A Very Old Recipe for Chunk Pickles

This recipe is from a book I found in my Aunt's basement - The Pleasures of Preserving & Pickling. Apparently it's out of print, so if you ever stumble upon a copy at a garage sale, snap it up. Good, old fashioned farmwife recipes...

The author, Jeanne Lessem has this to say about this recipe:

This is a very old recipe.  It came from a ninety-one-year-old resident of Connecticut, who got it from her mother. The daughter made the pickles with cucumbers and grapes grown in her own yard.  She still lives on the same land, on the shore where the Connecticut River empties into Long Island Sound.  Hers are the best sweet pickles I've ever tasted - lightly sweetened, lightly spiced, and crisp.  Unlike most pickles, they taste best at room temperature.  Chilling overwhelms their delicate flavor.

Yield varies: Expect 4 - 6 pints from 4 pounds of cucumbers depending on their diameter.

About 4 pounds unwaxed cucumbers (preferably 3/4 - 1" diameter), cut into 3/4" chunks
1/4 cup coarse (kosher) salt or 3 TBS uniodized table salt or pickling salt
1/4 tsp powdered alum
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1 tsp mixed pickling spice
2 grape leaves for each jar
3 or 4 green grapes (Thompson seedless or unripe grapes of other varieties) for each jar
1 small sprig fresh dill per jar

Scrub cucumbers in cold water with a vegetable brush before slicing them. Cut out any bruised spots that could spoil the whole lot. Place cucumber chunks in a 4 quart non-reactive bowl, add salt, and cover with water. Weight them with a plate or plates to keep the chunks from floating. Let stand, covered or uncovered, 16 - 24 hours.

Drain brine into a wide 4-quart saucepan, add alum, heat to boiling and pour over cucumbers.  Let them stand 12 hours more, again weighted to prevent any floating.

When you're ready to pack cucumbers, make a syrup by combining sugar, vinegar, 1 1/2 cups water and spices in a 2-quart saucepan. Drain the chunks, and discard the brine.  Starting with a grape leaf in the bottom of each jar, adding 3 or 4 grapes at random, and ending with a sprig of dill on top, pack the chunks snugly in hot, sterilized wide-mouth pint of 1 1/2 pint jars. As each is packed, set it back in the sterilizer containing several inches of hot water.  When all the jars are filled, add hot water to sterilizer if necessary to bring level almost to tops of jars.  Cover and heat until cucumber chunks are hot to the touch, but don't allow the water to boil.  It might splash over into the open jars.

When chunks are hot, remove one jar at a time from sterilizer, pour off any water that has accumulated (this shouldn't be necessary if you've kept an eye on the kettle to avoid overheating), and fill almost to overflowing with boiling syrup. Top with a grape leaf, clean rim and threads of jar, and seal.  Repeat until all are filled. Store at least 2 months before using. 

Some Notes: I am the ultimate recipe tinkerer, I admit.  Here's my version:

  • I have never tried this method of sterilizing the open jars then adding boiling syrup and sealing jars. I make these as refrigerator pickles since we eat them so quickly it isn't worth the water bath.
  • Altering this step does seem to alter the liquid content so I double the vinegar mixture so I have plenty.
  • I also skip the alum step and merely extend the brining time by the additional 12 hours.
  • Don't worry if you don't have grape leaves - the recipe is fine without.
  • I'm not a dill fan so instead, I add 1/4 tsp celery seed. I also like them hot - I add 1/8 tsp crushed chilis and 1 clove of peeled garlic to each jar.
  • I try to store them for at least 2 days before using, but that's been a stretch.  Good luck with the 2 months, lol.