Those huge, end-of-the-garden cucumbers make wonderful sweet pickles. Just follow this long-time family recipe.
When I was a child in the 60’s and 70’s most meals at Nana’s house included homemade Russian Bear Pickles. The recipe had been passed down from Nana’s mother and was everyone’s favorite. But, as the grandchildren grew up and left home, Nana made pickles less and less often. You know how you do something over and over, thinking you will never forget how? And then a little time goes by and you realize that you can’t quite remember the details? That’s what happened with Russian Bear Pickles.
Oh, we had my great-grandmother’s recipe card. It read something like this; “remove seeds, soak in brine, drain and add sugar, cinnamon, and cloves to taste……1 cup water per 2 cups vinegar.” Not exactly clear.
So for years I searched for a Russian Bear Pickle recipe. No one knew what I was talking about. Years came and went, while family members kept asking when was I going to make them Nana’s pickles!
Finally things started to change. Another Master Food Preserver participant found me an old German pickle recipe that was similar. And I started pickling in earnest, learning more about pickles in general along the way. Then, in 2012 my garden had a cucumber explosion. I made pickles, more pickles, and even more pickles. There was no end in sight. So it was time to figure out exactly how to make Russian Bear pickles.
A few more searches led to a realization; Russian Bear pickles, made from the fat, over-ripe cucumbers that stay hidden under leaves until you can’t ignore them any longer, are basically a northern version of watermelon rind pickles. It makes sense. Living in northeastern Maine, my family certainly wasn’t growing watermelon. But cucumbers were grown every year. And that Yankee thrift thing we have going, doesn’t allow us to toss out a few cukes just because they are the size of a man’s arm!
I was able to pull the recipe together. It must be correct because my sisters request jars for Christmas each year. And even though it is an old family recipe, I am sharing it here. Sometimes old family recipes are lost, like this one almost was. Sharing decreases those chances.
If your garden is still hanging on just a little bit, you probably have some over-ripe cukes. Don’t waste them, try Russian Bear pickles. They will soon become a family favorite for you too.
By the way, I have no idea why they are called Russian Bear. My grandmother doesn’t know where her mother got the recipe, so that part of the story is lost.
- 24 cups of peeled, quartered, seeded, over-ripe cucumbers
- ½ cup pickling salt
- 8 cups water
- 4 cups sugar
- 3 cups cider vinegar
- 1½ cups water
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ¾ tsp ground cloves
- Cut cucumbers into large strips or pieces.
- Combine salt and 8 cups of water in a large stock pot. Stir until salt dissolves.
- Add the cucumbers. Let stand at least 12 hours.
- Drain and rinse cucumbers.
- In a large pot, combine sugar, vinegar, 1½ cups water, cinnamon and cloves. Bring to a boil.
- Add drained cucumbers.Gently boil until cucumbers begin to look transparent. You may have to do this in two separate batches if your pot is too small.
- Pack into clean pint jars.Cover with the vinegar syrup.
- Top with 2 piece canning covers. Process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.
- Remove from canner and let sit on counter overnight.
- Pickles will improve with age, so let sit at least 3 weeks before serving.
Have you resurrected an old family recipe? Tell us how you did it!
Thanks so much for this recipe. It is absolutely delicious!
Glad you enjoy the recipe. And thanks for stopping by!
Hello! I am hoping to make some in quart jars… do you know how long I should water bath can quarts of these pickles (sea level)?
Thank you in advance, excited to try. Love the name!
Kate, there just isn’t any safety testing out there for quart jars for these (or related) pickles. So sorry. I also would like to make them in quart jars, but stick to pints for safety.
Thanks for this recipe……I started it today and am wondering 2 things:
1) While soaking the cukes in salt water, should they be refrigerated during the 12+ hours of standing time? Or just left on the counter?
2) I had to add a couple of “not so overripe cukes” to the overripe cukes…….will this make any difference?
Thanks for your help!
Doris, the soaking cukes should probably be refrigerated. Although, I seldom have room in the fridge and usually just keep them on the counter. The “not so overripe cukes” will be fine; but they may cook down smaller than the overripe cukes during the processing period.
Thanks for your response! I left them sitting on top of my stove (electric, so no pilot light) for about 7-8 hours, but then decided that maybe they need to be refrigerated. I take it that if you let your’s sit on the counter for 12+ hours, they were not spoiled or contaminated at all? Just double-checking to make sure……thanks again! Will do the canning today!
Doris, the brine should keep them safe on the counter. But of course, it depends on so many things; how hot it is, humidity, etc. So tossing them in the fridge is a good idea.
Made 7 pints of pickles
Did up a batch of these this week. Great recipe for me as I could do it in steps and take a break in between. 7 jars and the wait is on to sample them. I cheated and tried one out of the pan, they reminded me very much of sweet watermelon rind pickles.
KathyAnn, glad the recipe worked our for you! We love them here too. 🙂
These pickles were called Limber Lilies in my mother-in-law’s family. Recipe also lost. Will try to make these when late summer hits. Thanks so much for this recipe.
Reva, thanks for sharing. So interesting that the recipe shows up all over the country, with a variety of names!
I took Second Place at the Minnesota State Fair with the recipe that came over on the boat to Ellis Island with my grandparents from Slovakia in the early1900’s.
That’s fantastic! What kind of pickle was it? Sweet? Sour? Fermented? Would love to hear more!
its says cider vinegar is that apple cider vinegar
Yes, apple cider vinegar. 5% acidity.
Hello I’m starting this recipe tonight. I am wondering what your altitude is?? We are at 5 thousand feet so j as red to adjust properly . Thanks!
Angie, I am at 500 feet, so you will definitely have to adjust for altitude! Good luck. I know you will love these pickles.
I kinda of figured so…so I did adjust. My daughter and I Did a batch of these today and the honey cherries ! Thanks for the recipe. We are excited to try these !
Loved how simple this was
My husband asked me to make “pear pickles”. Not knowing what they were I have been searching for recipes using over ripe cucumbers. When you process are you just using water bath or are you using pressure. Thank you.
Deborah, this recipe is processed using a water bath caner. Sadly, I have no over-ripe cukes this year, so none of Nana’s pickles for me. Enjoy your batch!
It’s so funny the way everyone calls these different things! We called them Slim Jims in our family! Our recipe is similar and they are SO good!!
I love hearing about others enjoying them too – no matter what they are called! Thanks for sharing. We should start putting together a “name” list lol.
I am so happy to have found this recipe. I am almost 80 yrs and my grandmother made these pickles. Somewhere in my recipes I have it but have been unable to locate exactly where. I am anxious to get them made.
Thank you so much.
Anita, you made my day! Glad to know there are others out there who remember these pickles. I am sure your batch will be fantastic.
We called them slip n go downs.
Nickelle, my mother & grandmother use to make these & they called them Slippery Jim’s🥒 Can’t wait to try with my overripe cucumbers from our garden❣️
Amy, I love hearing about all the similar pickles and the names they were called. Thanks so much for sharing!
I’m frommidcoast Maine and in my family, we called them Lambs Tongue pickles. I’ve always thought they taste like a pickled apple pie.
Rachel, what a good analogy – they do taste like apple pie! Tangy apple pie. Is your recipe the same as mine? Does it use ground spices or whole spices?
How long do these last on average? Do you typically refrigerate them or leave in a creek place out of direct sunlight?
Home canned goods usually retain their quality for 1-2 years. It’s best to store canned goods out of direct light. Of course, once they are opened they go into the refrigerator! Good luck with yours. I am sure you will love them.
In steps #2 and #3 of the instructions… The water is simply room temperature that the salt and cucumbers are added to? And, for the 12 hour soak, the cucumbers are iced or otherwise cooled during this time, correct?
Ed, yes – the water is room temperature in steps 2 and 3. You certainly can place the cucumbers in the refrigerator during the 12 hour soak, but it isn’t necessary. Good luck. You will love them!
I am 62 years old and I remember my mom used to make some similar. She as I remember used a piece of cheese cloth to put the spices in. Would you know what the spices were?
Velva, probably whole cloves and a cinnamon stick. And I know some people make similar pickles by adding mustard seed too.
1 oz whole cinnamon stick
1 oz mustard seed
1 oz celery seed 1 oz whole allspice
I have made pickles similiar to these, called christmas pickles. However you use red hot cinnamons in them to make the pickes red and a slight cinnamon taste. Just came back from my brothers garden, lots of ripe cucumbers. Going to try your reicpe
Shirley, I have a spiced apple recipe that uses red hot cinnamons https://www.seedtopantry.com/2016/09/28/spiced-apple-rings/
Must have been a “thing” at some point. Sounds interesting, and anything flavored cinnamon has my vote!
I just walked in from the garden with 13 fat yellow cucumbers, i have a recipe for Sylvia’s chunk pickes which used small pickling cucumbers cut into 1 inch pieces.
Chunk pickles which do take 13 days . You pour a similar syrup over them every night then reboil it an keep doing it fir 13 daysit is something i think ofafter i go to bed . But the sweet crispy
Cubes are worth it. A great gift for elderly relatives. I gad 22 sets of Aunts and uncle’s growing up so Do i have first cousins!!!!
Ruby, sounds like a lot of work – but delicious! Good for you. 🙂
My mother made these and they lasted forever! So long that my granddaughter got to try a jar she had and fell in love and has bugged me ever since to make these. Mom passed away 4 yrs ago and I just picked a ton of too ripe cucumbers because I’ve been too busy to get the garden picked so it’s now or never! Thank you for posting this recipe! I think the cloves is what makes them so good I’m just hoping g they will be as crisp as hers were.
About how many cukes does it take to get 24 cups?
Christine, it really depends on how big the ripe cucumbers are. Usually I work backwards; I prepare the cucumbers I have, measure, and then adjust the other ingredients. The delicious end result is always worth the math!
Can I still use peeled cukes if they soak more than 12 hrs. I’m doing some up this afternoon and if I soak they will be ready around midnight. (Don’t really want to do them at that hr!!) And also do they soak in fridge or countertop? Tks
Darlene, they should be fine tomorrow! Pickling at midnight doesn’t sound all that much fun 🙂
I would probably put them in the fridge if you have room. Or another cool location. Good luck!
Why can’t cucumbers that are large but still green and not fully getting yellow be used?
Gail, in my experience cucumbers that are large, but not necessarily ripe, fall apart too easily for this recipe. But, different types of cucumbers probably react differently. So if you feel that your cukes are large enough, and probably won’t ripen any more, go ahead and try them! I have successfully used cucumbers that are just light green, not yellow.
We made these before you clarified that they should be peeled, and after taste testing them with that issue in mind, the family’s consensus is that skin on gives them texture, which we like. The skin is much firmer than on pickles from the store, so I could see how some folks would prefer to skin these tough cucumbers for the recipe. However, we are making another batch this week and they will not be peeled.
Sherry, that’s the beauty of pickles, adjusting (safely) to taste. Glad they turned out great for you.
Hi Renee, I was poking around for a Russian Bear recipe to see how they might compare to my Nana’s recipe, when I found yours. Ours is a bit different, see below.
Peel 8 large ripe cucumbers, and remove seeds. Cut into large pieces. Cover with Alum water (2 tsp alum to 1 qt. water). Heat gradually to boiling point, let stand over low heat for 2 hours. Remove from alum water and chill in ice water.. Remove to stone jar and cover with syrup (2 lbs. super, 1 pt. vinegar.and in bag 2 tbsp whole cloves, 2 tbsp stick cinnamon. Boil 5 minutes.)
Next day. Drain off syrup and return syrup to boiling point. Pour back over cukes. Do this 3 days in succession. Keep in stone jar.
We are in Nova Scotia, so not so far from Maine. Looks like this recipe might be a bit older but who knows. Thought that I would share t in any case. I can mine in jars rather than having in the stone jar.
David, fascinating! Thank you for sharing it. Calling for alum shows that it is an old recipe. I wonder if my great-grandmother changed the recipe to include ground spices from the whole, since most of the related recipes use whole spices. And I am glad to hear that you can them now, instead of leaving them in a stone crock! Of course, in the old days the crocks were kept in unheated cellars, so that helped. And most of my grandmother’s ancestors came from Newfoundland or New Brunswick, so I am not surprised to see the overlap – both with ingredients and the “use it up” attitude that didn’t waste anything!
Hi, even though I live in Tennessee now I was born and raised in Nova Scotia. I am using your recipe and have friends and neighbours here that I am sharing your recipe with. No matter where we live we hate to waste good food.
So good to see Maritimers still exist. Thank you for your recipe.
Patricia, did you grow up with this recipe – or a similar one? Wondering if it was a regional specialty. Who knows, maybe we are related. My ancestors certainly jumped back and forth over the border; New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Maine. Glad you like the recipe!
Is it apple vinegar? Also, 2lbs of sugar or 2 cups? Did you use any water? we are following your recipe right now 🙂
Laura, yes – apple cider vinegar. And it’s 4 cups of sugar if you are following the recipe as written. 2 cups if you halve it. You will love them!
Sorry – I see you are asking David to clarify. Hopefully he will log back on and do so! Don’t forget to process the pickles though. In the old days they didn’t do this, but it’s a necessary step to guard against illness – better safe than sorry.
I found this recipe last season when I had a huge over-ripe cuke and holy wow, I loved it!! YUM!
Made more this year with my tiny harvest (7 pints), this recipe has now become a MUST if I grow cukes.
I am wondering if it is possible to substitute the refined white sugar with raw / plantation sugar? I didn’t think it would matter since boiling the “juice” would melt down the courser sugar. However, I wasn’t willing to risk my few cukes trying this out and I am not big on experimental cooking/recipes lol.
Valerie, so happy that you like this recipe. It’s a big favorite here, although I don’t have many cucumbers this year either. It’s weird, what the garden decides to over-produce each year.
As for the raw sugar; it should work. It will give the pickles a darker, more molasses flavor, but I bet it will be great! Let me know how the experiment goes.
I’m so glad I found this. I’ve got a handwritten recipe from my great, great aunt (from upstate New York), a bit scarce on details. She didn’t mention the salt! otherwise the same, using brown sugar and a cinnamon stick and whole cloves instead of powder. Can’t wait to see how they come out. Thanks.
Linda, wonderful to hear that others know of this recipe too! What did your great, great aunt call the pickles? Did she call them Russian Bear or something else?
I have my grams recipe and in hers you use dark brown sugar instead of white. Plus 1tsp of whole allspice besides that it exactly the same . They are nice pickle to eat soft sweet and delicious.
Melinda, thanks so much for sharing. It certainly does seem to be a “lost” recipe. My great-grandmother may have also used brown sugar, we don’t know. Either way, they are delicious!
Just found this recipe online and I’m trying it..have you tweaked it any? If so, can I have any tips for making these the best I can. These are a whole heck of a lot of work and time consuming and any ‘new’ advice is appreciated!!😊
Suzy, so glad you asked! I looked at the recipe with fresh eyes and realized that I had left out an important step – the cucumbers should be peeled. Otherwise, everything remains the same. They are more work than many pickle recipes, but worth it. Good luck. Let me know how they turn out. Renee
Is it ok to leave the skin on, what will happen?
Dori, you could try, but you would not get the same result. These are soft pickles, the skin “structure” isn’t conducive to the desired texture. But you could try a batch to see. Let me know your results!
I didn’t see the comment about peeling until after I had let the cukes soak. Some of the pieces were to soft and small to peel, so my batch was much smaller than I had anticipated, and I had a lot of the vinegar syrup left over. Can it be saved for a few days to do another batch? Do you think it would work with zucchini?
Christine, the syrup can be refrigerated and used for another batch. I do this quite often. As for the zucchini, it’s worth a try! Let me know how it goes. I am always happy to find new uses for overgrown zucchini. Renee
Do you peel the cucumbers? I’m wondering if the skins of overripe cucumbers is tough or bitter.
Charlotte, yes the cucumbers should be peeled. Thanks for pointing out that omission!
Hi, Do you think I can make these with cucumbers that have been sitting on my counter for a few weeks. They are a tiny but soft but they seem fine otherwise. Thanks!
Michael, it is worth a try. Usually cukes should be really fresh, but these are a soft pickle instead of a crisp pickle so it might work.
This recipe is very similar to the senfgurken (German mustard pickle) recipe. Obviously it uses mustard seeds in addition to your stated ingredients. Now I am just hoping that my cucumbers make this year because it’s impossible to find ripe cukes in the stores.
Paula, you are right. In fact, I used a senfgurken recipe when re-creating this family favorite. I usually try to grow a couple short rows of regular cucumbers because it is impossible to find ripe ones, even at farmers’ markets. We’ll keep our fingers crossed!
How long do these last before opening?
Jon, most pickles should sit for 3 weeks (after processing) before opening (for best flavor).
How much canning salt do you use? The recipe just says 1/
Bridget, thank you for noticing this! I just updated the recipe. I use 1/2 cup salt.