A Tilli Holm Calhoun painting of some of the Danish pickles served by our Grandmother
When we were growing up our grandmother, Ione Holm or Granny to us, would almost always set out a dish of her sweet and tangy Danish pickles at special family events. The pickles were not green like the dills or sweet pickles, but they looked like the white part of a watermelon rind cut into strips.
Making the Danish pickles took Granny a few days. First she had to round up all of the ingredients. The cucumbers that she used were much larger than the cucumbers used for other pickles. Local friend and farmer Augie Hagemann would leave the cucumbers on the vine until they were large enough (approximately 4 inches in diameter) and would pick them when Granny was ready to pickle. After picking up the cucumbers from Augie, she would visit another farm to get fresh dill. One of the farms she would buy the dill from was on Vineyard Avenue in Pleasanton. Although not much dill is used for the Danish pickles, she would use the rest of the fresh dill for dill pickles. Sugar, vinegar, and pickling spices would be the last on her list to pick up before she made her way back up to her home in the Livermore Hills.
The next day Granny would peel all of the cucumbers, cut them in half length-wise and scrape out the seeds. She would then lay all of the scraped and hollowed cucumber “boats” out on pans and sprinkle them with salt. The cucumbers would sit over night while the salt would draw the excess liquid out of the cucumbers. The following day would be pickling day. I can still remember the aroma of the cucumbers and pickling syrup that filled her house on those pickling days.
Salting the cucumber “boats”
The salted cucumbers the following day
The last time any of us had Danish pickles was probably about 20 years ago when Granny was in her 80’s. For the last few years we’ve talked about making them, but were at a loss as to where we were going to get the cucumbers since Augie moved to Oakdale and no longer grows cucumbers. My sister Nancy started doing some research and talked to some of the farmers at our local farmer markets and found that Farmer Sean from Terra Belly Family Farm in Pleasanton (where she gets her weekly CSA) thought he had some cucumbers that might work, he could leave the cucumbers on the vine to get them to the size needed.
Nancy made arrangements with the farmer to pick up the cucumbers on a Saturday afternoon and that evening we gathered with some of our cousins and aunt Patsy to peel and scrape the seeds out of the cucumbers. Our 95-year old cousin Phyllis had made the pickles many times with Granny and was on hand to help out and provide guidance. Most of us had made the pickles with Granny at least once. The following day we cut up the cucumbers, packed them in jars with spices, and completed the pickling process. During the pickling day every time someone went outside and came back into the house they would say, “It smells just like Granny’s house!” It’s great that some smells can bring back such wonderful memories.
Peeling the cucumbers
Drying off the cucumbers
Nancy was a pickling fool that day and in addition to the Danish pickles, we made dill pickles, bread and butter pickles, and pickled okra with her. Those recipes I will share in future blog posts.
After we were done pickling, Cousin Phyllis said that she was always told, “We make the pickles now and they will be ready to eat at Christmas time.” So now we wait for at least six weeks to try the pickles and see how close they are to Granny’s.
I’m waiting . . . . albeit impatiently, but I’m waiting . . . . .
The Danish pickle pickling syrup being added to the jars stuffed with pickling spice and the prepared cucumbers
Danish Pickles (Asier)
- 8 pint canning jars, rings, and lids
- 4 very large cucumbers, 10 to 12 inches long
- 2 to 3 tablespoons noniodized salt
- 2 cups distilled white vinegar
- 16 sprigs fresh dill
- Pickling syrup (makes 1 1/2 quarts)
- 3 cups distilled white vinegar
- 3 cups sugar
- 2 teaspoons pickling spice
Day 1: Peel the cucumbers, cut in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds. Place the cukes in a nonreactive pot, salt heavily, and let them sit overnight.
Day 2: Sterilize the canning jars and lids. Wipe the cukes dry and cut into 1-inch slices. In a nonreactive pot, bring the vinegar to a boil. Slowly pour the boiling vinegar over the cucumbers. Let sit for 15 to 20 minutes.
To make the pickling syrup, combine the vinegar, sugar, and pickling spices in a large, nonreactive pot and bring to a boil. Place the cucumbers in the boiling syrup. As soon as the boiling resumes, remove the cucumbers. Place a couple sprigs of fresh dill in each jar, fill the jars halfway with syrup, and pack the jars with the cucumbers. Top off each jar with the remaining syrup, leaving 1/2 inch of space at the top. Seal the jars with the lids. Place the jars in a hot-water bath, cover, bring to a boil, and process for 5 minutes. Remove the jars and allow them to cool. Make sure all the lids have sealed. Store for 6 to 8 weeks in a cool, dark place before serving.
Still waiting . . .