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.

Tony’s Cowboy Candy

Tony is a former 3M colleague of our friend Chris.  Tony now lives in Eclectic, Alabama, with his wife on his grandparents’ farm.  Chris, who lives near New Richmond, is the guy who has served as camp cook for many years when our cabin becomes hunting headquarters during deer season.  When he and his wife Lorraine visited Tony and his spouse this summer, Tony introduced Chris to Cowboy Candy, a spicy relish that Chris really liked.   Tony gave Chris permission to share the recipe with me.  When I decided to try it, I asked Chris for Tony’s phone number.

Chris gave me the number and told me, “Tony spends lots of time outdoors, so you may have to leave a message, but he’ll call you back.”  I left a message and within an hour Tony and I were having a good conversation.  Tony and Chris had both retired from the Animal Health Group at 3M, and both enjoyed farm work (in moderation).   Today Chris cares for a couple of saddle horses, cuts hay in the summer and works with St. Croix County Fair Animal Projects; Tony returned to Eclectic, bought the 100 acre farm his grandparents had worked and now tends a large garden.

He explained that he first made Cowboy Candy when he was swamped with jalapeño peppers from that garden.  He likes to cook and belongs to an online cooking group, so he looked there for any recipes that might use lots of those little peppers.  He decided to try Cowboy Candy and was pleased with the result.  Their friends enjoyed it too, and when Chris took a jar to his son and daughter-in-law in Texas, they devoured it and proclaimed it excellent.

When Chris and Lorraine returned to New Richmond Chris brought me a copy of the recipe with his recommendation that I make it.  Chris has shared several good recipes that he treasures, a couple of which are already on Courage in the Kitchen.  Here is another one.


3 lbs. firm, fresh jalapeño peppers

2 cups cider vinegar

6 cups white granulated sugar

1/2 tsp. turmeric

1/2 tsp. celery seed

3 tsp. granulated garlic

1 tsp. ground cayenne pepper


Wash the peppers and protect your hands with kitchen gloves.  Remove the stems by slicing a small disk off the stem-end of the peppers.  Discard the stems.  Slice the peppers into uniform one-eighth to one-fourth-inch rounds and set them aside in a bowl.

Stir all the other ingredients in a large pot or Dutch oven to dissolve the sugar and spices into the vinegar.  Keep stirring while the liquid comes to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer it for five minutes.

While you are heating the liquid, wash and sterilize seven half-pint jars.  Put seven jar lids into a small bowl and cover them with hot water a few minutes before you fill the jars.  

Add the pepper slices and simmer them for four minutes.  Use a slotted spoon to transfer the peppers to the jars, filling them to within a quarter inch of the rim.  Raise the heat under the remaining liquid and bring it to a full rolling boil.  Boil it hard for six to eight minutes to create a syrup.

Ladle the boiling syrup into the jars until it is above the sliced peppers.  Use a chopstick or a thin knife to release any trapped pockets of air and add more syrup if necessary.  Wipe the rims of the jars with damp paper towels and seal the jars with canning lids and rings to finger-tip tightness.

Place the jars in a canner and cover them with water to an inch above the jars.  Bring the water to a full rolling boil and set a timer for ten minutes.  Remove the jars when the timer goes off and cool the jars on a rack.  Let the jars cool thoroughly, wipe them with a damp dishcloth and label them.

NOTES:  For the best flavor allow this relish to mellow for at least two weeks.  Tony says a month is even better.

Chris introduced the recipe this way: “The end result is delicious with a very mild level of “heat”.  Tony likes it as a garnish for hot dogs, I believe it would be fantastic on brats!”

Tony also noted that the leftover syrup is “wonderful brushed on meat on the grill or added to potato salad or, or, or… in short, don’t toss it out!”