Jane’s (sorta) homemade sweet pickles

Sweet pickles are a staple at the Southern table, particularly the lightly sweet bread-and-butter variety. The recipe for these pickles came from my mother-in-law, Jane. During our last trip, she had a jar of these out on the table during one of our lunches. Ascertaining they were homemade, I asked how she made them. As it turns out, these homemade sweet pickles started out as a whole other creature: Store-bought dill pickles.

Jane explained how to take whole dill pickles, slice them down and immerse them in a vinegar syrup to create an instant version of bread-and-butter pickles. Of course the first question that flashed through my mind was, "why not just buy sweet pickles?" Then I tasted them.

I happen to like sweet pickles, but I know many people who do not. For some, the sweetness itself is the problem; they are too cloying and sugary. For others, it’s a texture violation, as sweet pickles tend to be mushier and sometimes even mealy. By starting out with crisp, sour dills, this quick recipe turns out refreshingly balanced sweet-sour and crunchy pickles. My friend Matthew, who is among the clan of sweet-pickle haters, asked, "why would you ruin a perfectly good dill pickle?" Ultimately, he capitulated and said that these were the best sweet pickles ever.

Jane quick-cans these by simply putting heated lids on the jars. I’m a little paranoid about such things, so I did the full-on canning thing, ten minutes in a boiling water bath and all, just to be safe. But she’s been doing it her way for decades, and no one has reported any problems so far, so I may cave in just yet. I imagine the high acidity of the vinegar as well as the high sugar content will keep most pathogens at bay.

Simple though this recipe is, and using store-bought foods besides, it has actually been handed down a couple of generations so far, and anything that has stood the test of time that long is good enough for me. And anyway, they’re your pickles in your jars, so that fully qualifies as homemade. Sorta.

Jane’s (sorta) homemade sweet pickles

1 gallon dill pickles
2 c. tarragon vinegar
5 c. sugar

Dissolve sugar and vinegar over medium heat, stirring frequently, until clear. Let cool. Drain and slice pickles, and pack sliced pickles into sterilized jars. Pour the cooled syrup over to cover, leaving at least 1/2" headspace. Quick-can with heated lids, or can according to whichever method you are accustomed to. The pickles will make their alchemical change overnight.

  • How funny! And fun!
    I love pickles.
    Surely you saw the story on Kool-Aid Pickles:

  • I consider myself the queen of quick pickling, but this is the quickest method ever! I’m definitely going to try this.

  • I’ve always hated sweet pickles, but I’ll have to give this a whirl, especially since it calls for my favorite–tarragon vinegar!

  • CC: I did see that … have not yet tried it tho.
    Lydia: Seriously, it couldn’t be easier, and is satisfying.
    Lisa: A Southerner who doesn’t like sweet pickles? I’m stunned. But yes, definitely try this out.

  • Lori

    Does anyone know a recipe sorta like this one but you put tabasco and make the pickles sweet and spicy????

  • I don’t see why one couldn’t just throw in a few dashes of Tabasco or a sliced jalapeno for that effect. The pickles take on flavors very readily. Sounds like a good idea!

  • Robin

    I have a recipe for the Tabasco Pickles called Aggie Pickles. It uses Tabasco, garlic and sugar…its yummy.

  • Lola

    Been looking for this recipe for a while – – The ‘Pickle Lady’ in Phoenix AZ sells them for $7 a pint. Can’t wait to buy the ingredients and made them myself … she also sells them spicy – they have little red peppers (whole) in the jar.

  • Mike Simpson

    I am looking for a pickle recipe for sweet pickles mad from Dill but the ones I have had some pickling spice and garlic in them. The gifter will not share the recipe yet drives us crazy each year when she gives them as gifts!

  • Jo Ann

    Yes, and that’s the one I am looking for. Had them in Texas and even made them but forget the receipt. I need to call my cousin.
    Jo Ann (Seattle, Wa.)

  • Mary Beth

    The easiest spicy pickle to make and actually cheap with tabasco sauce is: Purchase a gallon of Mt. Olive Kosher Dill Pickles, remove pickles from jar, discard liquid, slice into desired thickness,place slices back into the same gallon jar by layering with sugar then pickle slices, ending with sugar, pour a small bottle of tabasco sauce over the top and put lid back on tightly. Every 2 hours turn the jar upside down so the sugar and tabasco sauce can mix. The next day you will have easy but tasty and good spicy pickles! I just leave mine in the refrigerator…my husband LOVES them and so does everyone else!


    use tabassco sauce and garlic….with the sugar over dill pickels

  • Pam

    Hi robin,
    i would love your aggie pickle recipe…

  • pam

    i was told to use crab boil in them

  • Rick in Westtexas

    hummm, how much sugar, how much pickle spices, and all the tabasco sauce?

  • ruthie

    I think what you all are looking for is the “Fire ‘n’ Ice” Pickles. You start with supermarket dills, add half again their volume in sugar, e.g., for a gallon of dills, add a half gallon (or 4 lbs) of sugar. It’s easiest to start out in a giant mixing bowl so you can really combine everything before putting it back in the jar.
    Some recipes I’ve seen have whole peppers, some red pepper flakes, some hot sauce, most have garlic. It’s pretty much open to whatever you like.
    Here’s a link to a YouTube video of them being made and some explanation of how they work, but if you Google “fire and ice pickles” you will get many, many recipes.

  • ruthie

    URG! Here is the link to the video:
    I’m told you can throw all manner of stuff in there, as well, like beets and eggs and lord alone knows what else. 😉
    Pickle on!

  • ruthie

    Hope I’m not beating a dead horse here, but I think your Italian Garden-style pickles would work alongside the dills. As I understand it from people who’ve done this a lot, it’s basically a straight pickled veggie of some kind which is then turned into a sweet-hot pickle in this process. I was actually planning to throw in a small bottle of Giardiniera with my dills…some pickled garlic? A nice variety of stuff that might taste real good in a sweet-hot version.

  • Ruthie, I’m coming over to your place for pickles! 🙂

  • carol

    omg, I am in the same boat! we must have the same friend..try these Fine N ice-they are it!!! I just watched the u tube and have been looking for the recipe for years..its the kosher dill cut thickly, use 4 cups dills to 2 cups sugar in bowl. Add I crushed garlic, shakes of crushed red pepper and then 1 tsp-1 T pickling spice and that is it!!! stir and keep on counter for a few hours-then put in nice jar and chill til all gone. Just made them from Ruthies link here and they are just right!!!! thank you all!!!! now we can make for gifts (and share the recipe-life is too short to not share good recipes!!!)

  • carol

    THank you so much!! these are just what I was looking for!!! I just made them and they are excellent-I ate so many my stomach already hurts:)

  • carol

    thank you so much Ruthie-this link is great for the pickles we were looking for!!! love them. I use a kosher dill and cut into think chunks and they worked and tasted great!!! so fun and easy to make!! I had all the ingredients since I bought the pickles!! Crate and barrel sells great glass jars with lids to keep them in too.