Once you’ve tasted one, you can never go back. Never. I wasn’t a big pickle fan myself until I married into the Mennonite food tradition and tasted dill pickles the way they are supposed to taste. Amazing! Now I laugh when I read pickle labels that say “Canned just 7 days after picking!” – like that’s supposed to sound good? If you make your own pickles you get the freshest, best tasting dills only 1-2 days after picking. Like I said, there’s just no going back.
This dill pickle recipe is a conglomerate of several Mennonite versions. I find that each pickling is a little bit different than the one before; I adjust sugar, salt and vinegar levels to get just the right flavor. Feel free to adjust the recipe yourself, I’ve added suggested changes in italics.
Of course, the best thing to do is to pickle your own cucumbers but if you don’t have any, or access to anyone else’s backyard who does have some (if they do, you would know – when those cukes start producing, they just won’t stop!), then supermarkets often carry pickling cucumbers mid-to-late summer. Pickling cucumbers are different than “slicing” cucumbers, but you can pickle just about anything. The only thing special about the pickling kind is that they have tougher skins, grow into nice pickle shapes and generally make good pickles. My personal favorite is actually called “Homemade” cucumbers! If your cucumbers are too big to fit nicely into a jar, then they’re a good candidate for pickle chips – just slice and pickle with this recipe or a special bread and butter pickle recipe. One or two canning sessions will probably last you til next year…unless your kids like homemade pickles as much as mine do and they have to be rationed as a special treat to last a whole year!
A peck o’ pickling cucumbers (I actually have no idea how many that is, just stuff jars until you run out of jars!)
12 cups water
3 cups vinegar
3/4 cup pickling salt (do not substitute regular salt! You’ll get dark cloudy pickles!) or 1/2 c. salt
2 cups sugar or 3/4 c. sugar
dill – several clumps of flowers and leaves
garlic cloves (optional)
sliced onions and peppers (optional)
pickling spices (optional – here’s a recipe link if you want) – I usually use mustard and coriander seeds
Sterilize your canning jars by heating them for 10 min. in a 250 F oven or by boiling (I prefer using the oven so I have more space). Put the lids in a saucepan and set aside for later.
Set the water, vinegar, salt and sugar to boil into a brine. Also set aside a saucepan full of water and set it to boiling. If you’re using pickling spices you can put it into the brine in a mesh or metal container (if it isn’t already in a tea bag), or you can add it directly to the pickle jars.
For extra protection from germs, cut off the “blossom end” of the cucumbers, but leave a little bit of stem on.
Once the jars have cooled, start stuffing! There are two options for the optional ingredients, and people have their own reason for choosing which they follow. Either put the garlic, onions, spices, etc in the bottom of the jar and cover them with cukes or wait til you’ve stuffed the jar with cukes and put them at the top. I’ve tried both ways and prefer putting them in first, but you choose which you like.
Starting with the larger cucumbers (whole, but you could slice them if you want), make a layer on the bottom of the jar. Stuff more and more until you simply can’t fit another one in. My mother-in-law stuffed my first jars and I just couldn’t believe how many cucumbers she could cram in there! Remember that the pickling will shrink the cucumbers, so if they’re not stuffed tightly they’ll swim around in there. Not stuffing tightly enough is one of the common mistakes a newcomer makes in pickling. Stuff the second layer and set aside (or put the optionals on top if that’s how you want to do it).
Heat the saucepan with the canning lids in it to hot but not boiling – you just want to get the seal warmed up and ready to go.
Once the jars are stuffed, pour boiling water into them and let it sit for about ten minutes. This is to help prevent the dreaded “soft pickle”. Drain off the water and fill the jars again, this time with the brining solution. You’ll want to bump the jar on the counter a few times to get all air bubbles to the top (air bubbles can cause bad things with pickles, I’ve heard). One option a lady I know uses is to use the hot brine to warm the pickles up, then she drains it back into the pot, reboils, then seals. You choose if you want to reuse the brine or use the boiling water.
Put the hot lids on and hand-tighten (you’ll probably be wanting to use oven mitts, the jars will be hot! ). Place hot jars into a canner and fill with hot water, to just over the jar lids. Bring the water in the canner to a boil and boil for the recommended time – Check the USDA website for times adjusted for altitude (also a good resource for all kinds of pickling). You’ll see bubbles in the jars and that’ll be approximately when it’s done. Remove from the canner and let cool for a day. The lids will “pop!” when the vacuum created inside the jar sucks them down. If, after a day, they have not sealed (the middle will go up and down), refrigerate them and eat them soon – they are NOT safe to be stored unrefrigerated. Unless you’re going for the fermented pickle thing.
Now, if you can wait a few days to let the flavor set, you’ll be tasting your very own delicious homemade pickles. Properly sealed pickles can last a year or more left in a cool place. Yum! You might want to make more than you think you’ll need… homemade pickles tend to become a habit, and they’re a great gift!
Note: if you don’t have a canner, you can still can. Use a large stockpot tall enough to hold the jars, but you have to have some kind of metal on the bottom so the jars don’t touch the bottom. I find a vegetable steamer works great in my stockpot.