A Little Patience, A Lot Of Salt Are Keys To A Lost Pickle Recipe

Sep 13, 2012
Originally published on September 18, 2012 1:45 pm

Here's a new mantra you might consider adding to your list of daily kitchen chants: "It takes patience to perpetuate pickles."

That wisdom is straight from the kitchen of Joanie Vick, who happily reports that her once-lost recipe for her Grandma Minnie's full sour pickles is now a found recipe. As you may remember, All Things Considered brought Vick together with veteran pickler Marisa McClellan of Food in Jars back in July, and she helped Vick suss out the recipe based on her memories.

Vick tried McClellan's version and waited for results.

"We got there," she told us recently, after weeks of waiting, watching and taste-testing her pickles. "At two weeks, not so much. At three weeks, really close. At four or five weeks, BINGO!"

Vick says her pickles are a mix of crunchy and juicy: "The first thing you get is garlic. The next thing you get is salt. And the third thing you get is memory. It's nice."

And she's been carrying a jar with her whenever she goes out to dinner and sharing these pickles with friends, many of whom say the pickles are saltier than they expect.

McClellan says a 5 percent salt solution is the key to recreating the flavor and preservation mechanism of Minnie's old recipe — in contrast to the vinegary bath more familiar to modern pickle eaters.

"In a fermented pickle, you add salt in order to create a comfortable home for the lactobacillus bacteria to eat up the starches in the vegetable and transform them into acid," she explains.

"In a vinegar pickle, you're taking a liquid that's already acidic and submerging the vegetable into it. You don't need as much salt in the vinegar pickle because there's no bacteria to protect. You've also got the dominate vinegar flavor occupying the bulk of your tastebuds, so the salt doesn't register as prominently."

Vick's pleased with her fermented pickle recipe, and plans to use it to re-create another item from Grandma Minnie's pantry: pickled green tomatoes.

McClellan says that's a great idea. "A world of things ferment up just like this: green beans and cabbage," she says. "As long as you follow the basic ratio of salt and water, you should be good!"

If you missed the recipe, it's at the bottom of the July post.

If you need help solving your own Lost Recipe, submit your question here. Remember to put "Lost Recipe" in the subject line.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.


Time now for lost recipe crunch-off.


BLOCK: Two people, two pickles, the results of our project to re-create Grandma Minnie's and New York Full Sours.


BLOCK: Listener Joanie Vick, of Nashua, New Hampshire, asked us for help with that old family recipe. In July, we got her in touch with a kitchen detective, Marisa McClellan, author of the cookbook "Food In Jars." And these two women rolled up their sleeves, broke out the mason jars, spices and brine, and got to work preserving those cucumbers. Now, the moment of truth.

Joanie Vick in New Hampshire, are you ready? You have your jar there?


BLOCK: OK. And, Marie, you're in Philadelphia. You have your jar, too?


BLOCK: OK, go for it. Can you take a bite?


MCCLELLAN: All right.


BLOCK: Ooh, sounded crunchy.

MCCLELLAN: Mine is awfully crunchy and good.

VICK: Extremely juicy.

BLOCK: And, Joanie, there in New Hampshire, how is the crunch?

VICK: Not so crunchy but very juicy.

BLOCK: How does it taste?

VICK: The first thing you get is garlic. The next thing you get is a salt. And then the third thing you get is memory.

BLOCK: When you taste it, does it taste like the pickle of your youth? Does it taste like Grandma Minnie's?

VICK: It does. We got there. At two weeks, not so much. At three weeks, really close. At four-five weeks...


VICK: ...bingo.

BLOCK: Really? So patience was key here.

VICK: Yes, it takes patience to perpetuate pickles.


BLOCK: Well, Joanie, Marisa had given you a recipe to fill in the blanks. You told us that Grandma Minnie's instructions were a little vague and you weren't sure how much salt to use. And then, I gather that you ran a bunch of experiments. Three different batches?

VICK: Three different batches and the upshot was the people who tasted them said they tasted right, but they tasted salty to them.

BLOCK: Too salty?

VICK: Well, they tasted saltier than you like pickles today, but right for pickles the way they were when I grew up. I think people are used to eating less salt.

BLOCK: Yeah. Marisa, do you think that's right? Do you think that the modern taste for pickles is probably different than it might have been 50 years ago, say?

MCCLELLAN: I definitely think so, particularly because we are more accustomed to vinegar-based pickles these days, as opposed to a fermented pickle. And so, those vinegar-based pickles have less salt in them. Whereas these fermented pickles require salt to create a pickly flavor. So it's just a different method, too.

BLOCK: Joanie, did you have a eureka moment here when bit into one of those pickles and you were transported back in time, and you were right there with Grandma Minnie again?

VICK: No, but the eureka moment came when, up until now, it's been a secret family recipe. And when I gave pickles to people to taste, and they asked for the recipe and I gave him the recipe, I sort of spread out the recipe. So now the recipe is out in the world and it won't get lost again.

BLOCK: Well, congratulations on your pickle success, Joanie.


VICK: Yes.

BLOCK: And, Marisa, thanks so much for all your help.

MCCLELLAN: Oh, my pleasure.

BLOCK: Marisa McClellan is the author of "Food In Jars." She helped us re-create Grandma Minnie's Full Sour Pickle recipe for listener Joanie Vick of Nashua, New Hampshire.

Joanie and Marisa, thanks so much.

VICK: Thank you so much.

MCCLELLAN: Thank you.

BLOCK: And you can find the recipe on our food blog, The Salt, at NPR.org. If you have an old recipe that doesn't work out or only a memory of an old recipe and you need some help, you can write us at NPR.org. Just include Lost Recipe in the subject line.



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