I am making pickles again this summer. And these pickles are some of the best ones that I have ever made. They are inspired the spicy pickle chips which my 97-year-old mother-in-law keeps in her home refrigerator. She purchases large jars of spicy pickles at Costco Wholesale and then portions some of them into small plastic containers. She can reach in to her refrigerator from time to time and eat just a pickle. I reached in and ate an entire handful of the pickles. These pickles are addictive. And they are hot! Wow! Since the label of commercial pickles doesn’t specify the exact spice content, I decided go on an adventure and concoct my own spicy pickle recipe. Luckily, I aced my pickles on the first try. although I did make several additional batches just to make sure that I wrote down the ingredients and instructions properly.
I’m making a small batch of the pickles as it is a much easier to manage just a few cucumbers in my kitchen than a huge quantity. Plus, I typically have a small crop of fresh cucumbers at any given time from my garden. To make crisp pickles, you must use small, freshly picked cucumbers. This recipe uses one pound of cucumbers and makes five 8-oz (1 cup) jars.
Commercial Hot & Spicy Pickle Chips
I found two similar tasting brands of hot and spicy pickle chips to use as my recipe inspiration. “Wickles Wicked Pickle Chips” are associated with the deep South, originating in Alabama. They are made from a secret family recipe which is over 90-years-old, according to the Wickle’s Pickle internet site. A pair of Alabama brothers tasted these tangy pickles and began mass producing them in 1998. The pickles have done well and are now sold across the country as well as other pickled foods, such as pickled okra.
The second brand of pickles which my mother-in-law purchases is “Famous Dave’s Signature Spicy Pickle Chips.” Dave’s main interest is in barbecue sauce and he owns a chain of barbecue restaurants which originated in Chicago. At some point in time, he began selling pickles, too. We like his Original Pickle Chips (sold at Costco Warehouse). He also sells “Famous Dave’s Pickle Chips Devil’s Spit” which are just a little too extreme for my taste.
These brands of pickles remind my of my mother’s “Bread and Butter Pickles.” Her pickles are sweet with mustard seed, celery seed, turmeric and garlic. The spicy commercial pickles, however, also “pop” with a blend of spices and hot peppers. Famous Dave posted a recipe for “Hellfire Pickles” on his blog. So I’m going to use this recipe as a guide for my own pickles.
Here are the ingredients for my recipe. With these spices, I feel that I’m concocting a secret potion. The spice blend includes a cinnamon stick, star anise, green cardamom pods, cloves, mustard seeds and celery seed. I added a garlic clove to each jar. For the “hot” ingredient in the recipe, I added about 3 red pepper flakes to each jar. Although this seems like a tiny amount, it gave just the right amount of heat. You really don’t need alot of red pepper flakes. (Note, you can always add more “heat” but you can’t make the pickles milder.) And for a milder pickle, omit the red pepper flakes totally. The spice blend still makes for an interesting, spicy pickle.
The pickling brine is made of distilled white vinegar, water and sugar. (These pickles have a hint of sweetness, but they are not too, too sweet.) I placed the whole spices in a tea strainer (or you could use a cheesecloth bag) and let this spice blend seep in the pickling brine. It was easy to remove the spice bag out of the brine before packing the jars with the cucumbers.
However, if you don’t have either cheesecloth or a tea strainer, I also discovered that a permanent coffee filter works too and keeps the whole spices sort of “corralled.”. After the spices steep in the brine — remove them just prior to adding the cucumber/onion slices.
These commercial, spicy pickles are also crisp. I have learned, through experience, that you must use small, fresh cucumbers which are heavy for their size and don’t have blemishes. For best results, make the pickles the same day you pick them from your garden or purchase from a farmer’s market. So plan ahead.
Here are several tips which I have learned along the way in making pickles. The first tip is to use cucumber varieties which are a specifically grown for making pickles. For example, don’t use waxy cucumbers or English cucumbers. These straight cucumbers with small spines on the skin are grown for making pickles. They are “ugly” but are the best ones to use. These cucumbers are also delicious for eating as they are crisp with small seeds. Select smaller cucumbers; these are about 5″ in length and 5 cucumbers weighed about one pound which is just right for my recipe. I purchased these at a farmer’s market — it was easy to select ones which were similar in size. I really doubt that you will find these cucumbers for making pickles in a major grocery chain store.
These cucumbers are from my garden. I got a late start with my gardening effort this year. There are enough cucumbers for several batches of pickles and lots to eat in salads. You can see the large variation in the sizes of cucumbers in my “DIY” effort..
The second tip is to cut off and discard 1/2″ of the blossom end of each cucumber. An enzyme in this end of the cucumber can make the pickles soggy, so it should be cut off. Thoroughly wash and scrub the cucumbers, leave the skins on. I use a mandoline slicer to quickly cut even, thin cucumber slices. As you can see, I also like to add add onion rings to my pickles. Make sure you use rings and not bits on onion — which are had to get from the pickle brine and into the canning jars.
The third tip is to use pickling salt for soaking the cucumbers, not table salt. Table salt contains added anti-caking agents and perhaps iodine which can lead to soggy pickles and cloudy pickle brine. Pickling salt has a larger, course crystal than table salt. For this recipe, I used 1 tablespoon of salt which is plenty. Don’t be tempted to use more salt — or you will have very salty pickles.
Making the Pickles
To make the pickles, the cucumber slices (and onion rings) should soak in pickling salt and ice for two hours — to draw out excess moisture from the cucumbers. (I add about 2 – 3 cups of ice cubes to the bowl with the cucumbers.) Then drain and rinse the cucumbers/onions thoroughly to remove all the salt, liquid and any remaining ice cubes.
The rest of the process of making the pickles is straight-forward. Make the pickling brine by heating the vinegar, water, sugar and the spice bag (or tea bag). Heat to boiling to dissolve the sugar. Turn off the heat and let the spices steep. (You can do this while the cucumbers soak in ice). Then re-heat the vinegar/sugar/spice brine. Add the drained and rinsed cucumbers/onions to the brine along with mustard seeds and celery seed and cook for 5 minutes. Discard the spice bag.
You need to have five sterilized 1-cup canning jars, rings and lids ready to go. Sterilize them in a dishwasher or by boiling them in a large pot on the stove. Try to keep everything hot. Pack the sterilized canning jars with the cucumbers, onion and brine, add a garlic clove and 3 pieces of red pepper flakes to each jar. Add a sterile seal and ring. Either refrigerate the pickles and use up in a couple of months or immediately process the hot jars in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes. When properly processed and sealed, these can remain shelf-stable for many months.
That’s it. You have pickles. Making pickles is a rewarding project. You’ve made a unique product, which is much better than any store purchased pickle.
Making a small batch of “refrigerator” pickles is a good way to get started — without resorting to the home canning process. The pickles will last several months in a refrigerator — but they will probably get eaten much sooner.
And just a disclaimer. These pickles are delicious — but they are full of a spice “kick”, a little sweetness and plenty hot. For those folks who like plain, bland pickles — watch out! Well, I like spicy pickles and concocted a recipe that I really like. Hope you enjoy it, too!
Hot and Spicy Pickle Chips
- 1 lb small 5″ pickling cucumbers, (4 cups sliced or 5 pickles)
- 1 small white onion, sliced crosswise into rings.
- 1 Tbsp pickling salt
- 1″ piece cinnamon stick
- 1 tsp whole cloves
- 1 stare anise star
- 4 green cardamom pods
- 2 cup distilled white vinegar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 Tbsp mustard seeds
- 1/2 tsp celery seeds
- 5 large garlic cloves
- approx 15 crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
Instructions and Steps:
- Wash and sterilize five 8-oz (1 cup) canning jars. Sterilize rings and seals, too. Set aside.
- Wash and scrub cucumbers. Remove any blemishes. Cut off 1/2″ off each end of cucumbers. Slice cucumbers crosswise in 1/8″ slices.
- Place cucumbers in large bowl. Add onion slices. Pour pickling salt over mixture and toss gently to combine.
- Add ice cubes to cucumber/onion mixture. Let set on kitchen counter for 2 hours.
- Thoroughly rinse off salt and drain. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, make pickling spice mixture. Combine cinnamon stick, cloves, star anise and cardamom. Place in small cheesecloth sack and tie end. Alternately place in large tea ball.
- Heat vinegar, water and sugar in medium (4 qt) pot. Add spice sack. Add mustard seeds and celery seeds directly to brine. Bring to boil just until sugar dissolves. Turn heat off and and let spices steep.
- When ready to finish pickles, re-heat vinegar/sugar/spice mixture. Add drained cucumbers/onions. Stir to coat cucumbers with brine and cook for 5 minutes on medium heat. (Mixture does not need to boil.) Remove spice sack.
- Use a slotted spoon to remove and drain cucumbers/onions, reserving hot brine, and fill each canning jar to within 1″ of top of jar with cucumber/onions. Pour hot reserved brine over cucumbers. (Note: there is extra brine, sift and add some of the mustard seeds in the bottom of brine solution to each pickle jar.)
- Add a garlic clove to each jar. Add 2 to 3 red pepper flakes to each jar. (These can be omitted for less “hot” pickles.)
- Wipe off top of jars, if needed. Add sterilized seals and rings.
- If processing pickles in water bath to preserve pickles, heat water to a rolling boil in canner with water to cover jars by 2″. Add hot jars of pickles, setting them on rack to keep them off bottom of canner. With water at a rolling boil, time 5 minutes. Then remove pickles and let cool on towel-covered tray. These may be stored at room temperature. OR, If not processing pickles, then cool to room temperature and store in refrigerator. (NOTE: Excessive time in canner will result in mushy pickles. Make sure water in canner is at a rolling boil before adding jars.)
NOTE: Cucumbers can be increased to 1-1/2 pounds. Use same amount of brine and pickling spices.