Growing up, family gatherings at my maternal grandparents’ farm were always packed-house events with plenty of love, laughter, food, and volleyball (it’s kind of our family sport).
Grandpa and Grandma raised five children in their three-bedroom, one-bath home, and with addition of spouses and grandchildren (which numbered 14 when I was a young teen), dinner time meant a main table in the kitchen and a kids’ table in the utility room (when there were just 6 to 8 of us grandkids) and/or in the living room. It also meant that you wanted to get in line for food before the older grandsons.
Thankfully Grandma made sure she always had plenty of her most coveted homemade offerings: mashed potatoes, green beans, yeast rolls, and a type of sweet and tangy pickle that my Great-Grandma Leora (Grandpa’s mother) used to make, called “lime pickles.”
I cannot remember a single “everybody’s here” family dinner where we didn’t have all four of those items on the menu. After church on Sunday, they were there. Every Christmastime, they were there. Easter, there. Birthdays, there. Always, there.
As I got older, I helped out in the kitchen prep for some of those meals, so I learned how to make mashed potatoes, green beans, and yeast rolls just like my grandma. I was only missing one part of that nostalgic culinary quartet. Even though I’ve opened countless jars of her pickles over the years, filling bowls and setting them on the table, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I finally had the chance to learn how to make my grandma’s (and great-grandma’s) lime pickles.
Having never canned anything ever, I admit that I was a little intimidated by the idea. But Grandma was, as she always is, remarkably encouraging and patient, “Honey, if I can do it, you can it.”
Since making lime pickles requires a 24-hour soaking of the sliced cucumbers in the lime solution, Grandma had done all the prep work the day before, bless her heart. She sliced the cucumbers from her garden and ones I’d sent down to her from ours, and she mixed up the lime solution and put the slices in the mix to soak.
As we started the process of transferring the soaked cucumbers slices to the sink for a good rinsing off, Grandma gave me a little history on this recipe. She learned how to make lime pickles from her mother-in-law, my Great-Grandma Leora. (I’d always figured it was something passed down to her from her own mother).
The first time she went to help Great-Grandma make the pickles, Grandma realized that Leora was using lime, as in calcium hydroxide. She asked her mother-in-law, “Are you sure?” All Grandma knew about lime was that it was something that they dumped a cup of down their “backhouse” (outhouse) every so often, to keep the outhouse from smelling. Great-Grandma assured her that lime was what they needed to use.
Leora got her lime at the feed supply store back in the day, but we used a package of “pickling lime” from the grocery store. The pickling lime helps to maintain the “crunchiness” of the cucumber, but since it is alkaline, it can neutralize the acidity in your pickles, leading to sickness, if you don’t rinse them thoroughly enough. We rinsed ours in four changes of water in the sink, until the water was clear.
Once the cucumber slices were rinsed well, they got to sit in a clean bath of rinse water for a few hours, during which time Josiah (who was with me) and I got to share lunch with my grandparents and just visit.
Any meal at my grandparents includes “visiting,” that time after everyone’s finished eating, but no one gets up from the table because you’re sharing and talking and laughing together. It’s almost sacred time, and there have been so many visiting sessions that I wish I could have recorded so that I would have my grandpa’s stories and silly jokes and Grandma’s laughter and comments to share with my children for years to come.
Three hours later, the lunch dishes were cleared from the table, Josiah was off to explore with his great-grandpa, and Grandma and I were ready to get to pickling. She had the canning jars cleaned and waiting in the oven, and she set the temperature to 200° to sterilize them as we cooked the cucumbers on the stove. Also on the stove, she had the jar lids and rings in a pan with water (about ¾ of the way full). Once they came to a near boil, she turned the burner down to a low simmer. Grandma explained that lowering the temperature kept the lids’ seals from sticking together.
Following Great-Grandma Leora’s recipe, we mixed up the brine in a large stock pot and created a “bag” of all the spices. (Grandma used an old kitchen washcloth, cut off a strip to tie it up, and then cut off the excess. You could use cheesecloth or a clean linen cloth.) Once the brine was stirred well and the bag of spices tossed in to float around, we filled the pot with our rinsed cucumbers slices. We actually had so many cucumbers that we had to make extra brine and spices to have enough to come up close to the top of the pot.
Setting the heat to medium-high and stirring occasionally, it was just a matter of time (about 15 minutes) before the first few slices started to become clear or translucent, meaning they were ready to go into a jar. Using a slotted spoon and a funnel, I ladled the first few slices into a waiting, very warm jar fresh from the oven. Once I’d found enough “clear” pickles to fill about half of the jar, Grandma used a towel to hold and cover the top of the jar, giving it a good shake or three, before allowing me to continue to fill it. When the pickle reached almost to the top of the jar, and after another good shake to make sure we couldn’t fit any more in, Grandma used a ladle and tiny strainer to add brine to the jar, filling it up to just where the neck of the jar starts. She gave the mouth of the jar a good wiping off and then using tongs, I carefully place a lid on the top, followed by screwing on the ring. (Note from my first experience: Don’t leave the tongs too close to the small pan on simmer. Metal gets warm there.)
With the jar filled, lidded, and ringed, we set it aside on the counter to begin cooling. (I was quite proud of the first jar.) Then it was on to Jar Number Two. By the time the cucumbers had been cooking for about 30 minutes, all of them were clear and ready to be canned, so Grandma and I worked out a good system of me filling a jar halfway, and then while she shook it down, I worked to fill a second jar. We went back and forth between them until one was filled, brined, sealed, and set on the counter to cool. Then we pulled new jar from the oven.
We took turns spooning the pickles out of the brine because the hot vinegar in it can be potent and stings the eyes. However, while we worked, we talked and enjoyed our time together. I would ask her questions about making the pickles, and she would try to answer, but she laughed and told me, “I’ve never taught anyone how to make them. But I’ve made them enough that I should be able to tell someone how to do it!”
At the end of the day, we had 12 jars (10 of pickles and 2 of pickle brine), which we split between us since, as my grandma explained, she’d used mostly my cucumbers while she had supplied the items for the brine. (I would have been happy with just learning…and maybe one jar of pickles)
Grandma said they were ready to enjoy as soon as they’d cooled, or the next day, or a couple of years later (as long as they aren’t soft and don’t smell or taste funny). She also instructed me to remove the rings from the jars in the next day or two. Apparently my grandpa had once left some rings on and found out how hard it can be to remove them after they’ve been screwed on so tightly for a few years. He said, “You might need a crowbar.”
As we sat at the kitchen table, listening for the jar lids to “pop,” signaling that the jars had cooled enough and sealed properly, she shared some additional family recipes with me, including recipes from my great-great grandmas, both of my maternal great-grandmas, and even one from a great-great aunt. I definitely plan to try them out and share them with you some time. These recipes, like the one for my Great-Grandma Leora’s Lime Pickles, are part of my inheritance, and they are something I will share with my children throughout the years. Maybe someday I’ll get to teach them to my own grandchildren.
It might sound silly to some, but I felt so privileged to be able to learn from my grandma how to make her pickles. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, and I know I have cousins who would have loved to have shared the experience, too.
Grandpa told me later that my grandma had been “really looking forward to doing this with you.” It almost made me cry. It made my day to know that it was important and special to her, too.
Setting aside this time to allow my grandma to pass on her knowledge, recipes, and stories brought us both tremendous joy and beautiful new memories to cherish together…and five jars of lime pickles each.
Get more ideas & encouragement from this real-life mom as I experience God’s faithfulness through the joy and chaos of motherhood.
Join my email list!
Great-Grandma Leora's Lime Pickles
- 6 large Cucumbers
- 2 cups Pickling Lime
- 2 gallons Water
- 2 quarts Vinegar
- 3 Tablespoons Salt
- 10 cups Sugar
For the Bag of Spices
- 1 Tablespoon Pickling Spice
- 1 teaspoon Celery Seed
- 1 teaspoon Whole Cloves
- Clean cucumbers well. Don't peel.
- Slice cucumbers about 1/4 inch thick.
- Mix pickling lime with 2 gallons of water in a large, non-reactive pot. (My grandma uses a large crock).
- Soak cucumber slices in the lime water for 24 hours.
- Thoroughly rinse cucumber slices in clean cold water in at least 3 changes of water until the water is clear. It is very important to rinse the lime completely off the cucumbers. Leaving lime on them will neutralize the acidity of your pickles and could lead to sickness.
- After a final rinse, soak the cucumbers for 3 hours in a fresh bath of cold water.
- Clean and dry your canning jars. Make sure there are no chips along the mouth of the jar as it will affect the seal.
- Place the jars, mouth up (easier to grab), in the oven. Set the oven to 200 degrees.
- Place the canning jar lids and rings in a small pan. Fill about 3/4 full with water. Bring to near boiling then reduce the heat to low. (Boiling the water can cause the lid seals to stick together.)
- In a large, non-reactive stock pot, mix your brine solution: vinegar, salt, and sugar.
- Into a cooking sachet, piece of cheesecloth, or clean washcloth (that's what my grandma uses), add your pickling spice, celery seed, and whole cloves. Tie off the end of your "spice bag."
- Add the spice bag to the brine.
- Add the cucumbers to the brine. Brine should come up to cover most of the cucumbers, but the cucumbers will cook down so they don't all have to be covered.
- Cook cucumbers over medium-high heat until the slices start to become clear. The cucumbers will go from a bright cucumber green to a darker pickle green as the white inside becomes translucent or clear. Stir occasionally to ensure even cooking. Depending on the size of your pot, it may take about 30 minutes for all the slices to cook through. However, slices will start to be clear after a 15 minutes, and you can start to fill your jars then.
- Use an oven mitt or towel to remove a hot, sterilized jar from the oven.
- Place a funnel over the mouth of the jar, and using a slotted spoon, transfer cooked pickles to the jar. Shake the jar occasionally to help the pickles settle.
- Once the jar is full of pickles, place a small strainer over the mouth of the jar and ladle brine into the jar, filling it to just where the neck of the jar starts. (The strainer will help keep excess seeds out of the brine).
- Wipe the mouth of the jar with a clean cloth.
- Using tongs, carefully select a lid from the small pan and place it on the jar. Add a ring, and using a towel or oven mitt to hold it, tighten the ring onto the jar.
- Set jar aside to cool. Continue filling jars until all the pickles are canned. You can save the brine also.
- Jar lids will "pop" as the jar cools, sealing your jar. Don't push on the top of the lids as you are sealing them or while they are cooling, as this can affect the seal.
- Pickles are ready to be eaten after 24 hours.
- Make sure you remove the canning rings from the jars within a day or two. Also, you may need to wipe of the jars once they have cooled as the brine is VERY sticky.
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE:
The Unique Game My Family Has Played for 5 Generations
6 Fun Ways to Entertain Your Kids with Nothing But Their Imaginations
33 CommentsLeave a comment
I so enjoyed reading about your time with Thelma. Her attitude toward life is always so positive – a legacy she seems to have passed on to you. Enjoy the pickles! I remember them well ?
Thanks, Diana! I definitely take any comparison to her as a huge compliment. 🙂 I’m so glad we live closer to them now. Not only do I get to spend time with them, but my boys do, too. I’m also glad I know how to make those pickles because I don’t know how long the ones we made will last around here. 🙂
I made your Grandma’s Lime Pickles this past weekend. I haven’t tried any yet, but they look great!!! I was wondering how long do you think they keep? I have never made pickles before.
Thanks so much…
Hi, Michelle! I’m pretty sure they keep for at least a couple of years, although Grandma’s always go quickly. 🙂 Update: I asked my grandma, and she says they probably keep for about 3 years, but again, hers are always eaten way before that.
Thank you for posting this recipe! We have a bumper crop of cucumbers this year. My 2 recipes didn’t have the same amount of lime so your recipe confirmed which one was correct. (I had copied the original recipe wrong years ago) My paternal grandmother also made these pickles. It is one of my few memories of her since she passed away in 1963. The first batch is now soaking in the crock. I cannot wait to give my brother and cousins a jar and see the look on their faces. By the way, my grandmother always added green food coloring to her recipe. The pickles were “bright” green!
I’m so glad I could help, Debra, especially with something so special. 🙂 Isn’t it amazing how the simplest things, like a pickle, can mean so much and connect generations?
This is about the same recipe my mom use to make. Try it with green tomatoes they are great on hamburgers.lime pickles are the best
Just saw your comment from 2017, not sure you’ll see this but wondering about those green tomatoes! Same recipe just use green tomatoes? 🤔
Thank you so much for the recipe, but also the memories that you shared with your grandmother. My grandmother has passed away and I really didn’t get to spend lots of time with her. But I have definitely made time with my mother so she could teach me things that her mother had taught her.
It’s a wonderful blessing to still have my two grandparents with me. It means that not only do I have the opportunity to continue making memories with them, but my boys get to make memories with them, too, which is truly special and something that we do our best to make time for. I’m glad that you can at least learn about your grandmother from your mom. 🙂 I hope you enjoy the pickles, too. Thanks, Debra!
Thank you so much for sharing your Grandma’s recipe Kishona! I love throwing lime on pretty much everything.. but I’ve never tried it in a pickling recipe before! These have to be absolutely delicious! I’ll report back once i’ve given them a try and had my family give them a try!
[…] The fact that the cream and eggs came fresh from my grandparents’ farm probably had something to do with it. That, and the fact that my grandma has amazing recipes for just about everything! (Here’s her homemade lime pickles recipe.) […]
[…] Great-Grandma Leora (my maternal grandpa’s mother), whose pickles I learned to make this summer, used to make apple pies. It was one of the many recipes for which she is remembered. She often […]
Thank you so much for sharing this recipe. I had been trying to recreate for my daughters their grandmothers (maw maw) sweet crunchy pickles and one day stumbled upon your post. I liked how you explained step by step as if your grandmother was standing along with me. Very inspiring! My first try I was very intimidated but they turned out wonderful and this was the very same pickle their grandmother made.
I have another batch soaking in lime now.
Again, Thank you!
Aw, I’m so glad, and I know my grandma is happy that others are getting to enjoy the recipe, too! 🙂 Enjoy those pickles!
My dad used to make these pickles and I am so happy I found your recipe! We always pressure canned them! Do you think I could do this with your recipe? Or water bath them? Help please! I am soaking the pickles tomorrow and need to can Thursday, July 39th.
I would imagine the recipe itself would work for a pressure canned technique, but I don’t know for certain, as this was the only way we made them.
Thank you for sharing the recipe, story, and pictures of your grandma. It brought back a lot of memories.
Hey there! How long is too long to soak in the lime?
All I know for sure is that my grandma does a 24-hour soak. I don’t know that you’d want to go longer than that. 🙂
I am definitely gonna try your grandma’s recipe. I haven’t had any lime pickles in four years. If you ever wanna share her yeast rolls recipe I’d like it.
How many quart jars will this recipe make.
When we made them, it made 10 quart jars of pickles & 2 quart jars of brine.
I am wanting to make these pickles and you say to use 2 quarts of vinegar. Which vinegar do you use: white or cider? Thank you!
It’s white vinegar. 🙂
My Mom and I left the spices in with the pickles and added green food color to give them some color. It takes time, but those huge cukes you missed in the garden are perfect for this recipe! Thanks for sharing your story
So, I am trying to make the pickles that my grandma used to make. She passed three years ago at 94 and I never got around to getting this recipe. It is without a doubt the same as your grandma made. I remembered watching the whole process during summers. She grew up in Columbia north Carolina and I remember these being around my whole life. What is really crazy is I saw a comment above that said her name was Thelma and that was my grandma’s name! Even the picture with the knotty pine cabinets seemed like it could have been her making them. Thank you for this recipe, and somehow bringing back memories of my own grandma.
Thank you for the story about Your remembering about your grandma. My grandma raised me after my Mom passed away when I was 2.
My family loves these pickles. Am making them right now.
I wish I could print to show my kids. I am 85.
Oh your story brings back memories. My Grandma also made Lime Pickles and they were the best. We also had the tradition of sitting at the table after the meal of mashed potatoes and green beans. visiting, and eating pickles, celery, radishes, and carrots. Grandma died in the 80’s at 99 years old. I never had the opportunity to have her teach me how to make her pickles but oder cousins and sister have continued the tradition. How blessed you were to share those precious moments. Enjoy your Lime Pickles and all the memories.
Do you know if you can use the same lime water for making pickles for a second batch or do you have to start over with more lime water?
I would think you’d need new water for a second batch.
You don’t process these in a boiling water bath?
No. The cucumbers and brine are hot when you put them in the jars, and the jars seal as they cool.