Mom’s Sweet Refrigerator Pickles

We all liked pickles and Mom made gallons of them from the row of cucumbers we always had in the garden.  There were big cucumber dills four or five inches long that you ate right out of the crock in the basement, dill spears in quart jars for serving at the table and hamburger dill slices in pint jars.   Sometimes I think that Mom never saw a recipe that she did not want to try.  Thus we had mustard pickles, garlic pickles, kosher dills, and Texas hot pepper pickles. 

She made those treacherous hot pickles only once.  They kind of sneaked up on your taste buds.  Take a good bite and chew.  Pretty good peppery flavor, but all of a sudden you needed water or milk or maybe an ice cube to suck on.  Back then chili recipes using more than two teaspoons of chili powder were considered daring in our family and in the families of all my friends.  And even today ketchup is sometimes accurately described as Norwegian (or German) hot sauce.  

I don’t remember where she got those little red chili peppers to flavor those pickles, but they caused the problem.  Mom hated to throw anything away.  Since the pickles were too hot for her, and since Dad, my sisters and I snurled our noses at them whenever she put them on the table, she began offering them to friends who dropped in for coffee.  

“Try one of these new Texas pickles I made,” she would coo.  As I recall they were nice crisp pickles about three inches long.  After a couple of painful experiences in having to throw out a perfectly good pickle with only one end bitten off, she began cutting off half inch samples which most people found large enough.

“The recipe made eight quarts, so if you want a quart to take home, I’ll put it in a bag for you,” she would add generously.  There were no takers until Uncle Ruel tried them and cleaned up the dish.  Uncle Ruel was Mom’s oldest brother.  He had lived for several years on the south side of Chicago and in Gary, Indiana, which may have explained his fondness for strange foods.  He took home all seven remaining quarts, and we were saved.  

There were sweet pickles too.  Honey gherkins, sweet baby dills, bread and butter pickles, pickled beets, pickled watermelon rind and pickled crabapples–even pickled bluegills.  

One of our favorites was Mom’s sweet refrigerator pickles.   I don’t think that the recipe was written down, so the recipe would probably have been lost if my sister-in-law had not asked for it.   Dee wanted to know how to make them, since my brother liked them so much, and Mom wrote it out for her. 

They are crisp and delicious, and here’s how to make them.


4 to 5 lbs. cucumbers

1/2 cup canning or pickling salt


5 cups sugar

5 cups cider vinegar

1 T turmeric

1 T mustard seed

1 T celery seed


Wash and cut the cucumbers into eighth-inch round slices.  Soak the slices for three hours in a large bowl or enamel pot in a cold brine of salt and just enough ice water to cover the slices.  Add ice cubes as needed to keep the brine cold.  After three hours, drain the slices and pack them in jars.

Dissolve the sugar in the vinegar in a stainless steel or enamel saucepan.  Add the spices and bring the mixture to boiling.  Boil about one minute.  Allow the mixture to cool for a few minutes then fill each jar to within a half-inch from the top.  Screw the lids firmly onto the jars, let them cool and store them in the refrigerator.  The pickles will be ready to eat in two weeks.


Do not use aluminum bowls or pans for the brining and pickling solutions.  These pickles will keep up to a year in your refrigerator.

Mom’s Pickled Crabapples

When a friend asked whether I had a good recipe for pickled crabapples, I realized that I had neglected a wonderful treat my mother used to make every year.  I couldn’t find Mom’s recipe in her recipe boxes, so I called my sister Patsy, who told me that she might have it.  

An hour later she called back.  “I found the recipe, and it’s in Mom’s handwriting, so I bet she copied it from Grandma’s,” she reported, and read it to Jerri who wrote it down for me.  I think that the most remarkable thing about this recipe is that it includes detailed instructions for making the pickles.

When Mom’s recipes include instructions, most are terse comments that obviously assume the reader knows how to cook.  For instance, her recipe for Grandma Hopp’s cake doughnuts did not even mention that the dry ingredients needed to be mixed with the liquid.  After listing the ingredients, she merely wrote “Roll out, cut, and fry.” 

In contrast, the recipe for pickled crabapples includes a number of specific instructions:  Don’t peel the apples or remove the stems, let the hot syrup cool to lukewarm before adding the apples, don’t bring the apples to a boil, be careful not to burst the fruit, process the jars at 180º.  These details probably explain why Grandma and Mom’s pickled apples always looked good and were favorites at church potlucks.  

If you follow the instructions below, your pickled apples will wow your friends with a stem on each apple, intact skins and fruit that retains a hint of crispness.


9 cups crabapples about 1 inch in diameter (about 54 crabapples)

1 qt. plus 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

4 cups granulated sugar

1 T ground cinnamon

1 T whole cloves

1 tsp. mace

1 tsp. allspice


Start by picking and washing the crabapples.  Remove leaves and discard any fruit with cuts or other defects such as worm holes. For the best result try to select fruit that are in the same size range. Don’t peel or remove the stems from the apples.

Put the vinegar and water into a large saucepan or Dutch oven.  The pan should be of non-reactive material.  An enamel or stainless steel soup pot is ideal. Stir the sugar and spices into the vinegar and bring the mixture to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer the syrup for about five minutes.  

Remove the pan from the heat and allow the syrup to cool until it is lukewarm.  Add the apples to the cooled syrup and heat the apples and syrup until it just begins to simmer.  Be careful not to burst the fruit.  Remove the pan from the heat and cover it.  Let the apples marinate in the syrup overnight.

Wash and rinse five one-pint canning jars.  Using a spoon or small ladle, carefully fill the jars with the apples.  Fill the jars to within a half inch of the top with the syrup and seal them with lids and hand-tightened rings.

Put the sealed jars into a jar rack in a canner, add enough cold water to cover the jars with about an inch and a half of water and bring the water to 180º.  Process the jars for twenty minutes.

Remove the jars from the hot water and allow them to cool.  Check that the jars have sealed by pressing the center of each lid.  If it springs back, that jar must be refrigerated.  Sealed jars can be shelved in your pantry.

NOTE:  Pickled crabapples are best if allowed to mature in the jars for a week or two before eating.  

If you want more pickled crabapples, feel free to double this recipe.  You may prefer to pack the apples in quart jars.  If so, increase the processing time to thirty minutes.