Pucker Up for Pickled Strawberry Sundae Sauce

When it comes to strawberry season, I tend to keep things a lot more simple than I do for sour cherry season.

Instead of picking pounds at a time and turning my kitchen into a berry processing plant for a whole day, I purchase a pint here and there and stick to smaller experiments.

Part of this is because my husband has placed me on a jam moratorium (I’m not allowed to make more until I eat up what’s already in the pantry, which is fair), and part of this is because I find it really hard to improve upon the flavor of strawberries all on their own.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ll never say no to strawberry ice cream or strawberry jam or strawberry-rhubarb pie—or especially strawberry shortcake—but it’s bliss enough for me to eat my way through an entire pint of ripe strawberries and call it a meal.

However, I can’t stop myself from scamming and planning new riffs on strawberry succulence, even as I plow through yet another fresh pint.

Pickled strawberry sundae sauce
Photo: Casey Barber

The concept of pairing strawberries and vinegar is certainly not something I’m taking credit for inventing.

The Italians are known for drizzling strawberries with balsamic vinegar, and pickled strawberries have been around for as long as people have been asking “can I pickle that?” (Usually the answer is yep, ya can.)

If you’re used to eating strawberry recipes that play up the berry’s natural sweetness, the idea of adding acid to the fruit might sound off-putting. But strawberries do have a tart side, and adding a balanced hit of sourness plays it up in an intriguing way.

In fact, the cover recipe for my book Pierogi Love: New Takes on an Old-World Comfort Food just so happens to be that of pickled strawberry jam pierogies with white chocolate sauce.

Pickled strawberry sundae sauce
Photo: Casey Barber

The jam is versatile beyond its use as a pierogi filling—excellent with goat cheese or ricotta as a bruschetta topping or cheese plate pairing, on an English muffin or slice of cornbread with a swipe of salted butter, or stirred into yogurt with a handful of nuts.

I could go on, but I’m currently not allowed to make more jam. (And besides, that recipe’s already in Pierogi Love and I still have another jar of strawberry-balsamic jam to go through.)

No one said I wasn’t allowed to make ice cream sundaes, though!

This pickled strawberry sundae sauce turns up the intensity with two kinds of vinegar: lush balsamic vinegar and delicate Champagne vinegar.

Because it’s meant to be paired with sweet, rich ice cream, I went for full-on tart and tangy with its flavor profile. The strawberry sweetness still comes through loud and clear, but there’s a bright pop of acid to keep things interesting.

Pickled strawberry sundae sauce
Photo: Casey Barber

In the recipe below, I offer a few suggestions for ice cream pairings and ways to gussy up your sundaes, but feel free to use it any way you desire.

It could be swirled with marshmallow topping, or ladled over a banana split—it’s up to you.

Heck, the sauce would be incredible blended into a milkshake as well.

Pickled strawberry sundae sauce

Pickled Strawberry Sundae Sauce

Yield: 2 cups
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Additional Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 25 minutes

Pickled strawberry sundae sauce is ice cream's new best friend: tart and tangy, it's an intriguing complement to sweet vanilla or rich dark chocolate.


Sundae Sauce

  • 1 pound strawberries
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar, divided
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

For the Sundaes (see Notes section):

  • 1 quart of your favorite homemade or store-bought ice cream
  • whipped cream
  • candied walnuts or pecans


  1. Stem the strawberries, halving or quartering any large berries and leaving any smaller berries whole. 
  2. In a large bowl, stir the strawberries with the sugar, 2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar, and the balsamic vinegar until you no longer see any pockets of dry sugar. 
  3. Let the strawberries macerate in the sugar-vinegar mixture for 1 hour, stirring occasionally to help the sugar dissolve completely.
  4. Transfer the strawberries and their liquid to a wide, heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan. 
  5. Place over medium heat and bring to a low boil. Cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring the strawberry sauce frequently—it will bubble vigorously and foam as the strawberries soften.
  6. Skim any of the darker red-brown foam off the top of the sauce (it's not gross to eat, it just looks less than appealing) and taste. 
  7. If desired, stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar—I personally like the final sour punch it adds to the sauce, but sweeter palates may prefer the sauce as is.
  8. Transfer the sauce to a lidded heat-proof container like a canning jar and cool to room temperature.
  9. Sauce will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.


While vanilla ice cream is the classic sundae base for a reason, the sweet-tart sauce lends itself to other ice cream pairings. 

I tried the buttermilk ice cream recipe from Bi-Rite Creamery's book Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones, but a slightly bitter dark chocolate ice cream or honey-lavender ice cream would make excellent complements too.

Homemade whipped cream is more than worth the five minutes of your time that it takes to pull out the electric hand mixer and whip up a batch.

If you want to keep on amping up that tartness, yogurt whipped cream from Cheryl Sternman Rule's Yogurt Culture is just as easy as regular whipped cream (and a little more stable).

To make candied nuts, just follow the instructions for the candied pecan garnish in this autumnal pecan tart recipe. 

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