What's In Season

Pickles: The Ultimate Sandwich Helper

Vinegar and a hit of spice turn pickling cucumbers into picnic stars

Photo: John Burgoyne

For Ian Rynecki, nothing takes a picnic sandwich to the next level like the texture and zing of a homemade pickle. “I’m always chasing the summertime crunch of just-pickled vegetables,” says the executive chef at Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards in North Garden, Virginia. “I love pickling anything. My first homemade pickles may have launched my love for vinegar.” While pickling may sound complicated, it can be quite simple—and quick. The key, according to Rynecki, is to nail the spice balance for your preferred flavors. And with pickling cucumbers at their late summer peak, now’s an excellent time to give it a try. While you can use any cucumber to make a pickle, the advantage of pickling cucumbers is that they typically have fewer seeds, thinner skin, and drier flesh, which allows them to soak up more of the vinegary brine. If you’re grabbing them at the farmers’ market, give the cukes a squeeze to make sure they’re firm, and check for any soft spots or blemishes. During the hot summer months, Rynecki likes to use pickles to impart acid to an otherwise fatty dish, whether burgers, grilled lamb, or pastrami sandwiches. To shake up the typical sandwich pickle, he adds caraway seeds (see recipe) to create the perfect complement to a Reuben or a Rachel. And if you’re adding fresh pickles to a Labor Day sandwich spread, don’t forget the vino. Rynecki recommends a slightly sweet rosé or a blanc de blancs to counter the acid-forward pickles. “The transformation from garden produce to a complex element on a sandwich is really something special,” he says. Cheers to that.  


  • Spiced Sandwich Pickles (Yield: 3–4 quarts)

    • 2 lb. pickling cucumbers

    • ½ cup salt

    • 2 cups apple cider vinegar (Rynecki prefers one made with Gravenstein apples)

    • 2 cups rice wine vinegar, unseasoned

    • 2½ cups water

    • ¾ cup sugar

    • 2 tbsp. caraway seeds, toasted

    • 1 tsp. yellow mustard seeds

    • 1 tsp. coriander seeds, toasted

    • 2 tsp. chile flakes


  1. Wash cucumbers and cut into ¼-to-½-inch-thick rounds. Divide among 3 or 4 quart-sized mason jars (depending on how  thick you slice the cucumbers). Combine remaining ingredients in a medium pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer. Allow to simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool on the countertop for 15 minutes.

  2. For easy pouring, transfer warm pickling liquid into a pitcher. Pour over cucumbers in each jar, covering them completely. Allow to cool in the jars to room temperature, then put on lids and store in the fridge. Enjoy as soon as the next day, though flavors will continue to develop for a week. The pickles will keep in the fridge for up to a month.