Monday, July 27, 2009

perfect half-sour pickles

Dear reader, as you know, I get on kicks--or cravings, or the hunt for, etc . . . Well the latest has been a search for a great, crispy, bright green deli pickle. I always called them dill pickles. Sounds right, but I had no idea how they were made--oh sure, vinegar, dill, spice, sealed in a jar? No. The pickle I was looking for was different. Garlicky, crisp, briny, with no vinegar. I discovered that the pickle I was craving is called the half-sour, a staple of east coast deli's.

I did some research and found that the half-sour gets its flavor and its name from a very quick (and fairly simple) fermentation process. I liked the idea of not canning anything, so I thought that this is the pickle recipe for me. I adapted the recipe from at least 4 web recipes that had very similar ingredients and instructions. I assumed that at least 4 people could not be completely wrong. Half the fun was shopping for the ingredients--it gave me an excuse to go to the new Berkeley Bowl West, 920 Heinz Avenue, Berkeley, CA. and believe me it was worth it. The produce selection is bar none and the prices are very reasonable. A 2 quart Mason glass jar with locking lid and I was good to go. Since the fermentation process involves leaving your cukes at room temp for a few days, please be sure that every surface and utensil you use is very clean to avoid any unwanted contamination.

The ingredients:
8 cups cold, filtered water
1/4 cup kosher salt (no iodine)
1 bunch of fresh dill, stem end trimmed off
6 garlic cloves, cut in half
10-20 black peppercorns
1/8 tsp fennel seeds
2 tbl pickling spices
1 small dry red chili (optional)
10 small-medium Kirby cucumbers (not Persians)
2 grape leaves

Don't cut down on the spice. The cucumbers absorb alot of flavor. Clean the cucumbers well and trim off any attached stem. Place the cucumbers lengthwise into the jar. Dissolve salt in the filtered water and pour over the cucumbers to cover. Add all other ingredients and stir gentle to mix. Place a small saucer or bowl in the opening of the jar to keep the cucumbers submerged. You may need to add a weight to the plate to keep it down. The cukes cannot have contact with air or they will rot. Do not close the lid, but place a loose piece of plastic wrap over the opening. The idea is for some of the natural bacteria in the air to react with the brine. The grape leaves have been found to give the crispness you want in the final pickle.

Place the jar in clean area with the temp about 68 degrees. Since this is a low salt half-sour pickle, the cucumbers remain unrefrigerated for only 3 days. A slight cloudiness will form, and a few bubbles, a sign of the fermentation. After 3 days, skim any foam on top, check pickles to see if they are bright green, with a great dill/garlic smell. They should look and smell good. If it smells funky or the pickles are slimy, discard. When in doubt, discard. Otherwise, seal the lid and refrigerate for 5 days. They are now ready to eat! They last a month refrigerated .


  1. I've always been in a pickle about how to pickle. Thanks for the tips.

  2. Thanks so much for this in depth recipe! I had sour pickles in new York recently and fell in love, but doubt they sell them here in San Francisco. I'm going to try to make some. I'm assuming the full sour ones just have to sit longer, right?