a thing for pickles

pickled things

I have always had a thing for pickles.

(When I taught high school English, I wrote a list on the blackboard at the start of every September, words that the students were not allowed to use: thing, stuff, get, very, nice, really, pretty, extremely, and cool. By the end of the first month, they could rattle them off like a chant. And by the end of the year, they had usually eliminated sentences such as “It was cool, because I got some very nice things” from their writing. But not always.

Now, whenever I write the word thing, I feel a little delicious thrill. Ha ha! I want to say. I’m breaking my own rules. But that was always the point, to teach them rules so they would know when to break them. There are times when thing is a really nice word.)

Pickles always worked for me.

There’s this audio tape my parents made for my grandparents, up in Washington, when we were sweltering in southern California heat. My brother and I answered questions from my father, talked about our favorite meals (“The drink I like, is lemonade!” my little brother nearly shouted in his four-year-old voice), and wondered what we would grow up to be some day. (Apparently, I was going to be a scientist.) One of the highlights — albeit embarrassing — is when I burst into song, in a key much too high for my tiny cracking voice, and sang the first verse of the theme song for a sitcom called Lotsa Luck:

“Oh, I used to buy a pickle
it only used to cost a nickel
the bus ride only used to cost a dime!
Now these days are long forgotten,
the world has gotten rotten,
lotsa luck. lotsa luck. lotsa luck!”

(And before you ask, I have no idea why a seven-year-old girl in LA loved this show about the manager of the New York City bus system’s lost and found department who lived with his mother. But I did. I’m pretty sure the late Dom DeLuise played his best friend.)

At Disneyland, which we visited twice a year, or three if we were lucky, I loved many rides with the fervency of a sunburned girl with pigtails wearing tube socks up to her knees. But I think there was another experience I loved even more. I’ve already written about how much I loved those sour pickles that floated in large wooden barrels at the General Store, so I won’t repeat myself. Just go read and see if you don’t want a pickle now.

Egg salad sandwiches, a saucer full of cherries, a glass of iced tea, and a fat green wedge of dill pickle on my plate. That was my favorite lunch, for years.

I cannot stand bread and butter pickles, however. Get that thing away from me. Pickles should be sour and mouth-puckering, briny and dripping, no hint of sweetness. I want pickles that make me sit up straight and suck in my breath. Pickles should be crisp and unexpected, a little quiver of green, slickness and then a hiss of ooohhhh what’s that? Or maybe pickles should just taste good.

Danny made pints and pints of dill pickles from scratch for the family party before our wedding. Our soon-to-be nephew, James, is still talking about them.

Less than two weeks later, I stood in the middle of a field, watching Molly and Brandon walk among their friends and family in summer-blue light. We were at a picnic together, disguised as their wedding rehearsal dinner, and we were all smiling. Tea and I talked about our dear friends, who would be married the next day, and our happiness at being part of this. We sat down at long tables dotted with mason jars filled with flowers that could have been picked from the field an hour before. Pulled chicken, roasted vegetables, tomatoes and basil, fingerling potato salad were banked on the buffet table, enticing us to come over. But I couldn’t leave, just yet. I had to eat two or three more pickled carrots, the ones that Molly and Brandon had pickled themselves. And if ever there had been a moment when no one was looking, I might have swiped one of the jars of pickled grapes with cinnamon (adapted from the Boat Street pickled grapes, which you can now buy). Damn, those were good.

Other than pickled ginger with sushi, I didn’t know until I was well into my 30s that I could eat any other pickled vegetables than cucumbers in briny liquid. Now, I can’t stop thinking of things I want to pickle. Danny made me pickled red cabbage for Valentine’s Day once. Brandon left a tall glass of pickled sunchokes on our front porch soon after he found out I was pregnant. (Those disappeared fast.) We have pickled parsnips with great success, and there are pickled white beans and pickled golden beets floating in liquid on the door of our refrigerator. We have so much rhubarb growing in the backyard that we’re thinking of pickling some this weekend — mmm, so good with salmon. And this summer, I’m finally going to try pickling apricots, which I have been thinking about for three years. (maybe with allspice, and a bit of brandy?)

I can’t be stopped. I love pickles.

Last week, Little Bean sucked on a dill pickle for a few minutes, interested in the experience.

It looks like the cycle of pickles will continue.


pickled jalapenso, carrots, and cabbage


Before I met Danny, I thought that pickles were the impossible dream, something far beyond my abilities. Not at all true. Find the right proportions of water to sugar and salt, some spices you like, and a touch of something with vinegar, and you’re on your way. And then you wait.

These pickled jalapenos and carrots are so easy to make that you might just keep replenishing them in your refrigerator after you make them the first time. Taco night just grew much more delicious around here.

And if you’d like to see Danny’s recipe for carnitas, please click here.

1 quart water
1 garlic clove
1/4 cup kosher salt
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons mustard seed
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 bunch thyme
2 jalapeno peppers, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and julienned
1/2 head green cabbage, thinly sliced
1 cucumber, sliced

Making the pickling liquid. Put the water, garlic, salt, sugar, 1 tablespoon of the mustard seed, the apple cider vinegar, red pepper flakes, and the thyme in a large saucepan. Bring the liquid to a boil and allow it to boil until both the sugar and salt have dissolved. (This is important.)

Pickling the vegetables. Pour the liquid, through a strainer, over the jalapeno peppers, carrots, and 1/2 the cabbage. (Choose a large bowl — you don’t want the liquid spilling over.) Add the remaining mustard seed to the vegetables. Allow the liquid to come to room temperature before moving the vegetables into the refrigerator.

Refrigerate for at least 1 day (and no more than 3 days) before eating. Toss in the second half of the cabbage about an hour before eating the pickled vegetables.

These pickled vegetables would work well with any Mexican dish: carnitas, tacos, enchiladas. I also like them on top of plain white rice, frankly. Danny thinks they would work with cheese plates or pâté. Or, if you’re like me, you can eat them right out of the refrigerator.

52 comments on “a thing for pickles

  1. Elise

    Hi Shauna,
    I’ve been pickling the jalapenos from my garden for years now, with carrots, onions, and cauliflower. Never thought to put cucumbers or cabbage in with them though, what a great idea, thanks! Love to serve them with steak. Love to pickle just about anything. Dad pickled some sliced baby turnips the other day, in a solution that included a beet for color. So vibrant pink!

  2. Barmaid

    I love pickles too – and you’re right. Sweet pickles are gross. I made pickled brussels sprouts last summer – I highly recommend them!

  3. Pearl

    oh my goodness! i think my teacher had that list, too. but i think she might’ve also included “and etc…” in the list. 🙂

  4. Amanda on Maui

    I used to get Garlic Dill Pickles with my dad at the Big Top Flea Market in Tampa when I was younger. My sister, my dad, and I loved them. My mom wasn’t so keen on them, but we thought all other pickles were so much less of pickles than those particular pickles. They came in 1 and 5 gallon buckets.

    Thanks for the memories.

  5. danamccauley

    Eggs salad and dill pickles are a natural match, aren’t they? But, I’m curious: did you eat the cherries with the main course and the pickle as dessert?

  6. Allison

    I think I need to borrow both that pickle recipe AND your list of words (sadly, for my undergrad writing students… apparently they never saw such a list in high school). Mmmmm, pickles.

  7. Shannon

    Have you ever tried lacto-fermented pickles? That is how sauerkraut is traditionally made – raw and full of probiotics. You can do any vegetable this way all you need is the veg, good sea salt, and some flavorings.

    I love cortido myself. Salt the cabbage and onions, beat the tar out of it until it releases it’s juices, sprinkle in some oregano and red pepper flakes, beat some more. Put in quart jars and push down until the liquid goes over the of the veg. Put a lid loosely on it and let it sit out on your counter for 3 days. Store in the refrigerator. Eat and enjoy.

  8. Annemarie

    I’m feeling like giant pickle-newbie, but do you mean you have to eat the pickles within 3 days?
    If not, how long will they keep?

  9. Travis

    My aunt used to pickle green beans fresh from the garden for me and my dad when I was little. We loved them!!!

  10. Lisa

    This looks like an amazing recipe! Yum!

    Just wondering, though, what happens to the other half of the cabbage? You say to pour the pickling liquid over 1/2 of the sliced cabbage, but never mention the rest.

    Thanks for your help! I can’t wait to try it out.

  11. jbeach

    Yum. I love that mouth-watering shiver from the thought of pickled things.
    I’m so lucky to have containers of pickled red cabbage and julienned carrots in my fridge right now, left over from a big dinner…I’ve been tossing them with soba noodles and a homemade spicy almond-ginger sauce.

  12. Dolores

    Thank you for this post… pickles are not for me, but my husband loves all of them!!!


  13. Anna Lee

    I adore pickles. I like them all. I like the spicy garlic ones, the salty dill ones, the briney sweet NOT syrupy sweet ones, pickled green beans, pickled asparagus, that carrot jalapeno stuff is amazing, and kraut, and ginger, the list goes on. I have been making pickles with my aunt for the last few years. It’s always fun, and we always call my gramma to ask how to proceed when we get stuck. This summer I’m going to try pickled watermelon rind. I’ve heard it’s amazing, but have yet to try it, and I would feel so much better about getting watermelon if we weren’t “wasting” so much potential food stuffs. So fun that Little Bean likes pickles. My oldest adored pickles when he was a little tyke. There were days where I could hardly get him to eat anything other than pickles. I hope that you guys have a Happy Mother’s Day!

  14. Palmer Public Library

    I’ve made lots of pickles, and our favorite are pickled pea pods made with dried chiles – always fun to see how hot a particular jar is going to be.

    As for the rhubarb, there’s an excellent recipe for rhubarb and onion relish in a book called “Putting Food By” by Janet Greene. It goes great with pork!

  15. Jessamyn

    I keep saying that THIS is the year I’m going to start pickling. Maybe this time it will be! I have tons of rhubarb in the garden, perhaps I’ll try that first.

    My mother used to make pickled crabapples – they were my absolute favorite. And I’ve developed a recent addiction to pickled okra (discovered at the Cajun place that used to be where Volterra is now).

  16. La Niña

    My Mother-in-Love (that’s what I call her) makes the world’s best Dilly Beans… and I have her recipe. (if you ask I’ll “spill the beans 😉

    If you love pickles, then you must see “CROSSING DELANCEY” where the former Mrs. Spielberg, Amy Irving finally realizes she loves the pickle man, Peter Riegert. You can come watch it on our island- we have it on Video. (yeah, it’s “old tech.”)

    BTW, when I speak to kids in schools I try to tell them to stop using “like.” It’s a virus. The “like” virus. “He went like this. She went like that.” I guess that “went” should be banned, too?

  17. Allison the Meep

    Whoaaaaa I love pickles. And I admit to being somewhat of a pickle snob. It had better be one mighty fine pickle for me to partake. No sweet pickles for me, either. Loads upon loads of vinegar and large chunks of garlic floating in the brine. And when i was pregnant and in dire need of a pickle but only had a jar full of pickle brine left, I drank the juice. But I’m not ashamed. That shit was delicious.

    Seriously, I’m going to get a pickle right now just because of your post.

  18. Kristen

    Last week we bought a jar of African Burr Gherkins from a local specialty grocery. They look funny (imagine something not much bigger than a large green olive with bumps/spikes all over them-hence the word burr), but were pickled with traditional dill flavors and whole garlic cloves-yum! I want to learn how to grow them myself because they are so expensive! I recommend checking them out if you can find them where you live.

  19. Sho

    Just today, my children and I were talking about how much we love dill pickles and hate the sweet ones. I love them with chicken salad.

    My son and I were also talking about how some people always use sentences such as, “..and I was like, “Wow!” And she was like, “no way.” I am glad he doesn’t approve of such banter.

    I have to say, I am really fascinated by the life you have on Vashon. Now I want to plan a vacation to Chincoteague Island, here in Virginia. Chincoteague is where the wild ponies live.

    I have no gardening experience whatsoever. Except that I was bored one day as a teenager, so I went outside with my sunflower seeds that I was eating. I took a spoon and planted them. I watered them everyday, and they grew to five or six feet tall. I think they must have been very easy to grow.

    At any rate, I really enjoy the gardening posts and reading about the vegetables. At Weight Watchers, we have a group leader who discusses a different vegetable each week, and I also find it fascinating.

    Yes, and La Nina is correct. The pickle movie, Crossing Delancey, is great. I always wished that there was a sequel. I never found out if Izzy (that was her name, I think) married the nice guy.

    Good luck and good luck and more good luck with your life and future on Vashon!

    Take care,


  20. Chanterelle

    My cousins in Hungary make delicious sun-cured fresh pickles, which involved a slice of rye bread on top of the brine so probably not for you, alas.

    But Smitten Kitchen recently posted a recipe for spiced pickled grapes that looks utterly irresistible. I’ve never made pickles but this might well be the one. Do you have grapes on your property, or in the woods?…

  21. Laura

    Because there is another side to a pickle, I thought I should comment. With a passion equal to your love, I hate all things pickled. Ick. Just imagining that pickle pucker is unpleasant. But, as always, I enjoyed the stories.

  22. Tartelette

    Never met a pickle I did not like. I think my husband would worry if I did not have something pickled at least once a day!!
    These would go great with your salmon too, although Lara and you have gotten the best of my curiosity about the pickled rhubarb!

    Happy Mother’s Day Shauna!

    How fantastic is that?!! So happy for you 🙂

  23. anniebelle


    I found you through the wonderful Orangette. No none of us here have any health issues or food allergies (thank you Lord) but that doesn’t meen that we (or anyone else for that matter) couldn’t do better in our diets nd lifestyles. So, inspired by Molly and you and a bunch of other wonderful friends and aquaintances from around the blogoshere, I took a good hard look at what was in my fridge and pantry and did some looking around as well at the market that I frequent.
    I was horrorfied to say the least. What the heck are we doing to ourselves in this country? Only the fresh produce meats didn’t have any kind of presevatives or chemical additives. As I said we don’t have to deal with any glutten or allergy issues but still!
    Then I remebered how Youngest Son was put on aderol because of supposedly being ADHD. Now I’m not saying that such a condition doesn’t exist but as far as my children are concerned I’m much more willing to trust my instincts then any one else. So I rebelled and refused to authorize the perscription. I was threatened with being reported to the authorities if I didn’t, so unfortunately I caved and immediatly regretted it.
    The “medicine” didn’t work, obviously. So I hopped on the internet and reseached behavioral and learning disorders and talk about being horrofied. Don’t get me started on the side effects of some of this crap disguised as “medicine”.
    Anyway, I did what one group advised and cut out all processed foods from his diet. It work miracles, just that one small adjustment(alot of behaviorl problems really do stem from rections to chemical as well as natural presevatives(such as gluten but nitrites and nitrates are espescially evil) in young children. I also took him out of school and homeschooled him but that’s another story.
    Anyway he’s fine now just turned eighteen and in good health and a great kid besides; if I might brag.
    Thanks for reminding us that we need to quit being so lazy (yep as always once the problem is resolved we sometimnes eventually slide right back into our old bad habits) and pay attention to our health and well being. The kids are grown and leaving home now and we want to actually enjoy ourselves for once!
    I’m so happy to see you so well and living such a joyous life with your husband and son; just remember not to blink, those babies grow up fast!

  24. sk

    Happy Mother’s Day! Fantastic post, thanks! I am learning to love pickles too, and quite excited about it. I had some gingered pickled beets, and pickled shrimp, at the Georgia Organics conference this year, and haven’t stopped thinking about them since…

  25. Dr. Jean Layton

    Love the image of Lucy eating a pickle.
    My sister the home eco graduate of Cornell once put up zucchin pickles in Iowa. Somehow we purchased a peck of zucchinis at an auction. Didn’t have a recipe, somehow Moni didn’t have a friend to call. So we did it from her memory. She forgot to add water to the brine. We created Iowa pucker pickles.
    I have wonderful pickle pictures of Katie and Fiona at about 8 months with big fat dill pickles in their hands. They loved the coolness against their new teeth.
    Funny how even now, 10 years later, they still crave that vinegary flavor even more than sweets.

    Happy Mother’s day to you and enjoy the pickling.

  26. GFE--gluten free easily

    I think I would be shunned by most of you! I only like pickles in the form of sweet pickle relish added to chicken salad, tuna salad, deviled eggs, etc., when I make them. But I love that sweet pickled flavor! LOL


  27. Katherine

    If anyone has a recipe for creating Japanese pickled plums, please share…pickles in Japan were a revelation and this to a person who thinks Sauerkraut is one of the best things in the world! (And yes, it’s a thing…)

  28. anniebelle

    I’m so happy to see you so well and living such a joyous life with your husband and son; just remember not to blink, those babies grow up fast!

    Whoops! Daughter, sorry!

  29. mbdoctor

    YES! I loooove pickles, too.

    My husband and I lived in India for 18 months, where pickled fruits & veggies are served with almost every meal. My favorite Indian pickles include spicy mango, green chili, and lime. My husband enjoys pickles made from shrimp or pork. They're a delicious way to spice up tired food.

  30. genevieve1352

    I had an English teacher in middle school who, for one assignment, did not allow us to use any form of the verb “to be.” At the time I thought it was silly, but now I make a point to avoid said verb when I write stage directions for my plays. Active verbs are more helpful to actors!

  31. TJ

    Have you ever had cinnamon pickles? My grammie used to make them and they were the most beautiful red color and so delicious. I made them once in the early years of my marriage. They are made with watermelon rind. I may have to do another batch this year.

  32. Lia Huber

    I am one of those people who thinks carnitas just aren’t carnitas without a) avocado slices and b) something pickled. So thank you for indulging me with these–yum!

  33. MB

    Please, please please tell me about how rhubarb and salmon go together! Pickled? Stewed? I must know! 🙂

  34. Ali and Evan

    perfect, perfect, perfect. We’ve been working on the Ultimate nacho recipe and I think these are the missing ingredient! Thanks for the inspiration, as always. XO

  35. Lara

    Growing up in a Russian family, pickles are a mainstay! I miss my Mom’s homemade pickles so much, but I think I’ll tackle that this year.

  36. Janel

    I completely agree with your post about pickles. When I was pregnant with my older daughter, I craved the whole Kosher Dills so much that I dreamed about them.

    As a southern American, it’s about the most stereotypical craving you could have…The only problem is that I live in Holland!!

    My dear friend, Kristina, paid an astronomical sum to send me a gallon jar of them! A glass jar, can you imagine? My postman was huffing and puffing when he arrived with the package asking me in Dutch what it contained, my very pregnant self (7 months or there), gave him the biggest grin and said “Pickles!!”

    Now, here’s the most important questions about pickles…

    Do you drink the juice??

    If so, then I’ll know you had to have been a dear friend in a former life as we’ve never met in person this time around 🙂

  37. Magpie Ima

    I’ve never liked bread and butter pickles myself but if you ever have the chance to try the Picklopolis bread and butter jalapenos, you will change your mind. They are so good: http://www.picklopolis.com/ If you’re ever at the Portland Farmers Market, do give them a try!

  38. momcan'tdance

    Recently, I was chatting on facebook with an old high school friend, and she happened to mention fried dill pickles in passing. At first, I thought this strange, but I must admit, that in a twisted way, they sound like a mighty fine appetizer. She’s a southern girl, now, so the battered and fried thing makes sense! I’ll have to use my gluten-free flour mix (Wendy Wark’s recipe, of course!) but I’m game.

    Feel free to use this idea if you ever host a “pickle theme” party!

    Hey!!! And thanks for the pickled cabbage recipe! A few mexican restaurants in town serve this, and I’ve always wanted to try and duplicate it.

  39. BTime


    Be sure to check out Marisa McClellan’s new-ish website Food in Jars. I think you know her, but for those that don’t she is a former AOL Food Blogger and co-producer of Fork You!.


    Love your site here, and has been very helpful when I want to cook something for my cousin (who has celiac). The last thing I made for her was a Vietnamese Rice-Noodle salad which turned out to be a big hit.

  40. MissMaryMac

    I just couldn’t resist sending you think link after reading about your love of pickles. I too ADORE them and I was thrilled when I found these frozen pickle pops. To die for! Thanks for the awesome blog 🙂


  41. Swiss

    On the do not use list- yikes I use all of them, would it count if I spell it kewl? I should practice that idea though, then my writing may be really nice and extremly cool pretty stuff.

  42. Stephanie

    There’s just soo much to say! I must start pickling.
    My brother and I used to fight over the pickle juice in the jar. Eventually, we started trying to pickle things in it. Carrots, celery, and eggs. Yes, you heard me: Eggs! We ate pickled hard boiled eggs at some country fair (and pickled watermelon rind…please post that!), and we started dropping more into the juice but it never came out quite right.

  43. EponaRae

    Oh, well, pickles are the gateway to preserved food addiction. No doubt. It was home-canned dilly beans that seduced me into green bean enjoyment. Never could grock them before that first jar of crunchy, garlic-y, sour-dill delights my friend Julie made.
    Ah ha! As for all the other possibilities of pickledom, sometimes I will just sit down with a jar of dilled cukes and a long fork and crunch away! Bread-and-Butter? Bring ’em on! I’ve made many a jar of these over the years, too. This year I plan to attempt watermelon rind pickles for the first time. I’m ready!

  44. Barry Kraft

    I love your blog and will be definately trying some of your recipes. We found a great recipe in there a pickled vegetables which I tripled the pickled vegetables recipe. I have some great recipes from her. Thanks once again. I love pickles vegetables. Love the Weck jar. I like them all. My husband and I love this recipe. have made it 3 times in a month. so needless to say, it's a great recipe. my husband loves all of them. I can't wait to make this next week. I really appreciate it. thank you for sharing your post.

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