This fantastic Craven County Sweet Pickle recipe was shared with me by my friend, Andra Cook of Raleigh, North Carolina. The recipe also appears in our cookbook called What’s Cooking America which was co-authored by Andra.
This sweet pickle recipe has become one of the most requested recipes on my web site in the United States! Andra’s Craven County Sweet Pickles recipe have become famous on the internet. You really have to make these pickles as they manage to be sweeter, crunchier and spicier than the store bought sweet pickle.
The pickling process takes place over eight days.
Since I get many questions on this recipe, Andra has graciously updated and added additional comments on making these wonderful sweet pickles. Thank you Andra!
Andra Cook’s Notes:
I used 35 pounds of fresh pickling cucumbers and yielded 18 quarts of sweet pickles. Cucumbers were anywhere from 4 to 6 inches long (good size for these pickles).
This method of making pickles keeps the sugar on the cucumbers and the sugar does not settle to the bottom of the jars. When you apply the sugar to the cucumbers at this stage, there will begin to form a syrup (the sugar will “draw out” the vinegar and become very sweet and sticky). You now have pickles. It is very important that the syrup covers the pickles in the jar (those that are not covered will not be crisp – although they are still good, but just not crisp).
Hot Water Bath Processing – This is not necessary with cucumbers – Your processes of salt/water, alum/water, and vinegar (all of which are boiling when poured onto the cucumbers) have “cooked” them already. You do not have the problems that you do with tomatoes and string beans which have to be processed in a hot water bath in order for the jars to seal. These jars are not sealed, although some lids may stick to the top of the jar.
Also check out Andra’s wonderful Grand Mammy’s Carolina Sharps pickle recipe.
Craven County Sweet Pickles Recipe:
Soak the cucumbers in ice cold water for 30 minutes. Drain. Trim off the ends of the cucumbers, then slice (a mandoline is best) into 1/4-inch slices.
Place sliced cucumbers in a large non-reactive container (stainless steel or porcelain) and cover with boiling water. There will be a foam on the cucumbers for this first application of boiling water, but you will not have any foam after that.
Do not cover the container with a lid. This is because the water is so hot, and you do not want to cook the pickles – just “scald” them.
Let sit until Day 2.
The cucumbers do not have to be refrigerated during the five (5) day process. You want the ingredients to be at room temperature and the water you pour over them to be at the boiling point when you are processing.
Drain off water (do not rinse the pickles) and cover with fresh boiling water and pickling salt mixture.
Pickling salt mixture = 1 1/2 cups pickling salt to 1 gallon boiling water
Drain off water/salt mixture.
Do not rinse the pickles after the salt step. Just drain the water mixture off and proceed to the next step.
Cover with fresh boiling water and alum mixture.
Alum mixture = 2 1/2 tablespoons alum to 1 gallon boiling water
Drain off alum water and discard.
Do not rinse the pickles after the alum step. Just drain the water mixture off and proceed to the next step.
Boil together enough cider vinegar and pickling spices to cover the cucumber slices. (1 gallon cider vinegar and 3 tablespoons pickling spices wrapped in cheese cloth).
Pour prepared cider vinegar/pickling spices over the cucumber slices.
I place a towel on top of the container, with a rubber band around the pot/towel to hold in place. I do this because the vinegar smell is so strong . I then put the container in the garage so they will not smell up the house.
DAY 5, 6 and 7:
Let the cucumbers sit in the vinegar solution, covering the top with a towel to keep “whatever out.” Do not cover the mixture with a lid.
Take cucumbers out of cider vinegar; drain off cider vinegar and dispose (or throw away) the vinegar and spice sack. I do not put the spices back into my pickles. I am sure it would be okay if you did, but I do not like having the spices in my pickles.
Ready to put into jars:
I put my jars, lids, and rings into the dishwasher and run on a regular cycle with dishwasher detergent. If you do not have a dishwasher, just wash as you would regular dishes and rinse with VERY hot water. This way you can be assured that your end product will be free of contaminants that may have been in the jar previously.
General Rule: For every five (5) cups of sliced cucumbers, add two (2) cups of granulated sugar (you want to thoroughly cover the cucumbers as you would if you were flouring a piece of chicken to deep fry).
Pack into clean jars of your choice:
When I pack the jars, I put approximately a dozen slices of pickles and then 1/4 cup of sugar sprinkled around on the slices – then another dozen or so pickles slices and another 1/4 cup of sugar until you have filled up the jar. You will end up with approximately one (1) cup of sugar per quart jar.
As the sugar dissolves it “pulls out” the vinegar from the pickles and makes a sweet light syrup. When the sugar has dissolved, if you do not have syrup high enough in the jar to cover all of the pickles just add more sugar. I like to let my pickles age for a week and then refrigerate – they are fantastic cold.
Make sure the pickles are covered with the vinegar/sugar liquid or your top cucumbers will turn darker.
NOTE: The sugar sometimes does just sit on the bottom. I turn my jars upside down from time to time so the sugar will travel from the bottom to the top (which is now in the lower position). As you do this, the sugar will dissolve and draw the vinegar out of the pickles and make a syrup that will cover them. I turn the jars until the sugar has completely dissolved. It may take a few turns; however, you can also hold the jar in your hand and turn it back and forth to speed up the process.
Your jars will not be sealed but your pickles will be preserved. You can eat these sweet pickles immediately, but are much better if they are allowed to sit in the syrup for a week or so.
I prefer my pickles cold – straight from the refrigerator. They are a better taste and texture. You can store the pickles in a cool, dark place for many years.
Yield: 35 pounds of cucumbers yielded approximately 18 quarts of sweet pickles.
Comments from Readers:
Hello Linda, I have been making pickles for years. This year I saw your recipe and decided to try. EXCELLENT! I used 5 lbs of pickles per batch. I am now making the second one. These are some of the best pickles ever! My husband and I ate almost 1/2 jar the other night with dinner. He was impressed. Thank you for sharing.
Please stress to “young’ pickle makers that they are pickles and do not fear not sealing them. I am sure many have seen pickles eggs in stores sitting on counters. They last until….. Pickled is pickled. – Pickled myself, Betty (7/16/16)
I followed the Craven County Sweep Pickles’ recipe exactly. OMG! They are amazing! I am going to do a bigger batch next year. I only did an ice cream bucket full this year which gave me 5 pints of sliced, 1 pint of whole, and 1 quart of whole pickles. I am so happy with the result! Can’t wait to make more next year. – LaTanya Cowley (9/14)
This is the second year that I have made these sweet pickles and they are fantastic! The only thing that I do differently from the recipe is I add hot jalapeno peppers to the jars when I am packing the pickles. I like hot, sweet pickles, and you can make them as hot as you want by simply adding as many peppers as you like. I have made these pickles and given them to friends and relatives and they have all put in their orders for more pickles this year!
Questions and Answers – Craven County Sweet Pickles:
All answers by Andra Cook
Adding Sugar Questions:
I am in the process of making those wonderful Craven County sweet pickles and am wondering. I want to make a 2nd batch of them. Can I save the vinegar spice solution from this batch and just re-boil and reuse it in the next batch? Seems like such a waste to throw it away if it can be reused. Thanks!
I agree that it is a waste – but I have never tried to re-boil and reuse the vinegar/spice solution so I don’t know if it works. I would hate to tell you that it does and then you have an inferior project after all of that hard work. I have always just started from the beginning and done it every step of the way, using new vinegar, etc.
I’m making your sweet pickle recipe. I don’t have enough syrup to cover the cucumbers. Should I make a syrup out of sugar and water to finish covering the pickles? I only have about 1/3 of each jar with syrup. I know the recipe says to add more sugar, but I think I would need to add a really lot of sugar! Please advise me on what to do ASAP.
I have that problem from time to time. But you should NOT make a syrup of sugar and water that will make the pickles limp and take away from the flavor. What you are doing by adding the sugar is “pulling the vinegar” out of the cucumbers with the sugar…that is how you get your syrup.
I turn my jars upside down to make sure the sugar has dissolved. I think turning the jars back and forth makes the sugar get onto all of the cucumbers. What I would suggest is that you add more sugar. I know it seems like a lot, and I would recommend that you remove the cucumbers that are not covered (when they are maybe 3/4 up) and put them into another jar and then add sugar to that jar.
I have a question on the Craven County Sweet Pickles. I have added sugar to mine several times during the past week and they still do not have enough of the brine to cover the pickles. Is there anything else (such as water) that I can add too?
Please continue to add sugar to the pickles…by no means should you add water…this will dilute the syrup and keep the pickles from being properly preserved. Just continue to add some sugar…at times I have found it necessary to turn my jars upside down so the sugar will all dissolve.
YOUR CUCUMBER RECIPE DID NOT AMOUNTS OF SUGAR AND VINEGAR TO USE AS EQUAL AMOUNTS PER LB. CAN YOU TELL ME THAT. I HAVE 3 QTS. OF CUCUMBERS.
When you are working with different amounts or quantities of cucumbers, I find its best to just put the sliced cucumbers in a container – cover with vinegar and then pour the vinegar off the cucumbers into another vessel to heat up and pour back over the cucumbers again. That way you will not waste vinegar. The short cut to that is eyeball the amount of cucumbers and take a guess as to how much vinegar it will take to cover them.
When you get down to the Day 8 of the recipe, I start with 1/2 cup of sugar distributed throughout the jar and continue pouring until I have covered all of the cucumbers…the sugar “will draw out” a vinegar/sugar mixture that should end up covering the “pickles”. I would start with a 4 or 5 pound bag of sugar and work from that. I usually start with 1 gallon on vinegar and 1 (5-pound bag) of granulated sugar and go from there…depending on the size of my batch.
I’m in the midst of making sweet pickles using your Craven County Sweet Pickles recipe (Day 5). When you coat the cucumbers with the sugar and put them in the jars, the recipe indicates they will form a syrup. What happens if the liquid does not cover the cucumbers? Should you add water or some of the vinegar/pickling spice mixture??
I have had this happen before. If you add more sugar you will get more syrup out of the cucumbers. You would not add vinegar because it would be too strong (not sweet) and water would make them soggy. I turn the jars up side down so that the cucumbers get covered with the syrup. If you still don’t get enough syrup to cover the pickles, they will still be good just not as sweet and crisp. I use those pickles in my potato salad.
I have a question about the sweet pickle process. Can you please ask Ms. Cook if we can use Splenda instead of sugar? Great website. Gotta make that Red Eye Gravy next!
I have never used artificial sweetener in my pickles. I am not sure you would get the same reaction to the pickle – sugar “draws out” the vinegar and makes a sweet syrup that covers the pickles. Having said all of that you might find more information about pickling on the Splenda website.
Sealing the Jar Questions:
I hope you can answer a question for me. I was searching for answers via the web and came across your site. I loved it and then saw you were on Facebook – so here I am. You seem to know so much. Please advise. I made some lime pickles. They soaked in lime/water for 24 hours, then ice water overnight, and then cooked in syrup mixture which was sugar and vinegar (no water). The hot cucumbers and sugar mixture where then put in jars and lids put on. I turned them upside down (the old fashioned way to seal), for a few minutes and then right side up. They all sealed. I did not water bath them. I don’t like to use water bath as it makes my pickles soggy.
Anyway, I left them on the counter for 2 days and now have placed them in the fridge. Here’s my question, since the recipe said to water bath as do all recipes I read, do you think these pickles are safe to eat? The cucumbers and sugar (syrup) were HOT when packed in jars. I don’t want to make anyone sick – but I just can’t believe that anything would be wrong with these. What do you think?? Just asking for your thoughts.
I have a book Pickling Vegetables, August 1990, A Pacific Northwest Extension Publication (page 11 – Quick sweet pickles) that states:
“Hot pack: Add cucumbers and heat slowly until vinegar solution returns to boil. Stir occasionally to make sure mixture heats evenly. Fill pint or quart jars, leave 1/2-inch head space.”
There is no mention of a boiling water canner processing. Below it there is a “Raw pack. Fill pint or quart jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space… to add hot pickling syrup…canner processing…”
I think you have done all the right steps…you have processed them according to recipes I have and your jars have sealed and then you have refrigerated them…all of which would make your product safe (in my opinion).
Can you seal the Craven county pickles even though it is not necessary?
The answer so far as I know is “no”. The pickles are never heated in a water bath or on the stove so they cannot be sealed that way. Don’t know of any other way to do it.
The Craven County Sweet Pickles…..if the do not seal can they still be stored just as they are in the pantry cupboard….I’d like to try this recipe but have never made unsealed pickles before….pantry is just room temperature….around 72 degrees F.
The pickles will keep just fine since the cucumbers have been processed in the hot salt water and vinegar. You just need to make sure that the pickles are covered with the sugar/vinegar solution you will get in the very last step. I have made them for years and they stay ready to eat for months.
I seem to be having a problem with your recipe for the Craven County Pickles. I followed your recipe exactly and everything was looking great until today, when the lids started pinging. I’m using the two piece lid and band on my jars. Last night, I flipped the jars back over onto their bottoms and I just heard two jar lids pinging. I’ve checked the other jars and I have a total of 8 jars that are no longer sealed, based on the lid’s center.
There are a couple of jars that could use some more sugar; they were full when I flipped them over but not now. Is it too late to add more sugar to these jars after they’ve been standing 4 days or not? I also want to know if these pickles are still safe to keep in my pantry after the lids have pinged. If not, are they still safe to eat now once refrigerated? Any help you can give me is appreciated.
Your pickles are not in trouble. I do not do a hot water bath on these pickles since they are been preserved from the alum, salt and vinegar. Mine do a ping every now and then, but it is not necessary for them to be sealed to be stored in your pantry. I have pickles left over from last year, and they are fine to eat at any time. You can add more sugar as you go along, I usually add sugar until the liquid covers the pickles (that way they are kept crisp and fresh). I hope this helps. I know you will enjoy these pickles – my husband’s grandmother always had some on hand.
Thank you so very much Ms. Andra for not only your very quick response but for easing my mind about these pickle jars pinging! I’ve been canning a lot of years but never pickles. Left pickles to my Great Grandmother and Mother. I was so hoping that a little more sugar could be added, but having not been around the pickling station in a while, my memory could have been fallible. I would like to mention that your recipe is quite easy and they do smell delicious! Thank you for sharing your family recipe with my family.
I used your recipe for Craven County Sweet Pickles and put them in jars today. I am wondering about the sealing process. No hot water bath? How do these pickles keep in the pantry with out sealing with hot water?
Thanks for your question about the sweet pickles. The pickles will be fine for an indefinite period of time in the pantry. When you process the cucumbers in the salt/boiling water, alum/boiling water, and vinegar liquids, the cucumbers are preserved in such a way that they will keep in the vinegar/sugar liquid that forms and covers them. Cucumbers do not have the same properties as tomatoes and green beans so bacteria does not grow after the processing. You should make sure the pickles are covered with the vinegar/sugar liquid or your top cucumbers will turn darker. They are still edible but just not as good as the ones in the liquid.
Pickling Spice Questions:
I am trying to make sweet pickles. I have had them only three times in my life and loved them. When I was a child (friend’s grandmother had made them – she was making a new batch when I had a visit and she let me try some – loved them!!) and twice as a grown up (some ones grandmother had made them and gave my in-laws some). I have never been able to get a recipe to make them. I was never told the proper way of canning, so was scared I would just waste a lot of money and mess things up. So I never attempted to can anything until now. I figured that I would never get any more sweet pickles unless I learn to do it. So looked it up and found your site. I’m praying this works out and taste as good as I remember.
I had several questions, but all have been answered on your site but one. In the Craven County Sweet Pickles recipe, on DAY 4 where it says “Boil together enough cider vinegar and pickling spices to cover the cucumber slices (1 gallon cider vinegar and 3 tablespoons pickling spices wrapped in cheese cloth).
I take it I put the 3 tablespoon of pickling spice in the cheese cloth and boil it in the vinegar. Since I have never used cheese cloth, does it come with something to tie it up with or close it with? Also do I leave it sitting in the vinegar with the cucumbers, or do I take it out and throw it away before pouring vinegar over the cucumbers?
One other thing, and I could be wrong, cause like I said earlier I was just a little child when I first tried them and seen my friends grandmother making them. But I thought I seen the little seeds (picking seeds -spice) left in the jars. Was I wrong? Are there never no seeds in the pickles (maybe it some other recipe or just got it messed up in my mind with the jars of bread and butter pickles I have seen).
Thanks for a very good question. I should explain first that wrapping the pickling spices in cheese cloth is something that I do because I don’t want the seeds in the pickles when I am finished. I happen to prefer to not have spices in my pickles but I have also made them with the spices loose when I didn’t have the cheese cloth.
The cheese cloth instructions are solely for that reason…but cheese cloth is purchased in a package which will have far more than you need for this recipe. Cut off a piece approximately 6-inches square (or so) and put the spices in the center and tie up with a string. This will be placed in the vinegar and processed as described in the recipe. HOWEVER, you can also put the loose spices in the vinegar and that would be perfectly fine (it is totally a personal preference rather than doing something right or wrong). If you choose to use the cheese cloth wrapped spices you can discard it and pour the vinegar over the cucumbers.
Good luck with your pickling project…hope these are as good as your grandmas – this recipe was one from my husband’s grandmother – it has been around for many years.
I have been in the process of making the Craven County Sweet Pickles. I am to Day 7 and I just realized that I boiled the cider vinegar, but forgot the pickling spices. I am not sure if there is anyway I can do to salvage this batch. Maybe by boiling more cider vinegar, but this time WITH the pickling spices, or if I should just toss them out and start over?
If you have not already put the pickles into jars and added the sugar, I would pour off the cider vinegar and do as you suggested – boil more vinegar and add pickling spices. I would not toss the whole batch. I think you can salvage these and this batch might be the best ones yet!
Cloudy Liquid Questions:
I can pickles every year and sometimes some of the jars are very cloudy and some are very clear. Do you know why some get cloudy and what I can do so they are not cloudy? Thank you for your help.
I have had this happen also. It could be from the type of salt used during pickling. If you use any other kind of salt – table salt, etc., instead of pickling salt you will end up with a cloudy liquid. It could also be the particular type of pickling salt used. I did not notice any difference in the taste of my pickles and hope the same goes for yours. Hope this has helped in some way.
When making “crispy pickle recipe,” I forgot one day of pouring boiling water over my cucumbers. Can I just continue the process and do as my directions say for the number of days or have I ruined them? There was some white stuff on them but I rinsed it off and they are still firm and look okay. When I was rinsing them, some of the peeling scratched off, but otherwise they look okay. Thanks for any advice you can give me.
I am not sure which day you forgot. The salt water bath is essential for preservation of the pickles and alum water bath for crispness. I would probably pick up where you left off and continue on with the recipe. Just do not eliminate a day. The white stuff is normal it is part of the preservation process. It only occurs on the first day and maybe the second day as well but will not continue to happen.
How long do you boil the cucumbers during each phase of the pickle process?
I don’t know which recipe you are following, but in the pickling recipes in What’s Cooking America (on this page), you don’t need to boil the cucumbers at all.
What you do is pour boiling water over the cucumbers for the first three day:
Day 1 – boiling water (nothing added)
Day 2 – boiling water + pickling salt
Day 3 – boiling water + alum
Day 4 – cider vinegar + pickling spices (bring to boil before pouring over cucumbers)
When you go to pour the next day’s mixture of water/vinegar you will pour off the water that presently covers the cucumbers and replace it with the fresh boiling water or vinegar (depending on the day).
For days 5, 6, 7 – You let the cucumbers sit in the vinegar solution.
When you get to Day 8, you then pack the cucumbers in the jars (layering with sugar). The sugar will “draw” out the vinegar and make a “sweet syrup” that will cover the pickles. You may need to add additional sugar if the syrup does not cover the pickles.
I turn all my jars up-side-down every so often to help dissolve the sugar.
You do not need to ever boil these pickles, they have been preserved by the salt and vinegar processing. Your jars will not be sealed but your pickles will be preserved.
I made the pickles, put them in the jars today but after reading these questions and answers, I think my pickles might not be properly preserved. Here’s why: I could not find alum anywhere so I went online to search for a substitute (thinking that all the alum was for was crisping) and I found that tea leaves could be use to make for crisping. So for that step I put two tea bags in the solution. My question – is the alum just for crispness, or is it also for preservation, and since I didn’t use it, do I have to keep my pickles refrigerated?
Adding the alum is just to help with the crispness of the sweet pickles. It is the combination of covering the pickles with the pickling salt and vinegar in the brining solution and hot boiled water each day and then packing the pickles in the canning process with enough sugar to keep them covered in the jars that are essential for preservation of the pickles.
I just picked cucumbers from my South Florida garden and only have 10 pounds. If you cut the Craven County Pickle recipe down, do you still use the same amount of alum/salt/vinegar? Thanks, can’t wait to make the pickles.
When I make this recipe, I use a one (1) gallon container to measure the water for boiling water. As long as you have the one (1) gallon of boiling water and the proper measure of either salt or alum then you should be okay . You can gauge how much to make by when you have made enough to cover the cucumbers. So if you make a smaller batch you simply have to make fewer gallons of mixtures. As far as the vinegar goes you would use the same as with covering with the water bath.
I am in the process of making the Craven County Sweet Pickles. I was wondering if you could make these pickles using zucchini and some onions, or does this only work with cucumbers?
Thanks for your question. I have only used cucumbers to make these pickles. The resulting pickle is very sweet but you could certainly try them using zucchini and onions. My other recipe, Grand Mammy’s Carolina Sharps, is less sweet and more tart – don’t know if it would be better. I just don’t know if the zucchini would hold up in the processing.
I have made these once before and they were wonderful. This year, making them once again, everything went great up to the point of putting them in the jars…….an hour later they had all shriveled up?…….only thing different was I had to buy pickle size cucumbers rather than have my own. Have you ever seen this shrivel before?
I have had some shrivel up also but I can honestly tell you I have no idea why…as I recall the smaller size cukes were the ones that gave me that problem. I don’t remember if my small cukes were as firm as the larger ones, mine may not have matured enough. If it is any consolation, they will taste just as good as the others but just won’t look as nice…put them in the potato salad.
Thank You for your reply……….only thing I can think of is that maybe I got a bit heavy handed with the sugar. I guess I could have kept them but my compost pile seems to be enjoying them. Thanks again.
I came across this recipe and decided to try. My question is would it be safe to add some jalapeno slices to this recipe? I have had sweet hot pickles before and loved them. Thanks for the website – lots of interesting information.
I have never tried putting peppers in these pickles. For one thing, you would have to put them in at the onset with the hot water bath, etc. By the time you finished you would have washed all of the heat out of the peppers – therefore having only a pepper to see with no taste. This is my humble opinion.