Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry

Half-Sour and Full-Sour Pickles


For Xmas two years ago I got a book The Joy of Pickling. Overall, I really like the book. It has a huge assortment of recipes, including things that I didn’t even know were possible. Reading through it, I’ve become inspired to try a whole variety of new recipes that I wouldn’t have even known about before hand.

But…there are a few little things about the book that irritate me. Recipes come in all shapes and sizes. Some recipes only fill a pint jar, while others are multiple quarts. It’s not always obvious how to scale recipes from one size to the other, especially if it’s based on how much you can “pack” into each container, and how much liquid it takes to cover. Many recipes call for ingredients that I have trouble finding, and don’t give any indication about variations or substitutions.Very similar recipes, adjacent to each other in the book come in different sizes that aren’t easy to compare directly. Measurements of ingredients sometimes come by volume, sometimes come by weight.

To give an example, there are two recipes for pickled cherries, right next to each other, on opposing pages. The first recipe makes a pint, and lists the amount of cherries by volume. The very next recipe, described as a “variation” on the first, makes a quart and measures cherries by weight.

In the same vein, salt is always (that I have seen) listed by volume, with the caveat that you use special “pickling salt”. Kosher salt or sea salt  tend to have lower density and so you can’t use the same volume measurements for those. You can “make your own” pickling salt by tossing kosher salt into a food processor or spice mill to grind it much finer. However, considering that you are just going to dissolve the resulting salt in water and lose all texture, that seems like a huge waste of time. A real solution, of course, is to just give your salt measurements by weight (or, gasp!, give both measurements).

I’ll stop complaining now, because it really is a fine book despite some of the small issues.

Dana and I would both like to reproduce the deli pickles we can get from our super market. I searched through the book to find two recipes which I thought were the closest. I put up a batch of each. We’ll taste the results, compare them to our target, and maybe try again with a better frame of reference.



This image shows the two jars of pickles. Full sours on the left and half-sours on the right.

Full Sour Dill Pickles

My intuition is that the “Half Sour” pickles are closest to what we are after, but in the book she describes the “Lower East Side Full Sour Dill” as the kind that New Yorkers would expect to find in their delis. Deli pickles are, after all, what I am after, so I included this recipe in my test. Her recipe for this makes 3 quarts, so I’ve adapted the recipe to be per-quart-jar. I’ve also adapted the recipe to use generic pickling spice, because I don’t have all the individual spices on hand (she calls for allspice and coriander seeds).

  • Pickling cucumbers, blossom ends removed
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 2 Dill heads
  • Dash crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 Tsp pickling spice
  • 1 Tsp whole black pepper corns.
  • 1 quart water
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt.

Mix the salt and water together until the salt dissolves.

Pack the remaining ingredients into the jar. Add brine to cover. Put the remaining brine into a plastic bag to put on top. The bag helps hold the cucumbers under the surface.

Bubbles should appear after 3 days. Let the pickles sit and ferment for 3 weeks, skimming scum and other garbage off the top daily.

Half Sour Dill Pickles

Her recipe for Half-Sour pickles, in true form, is a 1-quart recipe instead of the 3-quart recipe for the Full Sours. It’s hard to really compare the two like that, but I’ll deal with it. The recipe for this is almost exactly the same as above except for the strength of the Brine (she includes bay leaves here, but that’s already part of my Pickling Spice mix, so they are identical for me):

  • 3 cups water
  • 2 Tablespoons Kosher Salt

Make these in the same exact way. Let them sit for 2 weeks instead of 3, skimming daily.


The pickles are good, but not great. The first thing to mention is that the “Pickling Spice” I used in these recipes contain several ingredients I wasn’t aware of, and which don’t help the flavor: Cinnamon chief among them. The pickles do have a bitter, cinnamony aftertaste that really hurt the final flavor. Next time, I’ll definitely buy the individual ingredients and mix them together myself. I’ve been looking for things like whole cardamom and coriander seeds from my local supermarket to no avail. I may have to find a different source for these.

Besides the off-flavors of the pickling spice, the half-sours are probably closest to the deli pickle we are trying to get. My next batch will be based on that recipe, with modifications.

The Full Sours were way too salty for our liking. We’ll eat these pickles, but we won’t make that recipe again.


Author: Andrew Whitworth

I'm a software engineer from Philadelphia PA. Sometimes I like to go out to my garden, or step into my kitchen and make a really big mess of things.

2 thoughts on “Half-Sour and Full-Sour Pickles

  1. I’m with you on full-sours. I just made a huge batch (see just published article below) and will probably stop them after just a few days.

    It’s my Grandma’s recipe. Hopefully she’s good with half-sours.

    Grandma’s Pickles

    Looks like you made your own “pickling spice.” Makes mine look amateur!

    • I used the same spice: The McCormack Pickling Spice. Maybe it works better in your recipe, but in my pickles the cinnamon and allspice and other things gave too much of a bitter aftertaste. I’m starting to get the spices together for a second batch. As soon as I find good-quality cukes at a good price, I’ll start them up.

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