Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fourteen Day Icicle Pickles

Quite a few years ago I passed a few hours sifting through my mama’s recipe box.  There were recipes carefully printed on elaborate index cards bearing the name of the cook who had gifted her with their own take on this or that dish.  There were crumpled bits of recipes torn from magazines.  There were snatched kitchen notepad papers with handwritten notes on how to prepare everything from appetizers to entrees.  

It was easy to spot the best ones.  I had only to look for the most creased, stained and tattered paper - sure signs of frequent use.  I counted myself twice as lucky if mama had penciled in her own suggestions on how to improve a dish.  Then I hit the paternal grandmother’s Icicle Pickle recipe.  Handwritten.  Memory-laden.  Whoa.

Icicle pickles regularly masquerade as another region’s “bread and butter pickles” and are even called, by the southern US pickle aficionado,  “sweet pickles” now and then.  They’re crisp enough to rattle your teeth when you crunch into one eaten straight from the jar and add a special nuance when diced and thrown into a dish needing something sweet and spicy. But pickle-making ain’t for sissies.  It’s heavy work if you make enough of them in one go, and it requires daily attention for a full 2 weeks if you want to do it right.  It helps to have someone with a strong back on hand for lifting the crock.  Having jars of pickles lined up in your pantry is worth every minute spent in their preparation.  

At the end of the day, any good recipe is nothing more than a suggestion.  Any cook worth his or her salt actively seeks ways to improve or tweak a dish to better suit their palettes.  So it was with serious purpose and a healthy dose of trepidation that I decided to try my hand at granny’s pickle recipe.  I knew one certain thing - that I wanted to preserve the integrity of the pickles so that my own grandchildren would one day experience their own endorphin response when opening a jar of them!  Taking no short cuts and only reducing the amount of sugar used in the original recipe, I was extremely pleased with the results.  The recipe doubles (triples and quadruples!) easily so adjust quantities as necessary for the number of cucumbers you have on hand.  

Rona’s Icicle Pickles

Cut 2 gallons of fresh cucumbers lengthwise into a crock.  You’ll quarter larger pickles and cut in half the slimmer ones.  

Dissolve one pint of non-iodized salt in one gallon of boiling water.  Pour the brine over cucumbers.  Ensure that all cucumbers are fully immersed by weighting them down with an inverted dinner plate.  Cover with a kitchen cloth and let stand for one week, stirring them every day.  Drain off brine water.

Cover cucumbers with clear boiling water, weight them down and cover again with kitchen cloth.  Let stand 24 hours.  Drain.

Boil one gallon of water with 2 tablespoons of powdered alum.  Pour over cucumbers, cover again and let stand another 24 hours.  Drain.

Boil 2 quarts of cider vinegar and 4 pints of granulated sugar until sugar dissolves.  Pour over cucumbers.  Cover with kitchen cloth.  Drain, reserve and reheat vinegar/sugar mixture four consecutive mornings, pouring back over crocked cucumbers.

Next morning, drain and reserve vinegar/sugar mixture.  Heat canning lids and rings in a pan of water on your stove top.  Put cucumbers into hot, sterilized jars and add 1 tablespoon of pickling spice to each jar.  Heat reserved vinegar/sugar mixture to a boiling point and pour over jarred cucumbers.  Seal with lids and rings.  Invert on a clean kitchen towel to help seal.   Once cool all jars should have sealed properly.  If not, put unsuccessfully sealed jars into a 10-minute boiling water bath to seal.

Fourteen days I reply
when he asks how long it takes to make my sweet icicle pickles, syrupy juice trickling from the corner of his mouth, glistening, sticky pickle between his fingers, waving away my offer of a damp cloth to lick his hand clean.

The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature (March 2011)
Pickled Perfection!


  1. Delicious poem AND delicious pickles!

  2. Yummy and evocative.
    From the other side of the family, there were watermelon rind pickles that only cousin Phil, beloved grand boy-child, had free access to. Sweet and cool from the cellar.

  3. We know from personal experience how delicious those pickles are, but - my goodness! After reading that poem I need to take a cold shower!

  4. Trying icicle pickles for the first time this year, recipe courtesy of my Upstate NY mother-in-law. Myself, I'm more of a watermelon rind pickle kind of girl.

    1. thanks for dropping by, Joie! Hope your pickles are a success!

    2. They are the best dabburn pickles I've ever ate, Joie. They inspire poems!

      Thank you for dropping by The Frugal Poet. :)

  5. My parents used to make icicle pickles when I was a little girl. The recipe and crock are long gone, but I remember how delicious they were. I also remember the crock in the corner of the kitchen. I might have to try this one day and see if they live up to the memories. Thanks! :)

  6. Have you tried using Splenda or Truvia instead of sugar? My mother used to make these and everyone loved them. I am going to try some this year but I would like to use a sugar substitute because of family members with diabetes. Thanks

    1. Thanks so much for your visit, Robin! Unfortunately, I haven't tried a sugar substitute for these pickles, opting only to reduce the amount of sugar suggested in my granny's original recipe. I surely wish I could provide some direction but instead I've only to send my best wishes in your venture. Please post your results and good luck!