Make Blue-Ribbon-Winning Pickles (with Homemade Condiment Recipes)

Reader Contribution by Wendy Akin
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These pickles have won a blue ribbon each time I entered them in the State Fair. They’re quite sweet with a spicy tang. We use them mostly on sandwiches and burgers.

Before you dive in, re-read my post on pickling hints for tips on choosing vinegars, spices, and more.

Choose cucumbers that are pretty even in size, preferably pickling cukes. They are best at about 1- inch diameter and 4 to 5 inches long (about the size of an Italian sausage). Don’t try to make pickles with the common salad cukes one sees in the grocery store — they are waxed and I don’t think you can get that wax off. If you have a garden, do plan to grow pickling cucumbers.

Blue-Ribbon Pickles Recipe

Makes 8 pint jars


• 1 gallon, about 4 to 5 pounds, very fresh pickling cucumbers
• 1 gallon cool water
• 1 cup pickling lime
• 2 quarts Heinz apple cider vinegar
• 6 cups cane sugar
• 4 tsp pickling salt
• 2 Tbsp mustard seed
• 2 tsp celery seed
• 1 Tbsp whole black pepper
• 1 Tbsp whole cloves
• 1 Tbsp whole allspice
• 1 Tbsp green whole cardamom pods
• 3 Tbsp fresh ginger puree or 1/4 cup fresh ginger in ¼-inch dice


Day 1

Don’t peel cukes for pickles. Wash the cukes and slice evenly about ¼-inch thick. Put the slices into a non-reactive container (plastic, stainless, enamel) that’s big enough to hold the gallon of water as well.

Measure the water into a deep bowl or pot and stir in the lime. It will not dissolve completely. Stir some more as you pour the lime water over the sliced cukes. Cover and set aside, in the refrigerator if possible, overnight, up to 24 hours.

Day 2

Drain the cucumbers in a colander, return to the bowl, fill the bowl with fresh water and drain again. Rinse three times, stirring to rinse off all the lime. Be careful, the slices are quite brittle and you don’t want to break them.

Fill bowl with water a fourth time and let sit for 3 hours. Drain again.

Meanwhile, combine the vinegar, sugar and spices in a stainless or enamel pot. Heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring to boil and simmer 5 minutes.

Add the cuke slices to the pot, stir well, making sure the slices are all submerged, and cover. Set aside overnight.

Save one of the vinegar bottles — if you have syrup left over, put it in the bottle for the next time you pickle.

Day 3

Put the pot back on over high heat. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer, covered, until the slices are almost translucent, about 30 minutes. Watch carefully, don’t overcook them.

Have your impeccably clean jars and new lids ready and the water-bath kettle going. Dip each jar to sterilize it and set upside down on a clean or paper towel. Also dip the lids, your ladle and funnel.

Using a funnel, ladle, and a knife blade, put the slices into pint jars, and fill with the syrup, using the knife to dislodge any air bubbles. Fill jars to within 1/4 inch.

Seal the jars and process for 7 minutes in the boiling water bath. Remove from bath and let the jars cool, listening for that lovely ping.

Let pickles mellow for a month to develop full flavor. Best chilled.

As you eat the pickles, don’t toss the syrup — fill the jar with raw onion slices and put back in the fridge for a few weeks. Pickled onion slices are delicious on sandwiches! And you didn’t do any more work.

Sweet-Pickle Relish Recipe

This earned another blue ribbon.

If some of the cucumbers are bigger and look seedy, do those separately. Cut them into chunks instead. Quarter the cuke lengthwise and cut pieces about 1 inch.

Keep the chunks separate but treat the same as the slices. If I have a red pepper, I dice it and add to the cuke chunks, just for pretty. Put them whole into a jar and process the same.

When you need relish, dump the jar out into the processor and pulse a few times to get the right texture. Doing it this way gives you a fresher relish. Sometimes I use ½-pint jars for this so it’s always fresh.

Homemade Tartar Sauce Recipe

Super easy! Absolutely fresh! Very delicious.

• 1 tbsp onion, grated
• 2 tbsp sweet pickle relish
• 1 tbsp syrup from pickles
• 1 cup mayonnaise

Mix ingredients. Use a little more onion if it’s sweet and mild, a little less if it’s a tear jerker (to your taste, of course).

Peanut Butter and Sweet Pickles Sandwich Recipe

Before you say ick!!, think about it. We pair peanut butter with sweet, tangy jam, right? So, why not sweet, spicy pickles? I cannot remember where I got this idea, but know it’s been a favorite since childhood.

Get out a loaf of your good homemade potato or white wheat bread (find bread recipe here).

Lightly toast the slices and spread one slice with butter. Slather the other slice with peanut butter and lay on the Blue Ribbon Sweet Pickle slices. Enjoy.

Wendy Akinis happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.

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