In the last two weeks, I’ve made dozens of pickles. My favorite sweet pickles were first on the list, and if you have been reading along, or had a quick lunch over here in MrsW’s kitchen, you know I serve these all year long. This is a pickle that’s worth the (very minimal) work. They are sweet and briny with a sharp vinegar bite. Without a doubt, the best part is the crispness. They are the perfect deviled egg, egg salad, tuna salad or chicken salad pickle. They pair with rich salty charcuterie in a wonderful way. And they are perfect for that refrigerator contemplation… the “what’s for dinner” stare … that requires something lifted aimlessly from jar to mouth while thinking.
There’s no real recipe, only a technique. And for the last twenty years, I’ve been acting as if this recipe is my very own secret. The recipe was on a card in the metal file box my grandmother used for her recipes, titled Luvey’s Seven Day Pickles. In the time I’ve been blogging, so much has been made of originality and recipe attribution. So, calling these pickles Luvey’s seemed the correct attribution for what I was sure was original and unique.
Until I walked through Union Square Greenmarket last month, wandering aimlessly, glancing at table after table of lovely foods. There was a farmer with a table filled with jars. One jar said Seven Day Pickles. I picked it up, turned it this way and that, and knew, just knew, that any claim of originality was going to be pushed aside.
What incredible arrogance to think that this was a secret recipe! I’m really quite embarrassed. As if the Greenmarket experience wasn’t enough to make me rethink, Emily Nunn came to visit (she’s making her Comfort Food Tour, but you’ll have to ask her about that.) Emily and I met virtually through Food52, and I just knew I would love her. Her recipe for Lemon Blueberry Pancakes is amazing (secret ingredient!) and the Matilda, Maple, & Garlic Pork Shoulder with Crispy Skin – the title alone makes my mouth water. She arrived for a visit a bit remorseful, saying she had intended to bring some of her Aunt’s special sweet pickles. My ears perked up with that mention. Somehow I knew, I just knew. Yes, Aunt Mariah makes the same seven day pickle.
Emily claims Mariah’s have more clove, but I surmise that is just a matter of pickling spice, and now that I’ve seen the recipe, my suspicions have been confirmed. There are a couple of slight adjustments to the technique, but really, it’s just about the same darn pickle.
So, they’re not original…but they are amazing. Like no other pickle. And in these dog days of summer, when the heat is hovering at 100°F every single day, here’s a preserving recipe that has very little cooking involved.
It’s simple, and the ingredients are few, but there is one you may not know. Alum is what makes this pickle crisp. It’s a mineral – an old time mineral used to maintain crispness. It’s not creepy. It’s not a first cousin to high fructose corn syrup or neighbor to those multisyllabic scary ingredients. It’s found in some grocery spice aisles. I’ve done some research and encourage you to do more if you want. It’s not a bad thing, alum. It’s natural and serves a mineral, simple purpose adding snap to these pickles.
There is no processing and these jars are shelf stable. Really. If you process these pickles, you will cook them and they won’t be the same. I’ve kept them on my shelf for a year (they never last any longer than that, and having enough for a year is always a challenge.) The high concentration of both sugar and vinegar certainly adds to the stability. Still, I make one recipe, 12 pints, intending to consume them or give them away within one year.
Make these with the firmest cucumbers you can find. I know you will say ten pounds? Geez, that’s a lot of pickles. Go ahead, halve the recipe if you must, but I’ll bet you will regret not having more pickles once you’ve tasted one of these seven day wonders.
Luvey’s Seven Day Pickles
Makes 12 pints
1/4 c salt
3 T Alum
1 gallon apple cider vinegar
1/4 c pickling spice
4 c sugar
Soak the cucumbers in ice cold water for 30 minutes.
Drain. Trim off the ends of the cucumbers, then slice (a mandoline is best) into 1/4″ slices. (Note: Aunt Mariah cuts hers into chunks. I like this idea.)
Pack the slices into a huge jar or food safe container. Cover with boiling water.
Cover the container and let it sit overnight.
Drain. Add the salt to one gallon of boiling water.
Pour the boiling water over the cucumber slices.
Cover and let it sit overnight.
Drain. Add the alum to one gallon of boiling water.
Pour the water/alum mixture over the cucumber slices.
Cover and let it sit overnight.
Drain. Bring cider vinegar to a boil
Put the pickling spice into a cheesecloth bundle (or a tea ball!) and add to the cider vinegar.
Pour the vinegar mixture over the cucumber slices.
Cover and let it sit for three days.
Drain, reserving 2 cups of the vinegar.
Dispose of the pickling spices.
Put the pickles into a giant bowl. Pour the sugar over the pickles, stir well and allow the mixture to sit for about an hour.
Pack the pickles into sterilized jars – pints or quarts, whatever size you want. I say, depending on how many you think you will eat in one sitting. I’m good for a pint. (Not that you can’t keep these in the refrigerator or on the shelf for months.)
The sugar will draw the liquid out of the pickles and make a syrup, some of which is now on the bottom of the bowl. Scrape/pour the syrup over the pickles, dividing evenly between all the jars.
Make up any shortfall of liquid by adding back the vinegar, just until the pickles are covered.
Cap the jars. Turn them over and over a few times in the next three or four days to disperse and dissolve any sugar that gathers on the bottom.
Chill the pickles well before serving.
PS Those clever farmers at the Greenmarket had a Seven Day Pickle with Jalapeno. I think the rounds of chile would be amazing, so will definitely try that next year. Sweet, acidic and spicy? Be still my heart.