At long last, I am publishing a blog entry dedicated solely to the fine art and high drama of making lime pickles.
My mother used to tell stories that at age 3, I was wanting these pickles. She had to hide them in a coffee cup on the table and sneak one when I wasn’t looking. I grew up eating these pickles, thanks to G-ma Blocher’s summer canning. Aunt Esther made them too.
At my first college Christmas in 1979, G-ma gave me 12 quarts of these pickles – one for each month. And for years, that was my Christmas present from her.
Then one year around 1990 I didn’t get any pickles, and I realized that G-ma was slowing down and not making them any more. That summer, I called her and got the recipe, then failed at my first batch. She gave me a few pointers, and I’ve made pickles nearly every year since then.
I give jars of these pickles as presents at holidays and at house-warmings. I eat them myself. I share them with guests at my table.
Prepare in a large enamel stockpot (or granite or crockery container, but not in metal!) a solution of 2 cups pickling lime and 2 gallons of water.
Wash 7 lbs of small cucumbers (no larger in diameter than a newborn baby’s ankle), then slice the cucumbers into 1/2- to 3/4-inch slices.
With a strainer over the drain, pour the entire solution and cucumbers into a sink. Rinse the cucumbers three times in clear water to remove all traces of the lime solution. Put the cucumbers back in the clean stockpot or crock for a moment and clean the sink.
In a large stock pot (or a turkey roasting pan like I use, as it’s the perfect size!) make a brine of
- 2 qts white vinegar
- 7 c granulated sugar
- 3 T mixed pickling spices (I use Penzey’s premium, but McCormicks will do fine)
- 1 T salt
- 2 T green food coloring
I put the pan over two burners on high at 6.30 a.m. the next morning. By about 6.45 the brine is at a boil. I turn down the heat to keep on a low boil. Keep covered, and boil for 35 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Using a large measuring cup, place cooked pickles directly from boiling brine into sterilized, hot glass jars. Pack tightly by pressing down with wooden spoon. Fill to the top, then ladle brine over pickles to about 1/4-inch clearance. Wipe the rim, then place canning lid and ring on tightly. With this much sugar and vinegar, the pickles do not need a hot-water bath, but a ten-minute boil in a bath won’t hurt them either.
Let cool completely. These pickles are best when aged for at least three months before eating, and are best when refrigerated. Pickles will keep for a year in the jars.
I repeat this process nightly with a bushel of cucumbers. The cukes will keep for five or more days if refrigerated. Of course this means I go through three gallons of vinegar, 20+ pounds of sugar, and a lot of spices and food coloring. Each quart easily costs $4 in raw material without labor. But the cost is so worth the taste and flavor!