Kalamazoo Pickles

A 138 year old recipe, but I don’t know what Michigan has to do with it.

A version of this recipe appeared in 1875’s In The Kitchen by Elizabeth Smith Miller of Geneva, New York:

Kalamazoo Pickles

Half a bushel of small cucumbers.
One quart of brown sugar.
Half a pint of white mustard seed.
One ounce of broken cinnamon.
One ounce of celery seed.
Two ounces of alum.
Seven quarts of vinegar.

The cucumbers should not be more than two or three inches long; nip the remains of the flower from the end; cover with a brine made of two gallons of water and a pound of salt; let them stand twenty-four hours; drain them, boil the vinegar, alum, and spices; put the cucumbers in jars (fill jars with them, as the spaces between leave room for a sufficient quantity of vinegar); pour the boiling vinegar over them, and close immediately. Glass fruit-cans are excellent for pickles, but stone jars will do, with strong paper pasted over the covers.

The book is dedicated to the “Young Ladies’ Saturday Morning Club” Of Boston. So the mystery remains–how did a city in Michigan come to be associated with these pickles? And the May 21, 1928 edition of The Indianapolis News says that the wife of the congressman from Anderson, Indiana contributed a recipe for Kalamazoo Pickles to the Congressional Club Cookbook.

So what does the Michigan city of Kalamazoo have to do with a book published in New York, dedicated to a group in Massachusetts, and adopted by a Congressman from Indiana? I’ll do more research when I’ve got an actual computer, but my theory is that it has to do with the legend of how the town came to be called Kalamazoo.

As the story goes, a Potawatomi named Fleet Foot won the heart of his bride by running from camp to the river and back before the water in a pot could boil away, and kalamazoo was a word meaning something like “when the pot boils” or “boiling water” or sometimes “mirage” or “reflection.” Cute, but imaginary.

The earliest version of the name is from a 1823 Atlas that used the phonetic transliteration Kikalemazo. Then, Titus Bronson founded a town named after himself in 1831. By 1836, the townspeople bad renamed the town Kalamazoo, probably due to some philosophical differences with Titus over his hatred of smoking, drinking and gambling.

Given the then-exotic spices of the pickles, plus the legend that the name Kalamzoo had something to do with boiling, I’d guess the person who came up with the recipe thought it was a good fit?

Sorry for the somewhat light updates today–I’m going to be in NYC at the Columbia Scholastic Press Association Fall Conference tomorrow, but fret not. Dori is making a recipe for Yesterdish’s recipe box that I’ll post tomorrow night when I get back.

From the box of A.D. from Lutz, Florida, by way of Pennsylvania in the 1940s, and originating in Ohio in the 1920s.

Kalamazoo Pickles

1 dozen large cucumbers
1 dozen onions, sliced

Add salt, let stand overnight.
Drain in the morning.


1 qt. of vinegar, not too strong
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1 Tablespoon of celery seed
1 Tablespoon of turmeric
1 Tablespoon of dry mustard
1/2 cup of flour
3 cups of granulated sugar

Mix all together. Pour over pickles and boil 15 minutes.

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