Here’s a tried & true dill pickle recipe. Three generations in the making. Here’s a step by step process of how to go about making these amazing pickles.
for the brine
- 1 quart vinegar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup salt
- 2 cups sugar
pack in sterilized mason jars
- cucumbers, blossom ends removed, sliced
- fresh dill flowers
- whole garlic cloves
- grape leaves
preparing the jar contents
Remove the blossom ends of the cucumbers (they contain an enzyme that softens up pickles in the jar) and cut them into quarters or sixths lengthwise. While you’re prepping the cukes, have your friend dissolve the brine ingredients together in a big pot on medium-high heat, and start a big pot of water on the boil to sterilize mason jars and lids.
Sterilization is not so complicated. Basically, you want to sterilize everything that comes into contact with the pickles (mason jars, jar lids, and tongs) by keeping it at a rolling boil in a big pot full of water for 5-10 minutes.
If you’re doing a big batch of pickles, keep an eye on the level of water in your sterilization bath; water is bound to boil off and you will have to top off the boil after a few rounds in order to keep jars fully submerged in boiling water.
After a good hard boil, remove jars with canning tongs (making good & sure not to scald yourself by pouring the water back into the pot!), place them on a clean towel on your kitchen counter, and get ready to pack!
packing contents of jar
So here’s what packing a good Polish dill entails. Throw a few peeled garlic cloves into your sterile jar. Add a generous amount of dill (a whole flower or two) and a grape leaf. That last part is a recent addition to the traditional recipe.
Why bother with grape leaves? They contain tannins that help bolster the flavour of the pickle and block enzyme action that would break down the cucumber. Grape leaves help keep the pickles fresh & tasty. One day we will be knowledgeable about how this works in terms of chemistry, but for now it remains tried-and-true quasi-scientific folk knowledge.
Once you’ve got the dill and garlic in, start packing down your cucumber slices. Make sure that all cukes are short enough to fit in the jar and leave a little headspace below the rim of the jar. You might find you have to trim a few cucumbers down a wee bit in order to fit them into your jars.
Anything (dill leaves or cucumber skin or cat fur or whatever) that hangs out on the jar rim will act as a vector to allow wild bacteria & fungi that can make you sick into your delicious pickle jar. So be careful, and make sure to keep the rims clean & sterile!
add the brine!
It’s brining time! But a quick note on brine: what you’ve mixed together in that big old stock pot (salt, sugar, vinegar, and water) is basically a mix of three old-time preservatives and water. Acidity, sugar, and salt help all kinds of preserves to achieve their staying power and avoid spoilage. Over the next month or three, osmosis between this solution and the cukes you just packed will make your pickle a pickle.
When you pour the brine on, make sure it’s piping hot. Brine around 100 degrees celsius will sterilize all the cucumbers and garlic and dill that just came in contact with your hands (which are a microbiological Noah’s Ark, if you’ll pardon the old testament reference).
Caution: Make sure, though, not to keep the brine at a rolling boil, as the acetic acid will vaporize, which means two things. One: the active, preserving ingredient in your vinegar will vaporize and your brine will no longer be a strong preservative and Two: you will end up inhaling vaporized acetic acid, and consequently feeling like barfing your lungs out.
We used a canning funnel to help the brine into the jars. Canning funnels only cost a couple dollars, and help to keep your jar rims clean as you fill. Make sure to sterilize the darn things, though! You can throw the funnel in the hot water bath while you pack the cucumbers into the jars.
Fill your jars up with hot brine to just under the rim.
Once our jars are packed and full of hot brine, grab one of your lids out of the boiling water bath. A good friend brought a magnetic plastic wand along to help us fish our jars out of the bath. It’s a pretty cool canning tool, that might be worth getting. But you can use tongs to fish your jar seals out just as well.
Make sure the jar lit fits down on top of the jar full of cukes and brine. Then throw a screw-top band around it and screw it down tight.
did it work?
An hour or two after you fasten down the bands, you will start to hear popping sounds coming from your jars. As the hot stuff in the jar cools, a change in pressure makes the mason jar lids go convex, sealing them. If your jars reach room temperature and the jar lid still goes “pucka-pucka” when you push down on it, it means the jar has not properly sealed. Refrigerate those jars, and eat them in the next few days.
Note: Seal failure is usually caused by an internal temperature that is too low or a defective lid.
Leave properly sealed jars in a cool, dark place. Your cukes should be properly “pickled” (meaning that osmosis and fermentation have worked their magic) after 3 months. This kind of pickle keeps unopened and unrefrigerated for about a year.
Pickles are best made with dear friends. If this is your first time pickling, take your time, find the right rhythm, have fun, take breaks, and remember, quality, safety, and enjoyment are a thousand times more important than efficiency.