Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry

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Refrigerator Dill Pickles

I’ve been on a pickle kick lately, but I’m very new to the whole enterprise. For that reason, I’ve been making lots of batches of pickles with different recipes to try and learn what ingredients and proportions have what effects on the final products. This is why I made both Half-Sour and Full-Sour pickles a while back, and why I made three batches of refrigerator dill pickles too.

One milestone that I would really like to reach is to duplicate the flavor of the deli pickles we get from the local supermarket. I’m pretty sure they’re Deitz and Watson brand, and they can be found in big wood barrel displays (they’re actually in a plastic bin that sits inside the big wood barrel, but the visuals are the same). Whoever makes them and whatever they are called, I want to make them. When I figure out how to duplicate that recipe, I’ll be more willing to venture out and try all sorts of other things.

I’ve found a few recipes on the internet that looked like they might be what I am after, so I mixed and matched the recipes, and converted measurements so they are per-quart jar. Here are the general ingredients for these recipes:

  • Kirby pickling cucumbers. Usually 4-5 per quart depending on the size of the cukes and how you cut them (I cut them into spears). Make sure to remove the blossom end, to prevent softening.
  • 1 Tablespoon Kosher salt (with no preservatives or anti-caking agents)
  • Fresh Dill (to taste)
  • Peppercorns (about a half Tablespoon per jar, depending on taste)
  • Garlic
  • Other spices
  • 3 cups of distilled water (or, if not distilled, give it a good boil)
  • 1/4 cup vinegar

So all that out of the way, here are the three batches I made (from left to right, though you can see that we’ve been tasting them, they’re only half full now):


Batch 1: Simple

  • 1 clove garlic
  • Distilled white vinegar

This is a simple batch, and very tasty. For the first week they tasted unexpectedly sweet, but by the second week they were more mild. This is a simple, but good flavor. Our least favorite of the bunch, but were still pretty tasty.

Batch 2: More Complicated

  • 1 clove garlic
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • 1/2 Tablespoon whole coriander seed
  • Dash hot pepper flakes

These are probably our favorite batch of the three. The coriander makes the flavor more mellow and a little brighter. The hot pepper adds a little zing at the end, but doesn’t add much heat or flavor otherwise. Again this batch was unexpectly sweet for the first week, but after that they calmed down considerably.

Batch 3: Apple Cider Vinegar and Garlic

  • 3 cloves garlic
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 Tablespoon whole coriander seed
  • Extra Dill

I liked this batch more than Dana did. I think the extra garlic was a big help, but the apple cider vinegar is not quite as good as the white vinegar in this recipe. I would say this batch is tied for first, but Dana likes Batch 2 better.

What Next?

I like the ratio of water to vinegar. I think it’s pretty close to perfect. I will play with the ratio, of course, but I think we’re pretty close as-is.

Overall, I think if I make a fourth batch, I think I want to combine Batch 2 and Batch 3 and add a few more ingredients as well.

I’ll use the extra garlic and dill from Batch 3, but stick with the white vinegar and add some hot pepper from Batch 2. I also think I would like to add some extra spices too, like a little bit of bay leaf or mustard seed. The mustard seed, in particular, is probably a major missing ingredient. These changes to the recipe, and maybe a few tweaks to the technique, will probably get us pretty close to the flavor of the deli pickle I am looking for.

I am also considering another attempt at the Half-Sour recipe, this time with a custom spice blend instead of that problematic “Pickling Spice” I used last time. The pre-made pickling spice adds too much bitterness and off-flavor for my purposes.

In either case, we may have to wait till next year. Cucumbers are out of season now and we aren’t going to get any fresh Kirbys again until next year. Maybe I’ll plant a bush and try to grow a few myself.



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.



2012 Summer Garden Results

Early in the spring I dug up a pretty big plot for my first garden. It was about 6×7 feet. I dug up all the grass by hand, turned all the dirt over by hand, sifted out the rocks by hand. I picked up a few bags “Garden Soil” from Home Depot and mixed those in too. Sometime after the last frost in April or May (I don’t remember exactly when) I put in a selection of plants:

  • 2 big tomato plants labeled “Heirloom Beefsteak” with a picture of big juicy tomatoes on the tag
  • 1 “Cherokee Purple” tomato plant, that was supposed to yeild big purple fruits
  • 1 “Mr Stripey” tomato plant with a festive picture of yellow and orange striped tomatoes
  • 1 Cherry tomato plant (I don’t remember the name of the cultivar)
  • 1 Serrano pepper plant
  • 1 Cowhorn pepper plant
  • 1 small thai pepper plant (claimed to be an ornamental but the little peppers tasted good and had a zing to them)
  • 1 Cantelope plant
  • 1 Cucumber plant
  • 1 stupid little mystery pepper.

I planted the cantelope and cucumber plants close to the edge of the garden and encouraged the vines to grow out into the surrounding lawn to avoid crowding. The tomatoes were probably a little closer together than they should have been and a few times over the summer I had to go out and do a little pruning to keep them from bunching and encouraging enough air flow. The pepper plants had their own little corner, but towards the end of August the remaining tomato plants were starting to invade and threatened to choke the peppers to death.

I say “remaining tomato plants” above because a few weeks ago I totally hulked out and smashed a few of them to death, chopped them into pieces, and angrily tossed those pieces into the compost pile.

How did my first garden as a first-time homeowner turn out? Not well.

The cucumber grew aggressively and became a huge unruly plant in only a matter of weeks, but it seemed like fruit didn’t set until a little bit later than usual. I got one decent sized cucumber off the vine before it got totally consumed by some kind of disease. Early on the plant was covered in little bugs that looked like yellow lightning bugs. I didn’t pay them any mind at first but after the plant started getting obviously sick I looked them up: Cucumber beetles. They don’t cause too much harm themselves but they are a transmission vector for nasty things like blight and cucumber mosaic virus. Great. I cut off the vines that were completely diseased and tried to salvage the last few cukes, but they all turned yellow and had a real spongy feeling. Since I didn’t know what they were sick with, the vines and all the cukes ended up in the trash instead of the compost. What a waste.

The cantelope, despite being right next to the cucumber and susceptible to many of the same ailments, didn’t seem to get any disease during the summer months. It set it’s first fruit later than the cucumber did (not until early August did I see the first ones). At it’s peak it had about a half dozen cantelopes growing, but none of them got very big. Only three of them got anywhere near ripe, and all of those three split open after a late August rain storm and were inedible. I didn’t get a single bite of cantelope for all my efforts, but at least this plant looked healthy enough to compost. Silver linings!

The two beefsteak tomato plants I got grew to be huge bushy monsters, but something was missing: Tomatoes! The two of them, despite being the biggest plants in the garden, didn’t set a single tomatoe until mid August, and the ones it did set were small, ripened extremely slowly, and were prone to splitting. By the beginning of September we had only gotten two small tomatoes from these two plants combined, and there was nothing on them worth waiting for so I went completely crazy and ripped them out by the roots. I also said some cursewords and kicked some things.

The weird purple tomato plant produced more tomatoes, but they also ripened extremely slowly, were prone to splitting and the vines always had a sickly look to them. We got one or two off this plant and there are still a few more big green ones on the vine that might be waiting for until the end of the season. The weird yellow-and-orange tomato plant progressed similarly, producing maybe three or four through the season worth eating. I ripped this one out at the same time as the beefsteaks, because there was nothing on the vine that I expected to be ripe and edible before the end of the month.

The cherry tomato plant was the standout star. Despite being in the same exact soil less than a few feet away from the other poor performers, it’s produced a pretty large crop of very sweet and tasty little tomatoes. At some points we had so many cherry tomatoes that we didn’t know what to do with, that we started making all sorts of things that typically required some larger volumes of tomatoes: salsa, bruchetta, pasta, etc. Encouraged by this performance, I fully intend to grow more cherry tomato plants like this next year.

This picture shows the huge clusters of tomatoes I still have on my little cherry tomato plant. In the background you can make out one of the larger “Purple Cherokee” tomatoes starting to ripen. These are the only two tomato plants that I haven’t ripped out in an angry rage.

The Serrano and Cowhorn peppers both grew well and produced good crops of peppers. We don’t eat a lot of peppers (Dana doesn’t really eat them at all) so I had the good problem of having more than I knew what to do with. I mixed up a few small jars of pepper relish, have a few cowhorns hanging up to dry, have a jar full of serranos in vinegar to make hot sauce, and have plans to make some pepper jelly with the ones on the vine right now. I’m letting this next crop of Serranos ripen fully and turn red before I make the jelly.

This picture shows the cowhorn and serrano pepper plants right next to each other, with several from each plant ready to be picked. The cowhorns are on the left. The serranos are pickable now, but I want to wait a little longer for some of them to turn red.

The little thai pepper plant produced a crapton of beautiful red peppers, but they were too pretty and too much effort to harvest so I’ve left most of them on the vine. It’s a gorgeous plant, but I probably won’t grow this one again because the peppers are too small and just don’t have enough kick or flavor to make the enterprise worthwhile.

I’m already using this information to help plan out what tomato varieties I want to grow next year, now we just need to get through the long winter months!