool dark place to rest for another four days or so.
After resting for the additional days, the pickles are ready to eat!
If you fermented them in one large jar (like I do), you may want to split them up among several smaller jars. Just make sure the jars are clean, the pickles are fully submerged in brine, and the jars seal tightly.
The pickles will stay fresh and crunchy stored at room temperature for several months, but it’s always best to refrigerate them after opening so they stay fresh after they’ve been exposed to air.
Oh, if you want a little more background on where pickles come from and why they’re so awesome, check out this article from MentalFloss.com.
NOTE: *The original recipe called for the allspice berries to be added to the hot brine along with the peppercorns and other ingredients. I found it made the pickles too “perfumey” (if that makes sense) for my tastes. I found that adding them when the vinegar is added will deliver the peppery spice flavor without all the cinnamon, nutmeg and clove aromas.