Friday, July 16, 2010

Can Jam: McClure's Pickles my way

Have you tried McClure's Pickles?

I'm not sure if you can get them nationwide, but you can certainly get them here in the greater metro Detroit area. They are made in Brooklyn and Detroit, so I am wondering if my NYC canning sisters Kate over at the Hip Girls Guide to Homemaking or Talia and Noerah at Inn Brooklyn or or even pickling goddess Tigress herself over at Tigress in a Pickle have tried them. They are terrific...a fresh pickle, and oh, so good! I wish they made a Tshirt with their logo on it, because I would buy one for sure. Isn't it cool?  I had to my hand at my own Mother's Kitchen pickle logo in their iconic style.

My only gripe with the yummy McClure's pickle is that they cost upwards of $8.00 per jar, and my kids have a serious pickle addiction.   At that price, I can't keep them in pickles!  It's been my goal since I tasted them to be able to make them at home, so this month's Can Jam challenge of cucubits made the time ripe, so to speak,  for this year's attempt at copying my beloved McClure's recipe.

No amount of flirtation and downright brown nosing the McClure's people at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market on my part has resulted in any recipe whispered into my ear, so I am reduced to my deductive powers of reasoning to try to discern how to make this pickle myself at home.  Their ingredients?   Cukes, vinegar, water, salt, garlic, dill.   Okay, I can do this.....last year, I attemped a fresh pickle from what I consider to be the holy grail of pickling, Linda Ziedrich's Joy of Pickling. It came out too mushy, so I found Linda's website and emailed her and asked her what went wrong, and she suggested I pasteurize my pickles instead of boiling water bath canning them. I wondered if it was food safe and yes it is....check this info out at the National Center For Home Food Preservation on pasteurizing pickles. However, the rules for the Can Jam are boiling water bath only, not pasteurizing. So, I decided to try two ways to make pickles more cripsy...adding grape leaves to the pickles and pasteurizing them, and using pickling lime and boiling water bath canning them in this year's attempt at copying my beloved McClure's pickles.

Grape leaves are an old world firming agent that are supposed to make pickles crisper and more green. I have lots of wild grapes in my yard, so I thought I'd give it a shot. Pickling lime, or calcium oxide, is absorbed into a vegetable or fruit where it combines with it's natural pectin to form calcium pectate and thus a crispier pickle. These so called "lime pickles" are very popular in the South, but pickling lime fell out of favor in the 1970s when people were looking for more natural ways to make pickles. The stuff is still considered a key ingredient in making Southern favorites such as watermelon rind pickles.  However, commerical food processors never stopped using pickling lime. It is commonly added to many foods. It's important to use food grade lime, not stuff you buy at the hardware store....Mrs. Wages is the only brand I found around, and even then, it is still really hard to find.  The one cannister I found at Sparrow's Meat Market had a good layer of dust on it.    However, I was still interested in trying it out.  It's really important to follow the rinsing process - there are no short cuts.   If you recon back to your high school chemistry, you might remember that lime is alkaline, and when alkalines are added to acids, the pH goes up.   That means that if the lime isn't rinsed off properly, the pH of your pickles won't be food safe.   So make sure to take the time to soak and rinse.

So, here was this year's attempt at a McClure's style pickle....I have tasted it only a week in the jar...generally, pickles should rest a month in the jar to reach optimum flavor.   The result?   The pasteurized pickles with the grape leaves were just as crispy as the pickling lime version and as the McClure's pickles.  So, if you prefer a crispy pickle that is more natural, use grape leaves as a firming agent and pastuerize them, but that means spending 30 minutes stoveside carefully monitoring the water temp to keep it between 180 - 185 F.   However, pickling lime enables a more quick preserving process than pasteurizing, but the process of preparing the cucumbers takes longer initially.  However, it's just a quick 10 minutes of water bath to preserve.

How about the taste?   After only a week,  my pickles were defiitely more tangy than the McClure's version, but they are pretty darn good!  Note that it is not food safe to mess with the amount of vinegar in a pickling recipe, so I didn't.  However, Linda Ziedrich's book suggests using cider vinegar in place of the white vinegar for a mellower taste.  So maybe next year, I'll try that.  Also, check back in September and I will let you know if my pickles mellow over time.    Also, I've been experimenting with these new reusable kind of canning lids by a Michigan based company called Tattler.  They are a reusable plastic lid with a reusable rubber gasket, completely BPA free, if that is something you are worried about.   Locally, they can be purchased at Downtown Home and Garden or Lehman's if you aren't in Ann Arbor.  These Tattler lids work out really well - they cost less than $1.00 each and can be used an infinite number of times.  I can't say enough good things about these lids.   Give them a try!

Here's my recipe, two ways....the recipe makes about 14 pints at about $1.50 a pint vs. $8 for 12 oz. by weight of McClure's pickles.  If you prefer the spicy McClure's pickle, be sure to add the hot peppers.

Mother's Kitchen Fresh Dill Pickles (grape leaf method)

8 lbs small pickling cucumbers, sliced in half or quarters longwise
28 grape leaves
28 cloves of garlic (about 2 heads) peeled
16 dill heads, with sprigs (or 14 t. dill seeds)
Optional 12 small dried hot chili peppers
5 cups vinegar (white or cider)
6 c. water
1/2 c. pickling salt

Place 2 cloves garlic. 2 grape leaves, 2 dill heads and 2 hot peppers in the bottom of wide mouth pint jars.   Pack with as many pickle halves and spears as possible tightly in each jar.  Prepare a brine with vinegar, water and salt by placing in all ingredients and stirring and heating until brine boils.  Fill jars to 1/2 inch headspace, place lids and bands and hand tighten.  Heat to 180 F for 30 minutes.   Use a candy or digital meat thermometer to monitor temperature.  Don't allow temp to go higher than 185F or pickles may get mushy.  These pickles will be crispy.

Mother's Kitchen Fresh Dill Pickles (pickling lime method)

It's the same recipe as above, but after slicing pickles, place in a non reactive vessel - a pickling crock or large ceramic bowl works great.  Mix 1/2 cup pickling lime mixes with 1 gallon water.  Be careful not to inhale pickling lime dust.   The solution will look mily white.  Soak cukes overnight in the lime solution, and rinse.  I have read that some folks suggest wearing gloves when handling the lime solution, but I didn't find it to be caustic at all on my bare hands so don't bother.  Soak pickles in clean water for 2 hours and rinse again.   Soak for 2 more hours and rinse again.  There should be no milkiness to the rinse water....keep rinsing until it is clear.   After that, prepare the spices and brine as in the above recipe.   To can pickles, process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.   They will come out crispy.

Even though it is still early, I think these pickles are the best I have ever made.   If you are interested in a fermented dill pickle, check out this blog post I wrote about my kosher dill pickles.  These are good, too, but different than fresh dills.  Naturally fermented pickles take longer to make, but are easy in their own way.   Happy Can Jam!

NOTE:  Check out this update I wrote about how to make these McClure's style pickles WAY EASIER


laundryetc said...

What a fantastic post! There is so much information here I feel like I've done a tutorial and as a pickling novice this is just fab for me. I'm definitely going to have a go at making your pickles.

JanPrimus said...

Great Job! I bow at your feet! I have been spreading the link amongst my fermentation friends.

Vivienne said...

You are right about lime pickles being popular in the South. I grew up in Oklahoma where some elderly friends of my parents always brought us a selection of pickles each year. One of them was a favorite of mine when I was a child but later something I couldn't eat. These lime pickles were big thick cross-ways sliced cucumbers that were a strange bluegreen color (I don't have the recipe but always supposed that they added a food coloring), extremely crunchy-crisp, and very sweet. It was like candy out of a jar. Watermelon rind pickle (based on only one or two experiences) was similar. I never saw much point to it.

They also made some wonderful bread-and-butter pickles. I've attempted to recreate the recipe and they are in the brine stage at this moment. (This is now a standard in our family and I grew extra quantities of cucumbers for this purpose this year.)

Unknown said...

I connected with you on Chowhound. Thanks for sharing your recipe. My mom is from Alabama and she always made fresh dills and bread and butter. Her dills weren't consistent. They didn't always have the 'snap'. I'm not sure where to get grape leaves but I'll give it a try. Thanks.
My zucchini-carrot cupcake recipe can also be found on my blog -

Unknown said...

You can find Mrs. Wages pickling mixes at

Unknown said...

McClure's does sell t-shirts, really cute ones at that. I bought one for my husband last year at the royal oak farmers market. And I'm addicted to their pickles as well, found your post in search of a similar recipe.

rdmz said...

What a great post! I am excited to try out this recipe. I love McClure's pickles, and I too don't like paying $8 a jar. When I get these though, I tend to reuse the brine to pickle more cucumbers to get more bang for my buck. In my past pickle making, I have found that keeping the pickles in the fridge (or even the bowl of them in an ice bath) until I put them in the jar with brine seems to keep them crisp. Maybe the hot brine shocks the cold cucumbers into staying crisp.

KellyH said...

The grape leaf recipe is a winner! the first batch we made without the grape leaves, and didn't even process in the hot water bath. Just filled the hot, sterilized jars with raw cucumbers and boiling hot brine, sealed and inverted the jars on a towel on the counter. The heat from the brine was enough to create a nice strong seal and 1 week later they were the hit of our party! Second batch we followed the recipe to the letter, using grape leaves from our garden, and processing per instructions. Can't wait to see how they turn out! Since our 2 cucumber plants are producing about 3-4 lbs of cucumbers per week - this recipe is our favorite harvest-saver!

Cynthia said...

@KellyH, I am glad you like the recipe but I need to warn you that the purpose of the boiling water bath isn't to seal the jar, it's to make the food safe to eat. The method you describe (filling the jar and inverting it) is called "open Kettle canning" and it isn't recommended by the USDA read more here