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White vinegar (Recipe: half-sour dill pickles) {vegan, gluten-free}

Half-sour dill pickles

If rice vinegar comes from rice, and red wine vinegar comes from red wine, and cider vinegar comes from apples, where does white vinegar come from?

Inquiring minds want to know.

For more than 5,000 years, vinegar has been made the same way, by the fermentation of natural sugars to alcohol, and then further fermentation to vinegar. Almost anything that contains sugar can ferment into vinegar (beets, molasses, fruit); distilled alcohol is the "sugar" that ferments into the all-purpose white vinegar that we use for everything from washing windows, to killing weeds, to making volcanoes and pickles.

White vinegar

According to the US Department of Agriculture, vinegar sold at retail must contain a minimum of 4 percent acidity (the amount of acetic acid present). White vinegar is generally 5 percent, but can be as high as 7 percent.

It's especially important to check the acidity level (always printed on the label) if you're planning to use vinegar for pickling. To kill bacteria in a preserved food, the acidity should be at least 4 percent.

Distilled white vinegar is a self-preservative that does not need refrigeration; it will last for many years in your pantry.

Pickles in brine

Half-sour dill pickles

Adapted from The Victory Garden Cookbook by Marian Morash.


12 small, firm Kirby cucumbers
1 large clove garlic, unpeeled
Big hunk of fresh dill, including seed heads, if available
1 generous tsp pickling spice
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup white vinegar
2-1/2 quarts water


Wash the cucumbers; be sure to cut away any blemishes, and trim off any stems. Place them in a large nonreactive (ceramic, glass, or stainless steel) bowl. Cut the unpeeled garlic in half, and add it to the bowl along with the dill and pickling spice.

In a pot, place kosher salt, white vinegar and water. Bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Pour the hot brine over the cucumbers, and weight down with a plate or two, or another bowl, to keep the cukes submerged. Leave on the counter for at least 24 hours, and up to 48 hours. The longer the cucumbers sit in the brine, the more sour they'll get.

Pack the cucumbers into any type of jars, and pour in enough brine to fill the jars. Cover tightly, and refrigerate. Because these pickles aren't processed in a water bath, they will last 3-4 weeks in the refrigerator; don't store them at room temperature.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Rhubarb-apricot chutney
Bread and butter pickles
Pear chutney

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I really appreciate you sharing this recipe. Every day while eating my daily pickle I wonder why no company makes a decent half sour. Now I can invent the 'decent one' myself. When I do, I'll send you a few in trade for a bowl of beef salad!

I've been a pickling fool this week! It's been fun to experiment with different recipe -- and I think another batch of dills is on the docket.

I have never met a pickle I didn't like! I can honestly say it is my second favorite food after cheese. Try them on egg salad, BLTs, steak and cheese! Yum.
I have never made my own but these seem so easy...thanks for the tip about white vinegar being flavorless - I never really thought about that.

Great information on the acidity level. I never realized that it was listed. This might help me conquer my slight fear of pickling, although I'm a real fan of these recipes that just require refrigeration.

I am so glad to have this recipe, Lydia! Thanks so much. Like T. W. Barritt, I had no idea the acidity level was listed on the bottle.

Well, my pickles are pickling. It felt really strange using my household cleaner in a recipe but in the perfect pantry I trust so I used it anyway HAHA

I've been meaning to research the sources of white vinegar ever since I saw an ad stating Heinz white vinegar comes from corn and that other brands may be petroleum based. Did you come across anything like this? It seems manufacturers don't *have* to state the source, but apparently Heinz sees it as a selling point.

I am pickling everything this year, and this is next on my list!

This was so inspiring that I went right from the computer to the kitchen, where pickling cukes were waiting in the fridge. See you in 24 (or 48) hours!

Milton, Susan: you are on your way to your new favorite pickles. Taste one after 24 hours, and if it's too mild (it usually is), leave them for another 24 hours. Have fun!

Julia, one of these summers I'm going to try this method on other things, like green beans. What else are you pickling?

Carol, TW: I love these pickles because the only cooking you have to do is to boil water, and there's no canning involved. Hope you'll try them.

Candy, I never noticed either, until I started to use the vinegar for these pickles and realized that not all vinegars are created equal. Who knew?

Becky, I'll do more research on this. Thanks for raising the question.

Pam, what else are you pickling?

LOL.....every time I pass the kitchen (which is often) I get a whiff of the pickles and only God knows how I have staved off temptation

One question which I hope you can answer for me, Lydia. After I put the pickles into a bottle, do i strain the brine and then add it to the jar or do I just pour nelly nelly?

Milton, you do not have to strain the brine. In fact, you should put the garlic and dill weed and some of the pickling spice right into the jars with the pickles. It will enhance the flavor, and it looks pretty.

Time to start pickling! :D

I just tried the first one. There is something in the pickling spice that TOTALLY overwhelms in a not so good way. I used the morton & bassett brand. Could be the cinnamon, I'm not sure...its almost lavender like but I checked the ingredient list and that isn't listed. Anyway, if it wasn't for that over powering scent/taste the pickles would be amazing....what a difference there is between fresh off the counter compared to store bought.

It might be that I don't really know what a *real* pickle is supposed to taste like. In any event, I just had pickle #2 and it was better than the first. here's hoping that after my testing is done there will be a few left to bottle HAHAHA

I went to the local auction this morning in search of a spice merchant. Off the back of a truck I found a brand called sanaa....no cinnamon in this. So now round two of pickling begins.

Delightful! I have never met a pickle recipe I haven't liked, and this is no exception. I love the mildly pickled half-sour pickles; this will be fun to make for weekend grilling

round 2

round 2 was TEN times better than round 1, but the spice was not good...again! I'll have to make a trip to WF to see what they have/ I could order online from penzeys, but the shipping is more than the spice. Whatever, I;m not giving up on this recipe until I have it down to: "wow, these pickles are good!!"

I've always been a fan of the half-sour pickles served with sandwiches in good delicatessens, so I was eager to try this recipe at home.

I followed the recipe with care, but I have to say that I was very disappointed with the result. The pickles I got would more aptly be described as "dill pickles", not "half-sour" pickles. They're not bad as dill pickles go, but they're definitely not the pickles I was expecting/hoping for. Half-sour pickles are not nearly as sour as these turned out to be after less than 24 hours in the brine mixture, and they have a far greener exterior and a more nearly white interior.

This recipe rocks! So easy and delicious. Glad my local market stopped carrying these so I was forced to look up the recipe. Will always make my own going forward-

Can you slice the Kirby cucumbers for this recipe or is it best to keep them whole? I've never attempted to make sour dill pickles (or any other pickle!) before so pardon my ignorance.

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