Growing up, my grandparents lived in the high desert in California. This area was full of old-time country stores that somehow survived since the gold rush. We’d always stop into the Onyx store in Kern County California. Each of us kids would oggle the arrowheads and our parents would peruse the antiques. My favorite part was the utterly gigantic pickle barrel pickles. As a child, I had to use two hands to hold them. Keep reading to learn to make your own old time pickle.
As an adult, I wonder how the old-timers managed to get pickles that big to hold their shape and result in a firm, crisp, tangy bite. Not until I started fermenting did I realize they must have been lacto-fermented pickles, rather than the grocery store canned pickles we always had on sandwiches at home.
Canning pickles requires that you cook cucumbers. Cucumbers are not that fond of being cooked. There’s a reason they’re raw on salads, or eaten as cold soup. It’s hard to make good canned pickles, and if you’re going to attempt it, you need to use the smallest, firmest pickles you can find. That’s a far cry from the gigantic pickles I loved in my youth.
Lacto-fermented Old Time Pickle Recipe
Kids love novelty food. Making pickle barrel pickles is a great way to make something fun for your little ones and use up the pickling cucumber that hid under the vines for a week too long. If your little ones are anything like I was as a kid, I’d be ecstatic to find one of these behemoths in my lunch box. (And, I’d never even know it was fermented).
How to Make Old Time Country Store Pickle Barrel Pickles
I prefer to make these dill style, but feel free to choose your favorite pickling spices. You’ll need a half-gallon Mason jar to fit the extra large cucumbers, and even still I was only able to get two gigantic pickles in my batch because they were so thick. If you’re able to find ones that aren’t quite so large, but are still large enough to be impressive, you’ll have a much more efficient batch size.
I’m fond of this recipe for kosher dills that uses two tablespoons of Himalayan salt for every quart of water and adds in dill flowers and garlic. To a half-gallon jar, I like to add a tablespoon of dill seeds, coriander seeds, peppercorns and mustard seeds to bring out a bit more dill flavor and to add a hint of spice from the peppercorns and mustard.
To get the most out of your spices, bring the water to a boil with the salt and dried spices. Allow the brine to cool before pouring it over your pickles and fresh dill flowers.
For large pickles, you’ll still need to be careful to do a shorter fermentation time so that they only get a hint of tang rather than becoming too soft. I’d suggest fermenting for more than a week before enjoying every bit of your massive country store pickle.
Ashley is an off-grid homesteader in central Vermont. She is passionate about fermentation, charcuterie, and foraging. Read more about her adventures at PracticalSelfReliance.com.