Serious Eats

How to Make Koolickles, Kool-Aid Soaked Pickles

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[Photos: Ben Carter]

I've lived my entire life jn Memphis, but just south of us is a region that has greatly influenced our city and the rest of the nation. I'm talking about the Mississippi Delta, the wide swath of northwest Mississippi that lies between the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers. Cotton farming is the major industry, though over the past twenty years the riverboat casino business has brought a lot of money into the region. When you think about blues music, that's the Delta. It has also produced one of my favorite foods, the Delta tamale.

On the other hand, there's the koolickle.

This region has a rich history of small businesses offering a few other unrelated services to bring in additional revenue. My barber used to sell pecans from the family farm next to the combs and brushes, and it's not unusual to find a bookstore or fabric shop where some homemade cookies are being sold for 50ยข each. Then we've got pickled things in jars: boiled eggs, pig's feet, sausages, and other strange things seen floating in a gallon of brine next to the cash register. The koolickle is a much more recent development but carries on the tradition of combining multiple pre-made ingredients into something else (like ambrosia salad made from marshmallows, canned coconut, canned pineapple, canned mandarin oranges, and sour cream). In this case, you use whole dill pickles and Kool-Aid and sugar. That's it. Don't start with sweet pickles--those salty dills are going to get plenty sweet during the aging process.

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Koolickles were covered in the New York Times back in 2007, but I don't think they've really hit the national stage yet. Even now a koolickle is not seen that much in Memphis, but since the recipe is so simple, if you're curious you can try it out for just a few dollars.

Most online recipes suggest starting with a gallon jar of pickles. I used a half gallon, because I didn't need that many koolickles in the house. Simply drain the brine into a clean jar, add in a packet of cherry Kool-Aid and a cup of sugar. (Slicing the pickles lengthwise will help, or you could chop them into one-inch chunks.) Stir the brine until the sugar and Kool-Aid are dissolved and then return to the pickle jar, and put it in the fridge.

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After about a week of turning the jar once a day, you'll have your koolickles. How do they taste? Exactly like you'd expect—you've taken sour dill pickles and transformed them into neon red cherry flavored sweet pickles. As you can see from the picture, the lengthwise slices get a deeper penetration of the color and flavor, though cross slices of the whole pickles do provide an interesting look. It's possible to do this with lots of different flavors of Kool-Aid, and nothing's stopping you from having seven jars to show the full rainbow of koolickles.

Want to avoid artificial colors and flavors? You could use a pomegranate juice reduction and some agave syrup, or beet juice, or all sorts of things. Either way, it's a simple and inexpensive kitchen project, and kids get a kick out of it.

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