Making dill pickles is an annual tradition based on my grandmother’s recipe. We are duty-bound after all these years, family and friends now expect their quart at Christmas. Plus, it’s another way to remember a grandmother who left such a legacy for us, her love of gardening, food-making and the outdoors.
The time for pickling is August/September while small cukes are available. Gather up supplies needed and have at it – get organized in advance and the process is relatively easy. As with preserving any food, cleanliness is essential so this is the time to be fastidious in the kitchen.
My grandmother made pickles from cucumbers grown in her own garden. We have a veggie garden full of produce, but no cukes, so I bought freshly picked cucumbers at the Farmer’s Market – last year it was Stoney Plains, this year Alm Hill farms – along with three or four large bunches of fresh dill. You’ll also need several heads of garlic.
Dill Pickle Recipe
Ingredients: For twelve to fourteen quarts of dill pickles you’ll need 14 pounds of freshly picked small cucumbers/3 or 4 large bunches of dill/apple cider vinegar (no substitutes for this!)/approximately 50 peeled cloves of garlic/rock salt or pickling salt (not iodized!)/alum/12-14 glass quart jars with lids and seals.
Directions: Gather all ingredients plus jars, lids and seals. Thoroughly rinse or wash cucumbers. Rinse dill and peel garlic. Wash and sterilize jars in the dishwasher or place in a large pot of barely simmering water until needed; place seals and lids in a pan of barely simmering water until needed.
While jars and lids are sterilizing mix the brine in a large pot and bring to a simmer: 1 quart apple cider vinegar, 2 quarts water, 2/3 cup rock or pickling salt. This is enough for maybe six quarts – you’ll need to double/triple or more depending on quantity. This recipe doubled is about the right amount of brine for twelve quarts, but you may need to make a little more.
When jars are cleaned and sterilized begin to fill them with 3 or 4 cloves of garlic in the bottom, two stalks of dill; stuff cukes in snugly, but without squeezing too much, and sliced in half if needed; save smallest cucumbers for the very top spaces.
When quart jars are filled with garlic, dill and cucumbers, sprinkle 1/4 tsp. alum on top and pour simmering brine into one jar at a time to just cover the cucumbers, with about 1/2″ of space remaining at the top. Wipe top of jar with a clean cloth, firmly place seal and screw on lid. Tighten it. Because my grandmother did, I turn mine upside down for a few hours – she felt they sealed better that way. Not sure it’s necessary. If the brine is simmering hot and you fill and immediately tighten each jar they should seal within a few hours. You’ll know they’re sealed if the seals don’t pop back when pushed down in the center. If for some reason a jar doesn’t seal, as sometimes happens, place that jar in the fridge and consume within a few weeks.
When the house smells like a giant brinery you’ll know you’ve made your pickles for the year!
For the next few hours you’ll hear the gentle pops as the vacume is achieved in each jar. Every year I have one or two that don’t seal – doesn’t seem to be a problem. We eat those sooner than later, and remember that traditionally dill pickles were preserved in large vats of brine for months on end, unsealed. I open the first jar after about 8 weeks and that’s the best jar of the year in my opinion.
Alum powder, found amongst spices at most grocery stores, is used in pickling recipes as a preservative, to maintain crispness – Wikipedia.