Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Half-Sour Pickles

By popular demand (ha ha), here is my post about making half-sour pickles.  I was inspired after having lunch several times at Pumpkin Market in Philly (http://pumpkinphilly.com/market/) to try and recreate the pickles they serve there.  I searched online for "half-sours" and found a blog post at Tommy J's Kitchen (http://tommyjskitchen.blogspot.com/2006/05/recipe-half-sour-pickles.html).  After a little more research, this seemed to be a pretty good way to go.  After a little trial-and-error I've modified the method/recipe a bit to suit my own tastes.  In this post I'll give you a detailed step-by-step method for making these yummy pickles.


Also, imagine my delight when a couple days ago, the Tigress posted a very similar recipe on her blog!!  See the link below for her method - you'll see it's similar in some ways, but also very different on the fermentation side of things.  http://tigressinapickle.blogspot.com/2011/08/cool-cukes-quick-easy-ferments.html

I will warn you before we begin that if you make the quantity I am presenting here, the pickles will get saltier and saltier the longer they sit, so if you can't eat this many within about 1 week and you don't like super-salty pickles, then I suggest making a smaller quantity.  You can easily scale the recipe down for a quart or pint-sized jar.

My recipe calls for the following:

1/2-gallon ball/mason jar or similar (if you use a smaller one, just scale the ingredients down)
Mortar and Pestle (or coffee grinder, or zip-top bag and something to pound with)
Bowl of ice water
Knife and cutting board

About 2 lb/900g of pickling cucumbers (I use small kirbies - about ten to twelve 3 to 4 inch cukes)
About 1/2 to 1 tsp coriander seeds
About 1/2 to 1 tsp dill seeds
About 1/2 to 1 tsp black peppercorns
About 1/2 to 1 tsp mustard seeds 
About 1/2 tsp crushed bay leaves 
About 3 or 4 whole allspice berries
2 or 3 dry red chillies
1/4 cup pickling salt (any "pure" salt such as non-iodized sea salt is fine)
3 or 4 garlic cloves

*(If you have trouble finding any of these spices, try: http://www.myspicesage.com/)

Step 1.
Wash off your cukes in cold running water, scrub them to get all the dirt off.

Step 2.
Trim off any stem ends that remain on the cucumbers. These can lead to a bitter taste. Yuck!

Step 3.
Rub the cukes in coarse salt and then rinse them off.  This step is optional. It can help reduce bitterness and help keep the pickles green.

Step 4.
Place the cukes in ice water while you do the rest

Step 5.
Heat up about a half cup of water in the microwave for dissolving salt.

Step 6.
Pour the hot water into your half-gallon jar and add 1/4 cup of pickling salt. Pickling salt is essentially "pure" salt without iodine (which can harm the necessary bacteria). I use fine sea salt.

Step 7.
Swirl the water and salt around in the jar to dissolve the salt. Add a little more water if necessary to dissolve the salt.

Step 8.
Grab your mortar and pestle to start preparing spices.

Step 9.
If you don't have a mortar and pestle, use a coffee grinder. If you don't have one of those either, use a zip-top bag and pound the spices with a rolling pin or other heavy object.

Step 10.
Add coriander seeds to the mortar.

Step 11.
Add dill seeds to the mortar.

Step 12.
Add allspice berries to the mortar.

Step 13.
Add mustard seeds to the mortar.

Step 14.
Add black peppercorns to the mortar.

Step 15.
Add dry red chillies to the mortar.

Step 16.
Add bay leaves to the mortar.

(Don't you love these easy steps?)

Step 17.
Crush/grind the spices in the mortar and pestle. You don't need to grind to a powder, just break the spices up a bit so they release their flavors.

Step 18.
Admire your grinding work.

Step 19.
Coarsely chop your garlic.

Step 20.
Add cold water to your salt water (you could use your cucumber iced soaking water).  Only fill the jar about 1/3 of the way up. You want the water to be relatively cool when you start the pickles - between 60 and 80 degrees F.

Step 21.
Start adding your pickles, standing upright in the bottom of the jar. When you've formed one layer, add your garlic.  Use chopsticks or a fork to move the cukes around so you can fit as many as possible.

(If you are a big fan of dill, you can also add some fresh dill weed along with the garlic.  I don't add it anymore, but it can be a nice addition.)

Step 22.
Add about 2/3 of the spices.

Step 23.
Add the rest of the cukes. You want to make sure none of the cucumbers are exposed to the air, so shove them down in so that they are forced under the curve of the jar mouth.

Step 24.
Add the rest of the spices and top off with water so the cukes are fully submerged.

Step 25.
Place a lid on top, but do not tighten it. Put the jar in another container to collect any liquids that might spill out during fermentation.


Leave your cucumbers on the counter for 24 to 72 hours then tighten the lid and stick them in the fridge. Personally, I like them a little less "pickled", so I let them sit for about 36 hours. For example, I made this batch tonight (Tuesday) and I will put them into the fridge on Thursday morning before leaving for work.

Enjoy!  Let me know if you make these and what you think about them.


  1. Hurray! I can't wait to make them. Just this Saturday I was puzzling over the difference between sour and half-sour pickles from Russ & Daughters (the half-sours were better!).

  2. Next time you're in NYC, you should get food from Katz's deli (if you haven't before) and make sure you get their pickles. I think one of the ones they offer is a half-sour - they are delicious! http://katzsdelicatessen.com/

  3. My mother is a big pickle maker and grows her own cucumbers in their garden. My son loves her pickles and made his first batch this summer. I sent your interesting recipe as a new alternative to try..
    Regards from Western Canada,