Pickles: Buy It vs. Make It
When I found the Quick Pickles recipe, I thought it couldn’t be that easy. But yet: it was.
To make sure, I brought in a guest expert: Paul, the proprietor of my local artisan pickle-shoppe, Paulie’s Pickling. Paulie’s is one of those mom-and-pop success stories that fuel every foodie’s dreams: a married couple, unhappy with the pickle options at their local farmer’s market, started experimenting at home — et voila, a beloved local business was born.
I handed over one of my own homemade pickles to Paul. “Not bad,” he said as he took a bite (though I was gazing hopefully at him, and it would have been super awkward if he spit my pickle out). However, later in the day the rest of the batch was devoured by two six-year-olds and their moms — tough critics, in my experience.
So what does Paul do that’s radically different from the recipe you now have in your hot little hands? Not much. “I’m not telling you my specific recipe, but the basic ingredients — an acid, a sweetener, and spices — are obviously all there,” he said.
The difference between fermented pickles and the quick-pickles detailed here is the vinegar. Fermented pickles are made with salt, and are trickier to control.
As for canning, what it saves you in refrigerator shelf-space, it costs you in crispiness. “You’ll get a better, crisper texture 100 percent of the time with fresh, not canned pickles,” Paul told me. “Heating anything makes it softer.” Crisp pickles from the supermarket are pumped full of calcium, pickling lime, or other additives.
The big advantage to going straight to a local artisan like Paulie’s instead of pickling yourself is his or her relationship with local farms. Whether cukes are in season or not, Paul is obsessive about finding the perfect ones — which came in verrry handy last year, when an unexpected frost destroyed most of the crops coming in from Arizona and New Mexico.
Anyway, enough about Paul and his crispy pickle. What about my pickles — and yours?
Your only big expense is the actual cucumbers. If you’re growing your own, and you’re overrun, you’re in great shape — with the bonus that you can actually make little gherkin-y pickles, since tiny cucumbers are never able at the grocery store (they fall apart during shipping).
Cucumbers vary widely in price. Organic ones are, right now, $1.09 each at Safeway, even less at the farmer’s market because they’re practically leaping off the vines, which comes out to about 6 cents an ounce. Conventional ones are about ten cents cheaper, so less than 5 cents an ounce. Cukes are cheap.
A gallon of Heinz white vinegar, which specifically calls itself “pickling vinegar,” is 6 cents an ounce. Cider vinegar is 13 cents an ounce, unless you spring for the fancy organic kind, which is 19 cents an ounce. After that, it’s all about the spices, which are up to you — I sprung for celery seed, dill seed and mustard seed, plus brown sugar.
Altogether, the cost of making pickles out of 4 cucumbers came out to about $6.00 at the most, or 9 cents an ounce.
Jars of supermarket pickles are about 13-18 cents an ounce. Artisan pickles — the kind Paul makes — are $8 a jar, and I have no idea how much that is per ounce; it’s a lot, but they are outstanding, and a huge crowd-pleaser.
So making your own is cheaper across the board; if you’re going to pay more, it had better be for quality.
There is, like, no effort involved. I boiled the mixture, I poured it over my sliced cukes, and within a few hours I had something I would be really, really proud to bring to a barbecue.
Paul still makes the best pickles. However, I am a close second, and so are you, because this is seriously the easiest recipe in the history of recipes.
If you really love pickles, you should go ahead and make your own. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat a supermarket pickle again. I’m ruined!
As a bonus this week, here are some outtakes from my pickling adventure:
Seriously, what could be easier than slicing cucumbers?
Or, for that matter, bringing a bunch of stuff to boil?
My new pickling friend Paul in the kitchen of his pickle shop. Thanks, Paul!
What’s the verdict? Check out all our Buy It vs. Make It comparisons!