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Dandy Dill Pickles

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There are so many wonderful things about the summer—getting outdoors and enjoying the sun, family and friends, not to mention the wonderful varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables. Call me old-fashioned but I love to collect and preserve as many of these foods as I can during the summer. Preserving for the winter and relying on yourself to carry your family over with the fruits of summer into the long cold winter months makes me happy. Not relying on the local grocery store for everything you need gives me a great sense of pride and accomplishment.  

For me, canning started at a very young age. My granddad would raise a huge garden and we would do what we could to preserve as much as we could. It’s funny that when I was a kid it seemed that there was only one way to can and preserve food. For example, let’s take pickles. There are many different types of pickles, starting with dill, sweet, and bread & butter. There are other varieties, but these were the three we would put up every year. Then there are the many different ways to make each of these pickles. When I got married and my husband and I decided it was time to put up our own pickles, it quickly became apparent that our families had two different ways of doing it. At first, we each wanted to do it our own way, but over the years we have merged the pickle-making process into both family recipes. 

Let’s get started making dill pickles. There’s more to them than just cramming cucumbers into a jar. And, yes, cucumbers become dill pickles. I was surprised over my years of canning to find out how many people really didn’t know this. There’s an entire process that needs to happen before you start pickling cucumbers. First, you need to select the cucumber you will be using. There are many varieties of cucumbers; not all are good for pickling. For dill pickles, we use a pickling cucumber. These cucumbers are normally three to four inches long with prickly bumps on the skin and firm, the fresher the better. This means when I go to the farmers market on Thursday and pick out my cucumbers, I should be ready to can them on Friday. The longer you wait, the more water evaporates from the cucumber; this will cause soggy pickles. It’s also very important to cut off the blossom at the end of the cucumber. The blossom contains an enzyme that can change the overall chemical balance in your pickles, causing them to soften when canned. Don’t forget to buy fresh dill while you’re at the farmers market! I love using the fresh dill instead of dill seed, which most recipes call for in their process. I figure at least one large head and stem for each quart jar that I’m canning.  

Another very important step to help make sure that your pickles are crisp is in the washing process of each cucumber. Place cucumbers in the sink or small ice chest, cover with water and add ice. Chilling the cucumbers helps rehydrate them and firm them up. Wash each cucumber by hand, making sure to remove all the little prickly bumps from the skin, and slice off the blossom at the end. Leave them in the ice water until you are ready to pack the jars. Minimum time is two hours and maximum six hours.

While the cucumbers are bathing in ice water, I sterilize my quart jars and fill them with the necessary ingredients for each quart jar. I put in the pickling spice, salt, powdered alum, fresh garlic and dill to have everything ready to start packing in the cucumbers.

12-14 lbs. pickling cucumbers (3-4 inches long)
6 cups white vinegar
6 cups water
6 tablespoons pickling salt
6 teaspoons pickling spice
3 teaspoons powdered alum (optional)
18 cloves fresh garlic
Fresh dill (rinsed)

This recipe should fill 6 quart jars. Make sure that your jars have been sterilized and that you have lids ready. In a stock pot, combine the vinegar and water and bring to a boil. Once it boils, turn the heat down to maintain a slow boil until your jars have been filled. In a small saucepan, place 2 cups water and the sealer lids that you will be using. In the bottom of each jar, put 1 tablespoon pickling salt, 1 teaspoon pickling spice, ½ teaspoon powdered alum, 3 cloves garlic and 1 large head of fresh dill including the stem. Now it’s time to pack your cucumbers into the jars. Carefully place the cucumbers into the quart jars with the spices. It’s like putting a puzzle together, but do your best to get as many into the jar as you can. Be careful not to break them, but that does happen now and then. Don’s family always slides thinly sliced carrot sticks in between the cucumbers. They are also great pickled and make the jar look good by filling in some of the spaces. Once the jars have been packed, ladle the hot water and vinegar over the cucumbers, leaving ¼ inch of space at the top of the jar. You will need to burp each jar by sliding a butter knife down the sides of the jars to release air bubbles from the hot vinegar water. You want as little air as possible in the jars. After burping the jars, check the water level; you may need to add more. With a clean damp dish cloth, wipe the rim of the jar to make sure it is clean and clear of any of the spices. Place hot sealer lids on top of the jar and screw the ring down tight. Most people then process their pickles in a hot bath, but we use what is called a cold bath method. This means that using the hot vinegar-and-water solution and boiling the lids before screwing them in place should effectively seal and preserve your pickles. Now let the jars cool before moving them to your storage shelf. As the jars cool, the lids will seal by making a popping sound. Make sure you mark the lids with the date you preserved them so that you have a record for two reasons; first, to make sure that they are at least 14 days old before opening, and second, to help when you clean out your storage and remove items that are over one year old. Remember, when opening these pickles, the lid will pop and you will see some bubbling. Pickles are fermented, so this will be normal.

This will take some planning and time but it will be well worth the reward. I’m passing on two old family recipes in one from my favorite recipe card box to your recipe card box. Happy canning! ■