Holiday Cheater Pickles – an Update

by R.B. Quinn and Min Merrell
holiday cheater pickles

Back in December of 2012 we shared recipes for the interesting Nashville (and broader southern) tradition of making holiday cheater pickles — sweet pickles made from store-bought sour pickles. Read about that in Nfocus Magazine here

The pickle’s importance really sunk in when as the holiday season approached each year, we’d notice a huge end-aisle display of the giant jars of whole sours at the Highway 100 Harris-Teeter.

Now it’s 2015 and there’s no more Harris-Teeter, so where to buy the pickles? No luck at Publix, but we spied a few big jars on the bottom shelf of the pickle section at the Bellevue Kroger. We urge you to keep a look out and ask your store manager to add them to the order, so we can keep this candy-crisp tradition alive. They are critical to the holiday sideboard for perfectly complementing a bite of salty holiday country ham and turning a ho-hum turkey sandwich into a masterpiece.

Who knows when all this started, but it’s a good guess that Nashville’s influential Centennial Club hostess and author Sadie LeSueur helped launch its popularity as she included a recipe for Crisp Cucumber Rings in her classic book Recipes, Party Plans and Garnishes (we have the 1970 revised edition; look in your 1958 first printing and see if it’s there).

Variations of this sweet pickle are found in many other Nashville area cookbooks as well. Miss Emma Porter Armstrong smartly named her recipe Polk Pickles in The James K. Polk Cookbook (1978). Mrs. Fred Russell contributed Christmas Pickle in By the Board, a collection of 105 recipes of the board of the Ladies Hermitage Association (1973). Of course, Nashville Seasons’ Encore (1977) includes a cheater sweet pickle recipe called Bolin’s Pickle submitted by Mrs. Lawrence B. Stumb, Jr. Dean G. Reeves author of From the Kitchen Door, Recipes of Lyssa Gillespie (1992), a sweet compilation of recipes from her mother who started a thriving backdoor catering business in her Green Hills home in 1951, calls them Garlic Pickles and attributes the recipe to her Grandmother Hunt.

In every cookbook, the pickle maker embellishes the recipe in her own way. Added ingredients include maraschino cherries for festive holiday color, pickled cocktail onions, a little or a lot of fresh garlic, pieces of cinnamon stick, blended pickling spices (preferably McCormick’s), whole mustard seed, whole cloves, whole black peppercorns and sliced hot peppers. The sugar-to-pickle ratio isn’t set in stone, but a gallon jar of pickles to a four-pound bag of sugar works consistently well for us and is super-easy to remember. Here’s the cheater sweet pickle 2015 basic recipe. Make it yours. Be warned, if you start, you’ll be filling your shopping cart with giant jars of sour pickles every November as your friends and family demand it.

Nashville writer and cookbook author Nicki Pendleton Wood fondly calls these sours turned sweet “repickles.”

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