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Seven Days to Perfect Pickles

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Seven Days to Perfect Pickles
Written by Emily Storrow | Photos by Tom McCorkle

Seven-Day Magic

This vintage recipe is perfect for novices

Southerners don’t have to pickle like we used to, when bumper crops of cucumbers, green beans, and okra had to be put up lest they spoil in the summer heat. The advent of refrigeration changed all that. But we still should, says Cathy Barrow, a cookbook author who has sung the praises of preserves and pies in several releases. (Her latest, When Pies Fly, is due out from Grand Central Publishing this September.) “I can’t always make five kinds of pickles,” she says, “but I make the things that are important to my family.” And there’s none quite like the seven-day sweet, a vintage pickle that transforms thick-cut cucumbers into a crisp, tangy-sweet bite over the course of a week with so little effort it’s more regimen than recipe. Plus, they’re practically magic: Even without being processed in a water bath, seven-day sweets are shelf stable.

Barrow’s love affair with the pickle began in her youth, when she’d watch her grandmother share lunches of hard-boiled eggs and seven- day sweets with her Florence, South Carolina-born housekeeper, Luvey. (After some fifty years, the two had become close friends: “Toward the end there was a lot less work and a whole lot more sitting around and gabbing,” Barrow laughs.) These days, seven-day sweets are in her regular rotation.

Truth be told, the most difficult part of making the pickles is finding a weeklong stretch when you’re home. From there, it’s a simple matter of brining the cucumbers in stages. As the fruit’s water content is replaced with acid, salt, and sugar, it becomes shelf-stable. This means seven-day sweets are perfect for pickle newbies and anyone apprehensive about canning. While they don’t need to be refrigerated, they should be served ice-cold, Barrow notes.

At first bite, the chip will be so crispy you’ll ponder if it’s alchemy. But alas, it’s alum: a naturally occurring mineral used for centuries to crisp food. The recipe has few instructions, but they’re each there for a reason—so follow them exactly. And don’t even think about cutting back on the sugar. “I’ve tried,” Barrow admits. One aspect that’s okay to modify: the size of the recipe. “You may think you won’t want more than two-and-a-half pounds of these,” she says, “but trust me, it’s not a bad idea to double it.”

Cathy Barrow’s Seven-Day Sweets