Mom’s, Ethel’s, Sally’s Mom’s & Mrs. Gregory’s Mustard Pickles

I’m inspired to share a recipe.

I was at our family cabin this week and looked through some recipes. A while back my good friend Wendy asked if I had “The Mustard Pickle Recipe”. I told her I was pretty sure I did and I said I would look for it. That was at least three or four months ago. . . I found it. Three versions, actually.

You need to get that “The Mustard Pickle Recipe” used to be a secret. The funny thing is, apparently everyone in the generation older than my mom used to make them. I read three very similar, but slightly different recipes from that older generation, plus I know I have another one floating around here someplace that is in my mom’s handwriting that says “Ethel’s Mustard Pickles” on top of the card, which is the one she wouldn’t share, even though it wasn’t hers in the first place. In a small town, recipes as awesome as “The Mustard Pickle Recipe” are a secret. And if you are lucky, you get a jar for Christmas.

The recipe listed here is a conglomeration of the three, plus my memories of watching the process multiple times, plus some logic.

Wish I had a picture of a jar of the “Real” ones. . . maybe next year. Here’s what they look like, sort of. The color is right, anyway.


Mustard Pickles
2 or 3 quarts cucumbers, unpeeled – quarter lengthwise, scoop out big seeds & slice.
NOTE: 2 recipes called for 2 quarts, one called for 3. I don’t recall any scooping out of seeds ever and this was suggested on only one of the recipes – I am including it as an option. As I recall, my mom used smaller cucumbers and cut them in half and sliced them in about quarter inch slices. 

2 quarts pickling onions, peeled & left whole
NOTE: My father used to come home from work and sit at the picnic table with a small paring knife and peel these things for my mom and Ethel until it was dark. It is tedious work and best if you can find someone else to do it. You can just cube up a bunch of onion, if you don’t have the patience. Also, if you got a jar for christmas with the little onions, you were damn special. Those jars were usually saved for family or those who were invited to dinner. 

2 quarts cauliflower, broken into medium-sized pieces
NOTE: Not one of the recipes said what to do with the cauliflower. This is where I participated. I think you could call it child labor. . . “Not too small!” is the size. 

2 red peppers, 2 green peppers
NOTE: Also no directions for these. I guess we all know what to do with them. . . cut ’em up, right?

Make brine with 1 cup salt & 1 gallon water.
Let stand 24 hours.
NOTE: What this means is put the brine on the veggies, preferably in a small crock, and let them soak for 24 hours. This is when you take a break, have a cocktail and eat some sort of grilled meat, corn on the cob and salad for dinner. My dad was responsible for grilling the meat – and making the cocktails. After he was done peeling all those tiny onions. 

Bring to a boil, drain
NOTE: If you have a big enamel pot, that’s what you should use. That’s what my mom used, anyway. I’m pretty sure I recall her using another huge pot that was Club Aluminum. We all know better these days. Seriously, just to a boil. 

Add Sauce:
1 cup water, 2 quarts vinegar
6 cups white sugar
1/2 cup dried mustard
1 tablespoon turmeric
1/2 cup flour

Heat to boiling, cook for 20 minutes. Just before putting in bottles, add 1 or 2 tablespoons celery seed.
NOTE: These pickles are in fairly big pieces. They are not exactly crisp, but they aren’t mushy, either. Makes me wonder if 20 minutes is too long, even though all three recipes said the same thing. Also, I don’t remember my mom adding the celery seed at the last minute and the amount varied from 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon to 2 tablespoons on each recipe. Maybe it should just say “to taste”. I can tell you that there are definitely seeds in it. Enough that my mom probably used 2 tablespoons. 

Bottle & Seal
NOTE: This means boil the bottles & seals long enough to make the kitchen hotter than hell (20 minutes, as I recall) and put the hot pickles in the hot jars, slap on a lid and crank on a ring tight – and don’t burn yourself. Make sure the lip of the jar is CLEAN – my mom wiped each one with a hot well-wrung wash cloth and rinsed it often. Then put the jars on the counter or a rack to cool. each one will “Pop” when it seals. You can tell if any didn’t seal by tapping on top of each one. Jars that don’t seal sound flat – no “ping”. Jars that don’t seal can be put in the fridge to be eaten sometime in the fairly near future – a bonus that rarely happened with Kerr jars, seals and rings (Shameless promotion – my mother never used Ball). 

GENERAL NOTE: OK, which kind of vinegar, white or apple cider? Your guess is as good as mine. None of the recipes say. I’m pretty sure it was apple cider, although we had both in the cupboard during canning season. Maybe Wendy knows. . . That’s a lot of white sugar, by the way. Have no idea how to substitute for that. I think you might be able to sub tapioca flour for the wheat flour if you are gluten free. And, by the way, this “sauce” will stain EVERYTHING. I can remember a spot on our counter that faded gradually by the new year, kitchen towels that, after multiple washings, became rags and a wooden spoon that my mom dug out each time she made these pickles that was stained permanently. You can double or triple this recipe. I can remember hours and hours of cutting, peeling, laughing and swearing. And two large crocks that sat out overnight on the patio in the backyard in Rupert. There must have been a lot of Mustard Pickle Christmas Gifts that year. . . We always had the privilege of some of the new batch at Thanksgiving. . . they go really well with turkey. Yum!

If you don’t grow a garden, all the fresh ingredients can, of course, be found at your local farmers’ market. My mom used to drive around and get her ingredients from various friends with large gardens and people who sold produce out of their yards. Someone would call with a hot tip on where you could get cucumbers and the pickle making was on!

These pickles are best if you can get together with a couple of other women to make them. . . the shared labor, shared love and shared result is wonderful.

I get that it’s a little late in the season to put this recipe out. It’s really a mid-July recipe.

If you make these, I hope you will include me on your Christmas List.

Love to All and happy pickling!

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