Let’s Talk Pickles!
Have You Ever Noticed How Expensive Good Pickles Are?
And have you noticed how hard it is to find them without high fructose corn syrup or dyes in the ingredients? If you didn’t know any better you’d think cucumbers were expensive and pickling was difficult. Nope, you can make dill pickles yourself. In fact, they are more than easy enough to be your first canning project!
We’re going to show you how to make dill pickles. The recipe we will share comes from our friend, Shari. These pickles are beautiful in the jar, the recipe is easy to make, and of course they’re delicious. It has become our family’s favorite!
Pickles made traditionally are a nutritious, naturally crunchy, fermented food that supplies probiotics naturally and that is good for your gut! Heat preserved commercial pickles on the grocery shelf do not. Adding homemade fermented foods to your diet means you are getting you probiotics from food rather than pills. Pickles are also high in vitamin C, a good thing to add to your diet anytime, especially during winter months.
It’s Worth The Effort To Source The Best Cucumbers Possible.
If possible, try to buy pickling cucumbers from a local organic farmer during cucumber season. Your local growers market is the best place to start. By buying from a local farmer you will get better quality cucumbers for a lot less money than buying from a big corporate grocery store. Lucky for you, we’ve got a whole article doing this very thing!
If ordering from a grocer or food co-op, try to make sure your cucumbers are no more than three days old and have been kept cool. This is an important part of ensuring your pickles will be crisp, crunchy and full of nutrition. When you call ask to talk to the produce manager. Find out how fresh the cucumbers are and how much you need to order to get a bulk (by the box) price.
Whatever the case, you want “fresh as you can get” cucumbers. If you get them from an organic farmer ask if you can schedule to take delivery of the cucumbers the morning after they are picked. Then plan to make the pickles that day or the next. Cover the boxes with blankets to keep them cool until you’re ready for them.
How Many Cucumbers Do You Need To Make Dill Pickles?
You can guesstimate it out at around 1.15 lbs of cucumbers per jar of pickles. When all is said and done you may end up a jar or so over or under depending on the size of the cucumbers.
We ordered approximately 65 lbs this year and we made 75 jars of pickles. When we get together, we are inclined to get as much produce canned for the two family groups as we can. Not everybody wants to do that. If you are on your own or canning out of your own garden you can scale down for a smaller batch.
What About The Other Stuff?
Sometimes you can get the garlic and dill from the same place as your cucumbers. If not, order the dill from a store that keeps the dill stalks in a bucket of water (like cut flowers). In the middle of canning season, you need to order dill at the same time you order your cucumbers or you might not have “dill” pickles. Dill also grows like a weed. Ask around, somebody you know might have some randomly growing in their garden.
What?? Grape Leaves???
Yes! Grape leaves are Shari’s secret ingredient. They are what make these dills extra crisp (without chemicals), you know, that satisfying crunch when you take a bite of a pickle. Ask your friends if they have organic grape vines, you only need one per jar. If you don’t grow grapes and can’t get any from an organic gardner you can leave them out. Follow this recipe and your pickles will still be crunchy and delicious.
You can knock out a batch of pickles in no time. Especially if you have a pickling partner! If you have fellow foodies to work with it’s way more fun. It’s only recently that cooks toil away in isolation. Traditionally there was a work party, cooks getting together and having fun while helping each other out and sharing in the bounty.
This recipe allows two or three people to work together nicely. But don’t be afraid to try it solo!
OK Lets Get Ready!
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- Large Stainless-Steel Stockpot – at least 12 quart, to heat brine. This size stockpot is a real work horse in the kitchen. (Enamel or Glass pot is also good, not aluminum)
- Pot to boil lids and rings
- Wide Mouth Quart Jar – You can select quart or pint jars at this link.
- We prefer wide mouth for ease of packing. We always have a few pint jars ready as well (great for gifts).
- Clean cloths
- A couple of clean lint free 100% Cotton Tea Towels to cover hot jars
- Canning Jar Lifter
- Magnetic Canning Lid Lifter
- Stainless Steel Canning Funnel with Filter
- Stainless Steel is better than plastic, don’t use aluminum at all.
- Large Stainless Steel Ladle
- Colander for washing and drainin
- Silicone Tube E-Z-Roll Garlic Peeler
- A large Cutting Board (we prefer wood or bamboo)
- Sharp knife
- Wide mouth lids
- Wide mouth rings
Ingredients For Shari’s Dill Pickles
The following batch of brine and aromatics will make approximately 16 one quart jars. If you bought cucumbers in bulk, use the guesstimate method of about 1.15 pounds of pickles per jar to figure out how much brine you need to make.
- 18 lbs Cucumbers (roughly)
- 1 Quart Organic Vinegar white or apple cider
- 3 Quarts of Water
- 1/2 Cup Pickling or Kosher Salt
- 1 Grape Leaf Per Jar Of Pickles
- If you just can’t get fresh grape leaf, you can leave it out; your pickles will still be good. But it’s worth the search if you can find them.
- 2 Cloves Of Garlic Per Jar, Organic recommended
- 2 Dill Heads Per Jar, Organic recommended
- Pickle Sized Cucumbers, We recommend organic and local
Optional: More dill, crushed red pepper or whole dried red peppers.
Prepare the kitchen
This part isn’t hard but it is important. You don’t want any extraneous yeasts, molds or bacteria to get into your jars. It will ruin the whole project and you will be boo-hooing about how making pickles is harder than you thought.
We avoid these problems by clearing the kitchen of other projects, for instance, don’t have a yeast bread raising in the kitchen during fermenting projects. I did that only once. Yuck. The next morning there was a terrible smell in my kitchen and yeast in the brining cucumbers. I ruined an entire crock of lovely pickles that were fermenting on my counter. Live and learn!
So, wipe down the counters with vinegar water and wash all equipment with hot soapy vinegar water. Better safe than sorry.
Preparing the Brine
In a large enamel or glass pot, combine the white vinegar, water and salt. Bring to a rolling boil. Turn the heat down to low/medium so that the brine stays at a simmer. The brine needs to be very hot when poured into the jars over the cool cucumbers. This is essential to complete the vacuum seal and maintain the crisp pickles.
Preparing the Cucumbers
While the jars and lids are heating and the brine is coming to a boil, if you have not already washed the cucumbers, place the cucumbers into a very clean kitchen sink and wash them. Cucumbers can be “stickery or prickly” and this is mostly gone after gentle washing.
During the washing step, it is important to lightly scrape (usually with your thumb nail) the “blossom end” of the cucumber removing the enzymes left where the blossom fell off. This is an important step to ensure the end result of tasty, crispy pickles. Hollow or soft pickles are often the result of the blossom end not being removed. Stack your clean cucumbers in a large container ready for packing into jars. (you could use your water bath canner since you WON’T be using it for this pickle recipe).
At this point you will need to decide on packing the cucumbers whole or sliced. We usually do some of each since the sizes of pickles sometimes vary quite a bit, and any that are too large to pack efficiently into jars can work nicely as sliced pickles. If you want pickle spears, using a sharp knife, slice the cucumbers lengthwise usually into quarters. Don’t forget to make some in pint jars, they make wonderful gifts!!
Just wash them with cool water, drain in a colander and they are ready.
If you haven’t grown your own dill weed (and it does grow like a weed), buy from the farmers market or organic grocery. If it’s the height of pickling season it’s good to order ahead because they do run out. Dill will keep for a few days if you keep your dill stems in a bucket of water (like a bouquet of flowers) until your ready to use them. Then cut the heads off the stems and prepare exactly as you did the grape leaves by gently rinsing and draining. Save and dry your dill fronds for use in other recipes.
Peeling the garlic can be a time consuming part of this project. We have used a variety of methods including lightly crushing the individual garlic cloves with the flat side of a large knife. This breaks the garlic peel and it will peel off more easily. As of our last projects, pickles, tomato juice and tomato paste, which require fairly large quantities of garlic, we have discovered and enjoy using a garlic peeling tool as seen in this picture. All you have to do is put one or two garlic cloves into the silicone garlic tube and vigorously roll back and forth a few times. This process loosens the peel from the garlic clove and it peels right off. We love it!! Saves a lot of time and the garlic is ready for the pickle jars. Every thing is ready! Take a little break before embarking on the final phase of packing the jars.
You’ve got it all together, it’s time to pack those jars!
Start Your Assembly Line And Make Dill Pickles!
- Make sure your jars are hot.
- We take them hot out of the dishwasher or out of 150 degree oven, which is why a jar lifter is a good thing.
- Boil lids and rims and let rest in simmering water.
- Brine needs to be stirred well to dissolve the salt and brought to a rolling boil.
- Turn the brine down if you stop to pack more pickles, you don’t want to accidentally concentrate your brine through evaporation or you’ll have salty pickles.
- Drop 2 cloves of garlic and 2 heads of dill into the heated canning jar.
- (Add a dried pepper for spicy pickles!)
- Carefully place one grape leaf against the inside of the hot jar.
- Pack your whole or sliced cucumbers into the jar.
- Make sure they are packed tight and 1/2 inch below the jar rim. Don’t be tempted to add a pickle or two over the top of the other pickles, they tend to float above the brine.
- Work at a fairly fast pace.
- Fill the jar with the hot brine.
- Use a large funnel and stainless steel ladle.
- Go slow until you get a feel for how much brine each jar uses.
- Leave 1/4 inch head space.
- Wipe the rim of the jar with a slightly damp, clean, lint free cloth.
- There should be nothing between the jar rim and the lid.
- Tamp the full jar gently with a towel underneath to dislodge air bubbles.
- Add more brine if needed after the air has escaped.
- Place the lid, seal down on top of the jar, and put the ring over the lid.
- Make sure the ring is going on straight, and tighten just until it stops.
- If screwed on too tight air cannot escape and you will not achieve a “vacuum seal”.
- As you fill them set the hot jars close together but not touching on the towel covered counter top and cover with a thin cotton tea towel.
- This protects the hot jars from draft and prevents them from cooling too rapidly, enabling a stronger seal for your pickles.
- That’s it!
But wait a minute…
What If You’ve Used All Your Cucumbers But Still Have Jars And Brine Left?
Find something else to pickle! This fall when we ran out of cucumbers, but my daughter Serena and I found ourselves not ready to quit! So at about 10:00 pm we were out in her garden with a flashlight picking jalapeno peppers. In no time we had pint jars of brining peppers. (We will posting directions to our Pickled Peppers soon.)
That day was so much fun, and we remember it every time we bite into a crunchy pickle or hot pepper. So, find a partner and get started. Your days in the kitchen will be full of surprises and good memories and your pantry will be full of good food!
Done! Now What?
Leave your jars under the tea towels until completely cooled (the next day) as to not weaken the seal. We note on the lid the year and whether or not the pickles have peppers in them and then store them in a dark cool place like a pantry or cupboard.
They are cured and ready to eat in about a month. When you open them there should be no mold on the pickles, brine or lid. Often there will be a white sediment in the bottom of the jars that make the brine cloudy if shaken. This is a sign of fermentation, which is a good thing.
A jar of pickles goes fast around our families and it seemed a shame to throw away that delicious brine left in the newly opened but empty jar. We started putting garlic cloves that were getting ready to sprout into the brine and back in the refrigerator. Yum. Some of us eat them like pickles. We chop them into all kinds of dishes that could use a little garlic: Tuna salad, spaghetti sauce, mashed into hot butter for garlic bread or to dip artichoke leaves. It’s great. Waste not want not is a delicious concept.
Trust us, family cooks could make dill pickles way before water bath canners were invented. When you pack your cucumbers in clean hot jars, pour boiling brine over your cucumbers and immediately seal with hot lids and rings you should have no problems.
We have been making pickles this way all our lives as our mother and grandmothers before us. We have not lost a single friend or family member to bad pickles! Have fun!