Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


Half-Sour Pickles
Homemade half-sour pickles. Crisp and garlicky, there is no better pickle on Gawd’s green earth.

When I was a young Snot-Nose, one of the great pleasures of dining in an authentic delicatessen - Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House in North Miami Beach comes to mind - was the inevitable bowl of pickles that would appear on our table as soon as we were seated.

Sometimes you would have sauerkraut or pickled green tomatoes. Occasionally there would be a lusty chunk of red pepper. But always, the star of the Pickle Bowl would be the crisp, garlicky half-sour pickles.

A good deli restaurant - a real deli restaurant - will trot out a bowl of half-sours, maybe with a few garlic dills thrown in. I stopped going to Goldberg’s (an Atlanta-based chain operation) because they had jars of sweet hamburger pickle slices on the tables... proof positive that they Just Did Not Get It.

If the only pickles you’ve ever had are the kind that come from the pickle aisle in the supermarket, you’ve missed out on the Quintessential Pickle Experience... because the half-sour pickle, the pickle that bestrides the cucumber world like a colossus, will not be found there. If you are lucky, you will find them in your supermarket’s refrigerated section. Ba-Tampte makes a good example of the genre.

Of late, however, I have been disappointed in the half-sours that show up in our local Publix. Instead of that bright green color, a color that promises a crisp pickle with just the right half-sour flavor, the ones I’ve been seeing are washed-out and tired looking, a dull green that means they’ve been marinating in their briny bath so long, they’re now mostly sour. Not to mention flaccid.

Nobody likes a flaccid pickle.

My solution? I’ve started making my own half-sours. It’s easy!

I found several recipes simply by trolling the Interwebz. One was promising, and the resulting pickles had a fresh, garlic-packed snap - but were way too salty. So I have adapted it.

Half-Sour Pickles

Half-gallon jar or bowl
Pickling cucumbers, enough to fill the jar
¼ cup kosher or pickling salt
2 tbsp pickling spices
4-5 garlic cloves, sliced
6 cups water (approximately)

Wash the jar and the cucumbers thoroughly. (It’s not a bad idea to soak the cukes in a dilute water-vinegar solution for about an hour to kill any surface mold spores, but it’s not absolutely necessary.)

Dissolve the salt in the water. Make sure you use pickling salt or kosher salt - table salt will give your pickles an iodine pong. If your tap water is heavily chlorinated, I recommend boiling the salt water brine and then letting it cool to room temperature.

Put the garlic and pickling spice in the jar, then add the cucumbers. Now fill the jar with the brine. unless they’re packed in tightly, the cukes will want to float - weight them with a saucer or anything else that will fit in the mouth of your jar if you have to, but make sure they’re completely submerged. Cover the mouth of the jar (or the top of the bowl) with a dish towel or a few layers of paper towels and set it on your kitchen counter for three days. Little bubbles will begin forming in the liquid, a sign that your pickles are happily fermenting. After the three days are up, seal up the jar and stick it in the fridge. Now you can enjoy real half-sours.

If you prefer a more traditional dill pickle, try this version. It was touted as a recipe for half-sours, but the vinegar and dill say otherwise. Nevertheless, SWMBO has pronounced these to be among the best pickles she has ever tasted.

Garlic Dill Pickles

Half-gallon (64 oz) jar with lid
Pickling cucumbers, enough to fill the jar tightly
3 cups water
1 cup white vinegar
2 tbsp kosher salt
2 bay leaves
20 black peppercorns
2 or 3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 branch fresh dill

As in the first recipe, wash the jar and cucumbers thoroughly.

Boil the water, vinegar, and salt until the salt dissolves completely, then let the brine cool to room temperature. Place the bay leaves, garlic, dill and peppercorns in the bottom of your jar. Put the clean cucumbers in the jar; jam them in one at a time until they are nice and tight.

Now fill the jar with the cooled brine. Keep the jar loosely covered with a dish towel at room temperature for 24 hours.

After 24 hours remove the dish towel, put the cap on the jar and stick it in the fridge. The pickles will be ready to eat after 3 days. They will not be as bright green as the half-sours, but that’s OK - they will still be nice and crisp, with a fine garlic-dill flavor.

The pickle aisle will never have the same appeal once you’ve started making your own!


BobG said...

Some great looking pickles there. I love pickled stuff, cucumber pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, takuans, etc.

mark hoback said...

Happy Newblog!

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

My mother loves half-sours. I mean, LOVES them. They used to serve them up at those restaurants owned by Ted Turner that sell buffalo steaks--sort of like how they bring out the chips and salsa at the Mexican jernts.

So when I told her this morning that you had a recipe for them, she demanded I print her a copy. And so it goes.

Off-topic--I didn't know you were still in the blog bidness, Mr. Hoback...I went ahead and added you to the blogroll at my new location for Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.

Elisson said...

Ivan - They still serve them at Ted's Montana Grill... and we always ask for extra helpings.

And I've blogrolled Mark Hoback as well. Good to know Fried Green Al Qaedas is still alive and well after all these years. Yowza!

Carolyn™ said...

Love the idea of making these.