Monday, February 10, 2014

My Dill Pickles

I adore good old-fashioned dill pickles!  They're one of my favorite foods, and worth every minute of the time and energy they take to prepare.  I started out trying a few different recipes and commercial spice mixes.  Over the years, I tweaked the ingredient amounts to come up with this recipe.

As far as the cucumbers are concerned, I've bought all different sizes and shapes, and cut them into chunks, slices, halves and quarters.  Each variation has its merits and I try to put-up a few jars of a variety of sizes and shapes.  However, my favorite pickles by far, are those made with the really tiny cornichons-type cucumbers. If you like a crunchier pickle, use the little ones.

For spicy-hot pickles, you may use either dried peppers (the little red ones) or fresh (my choice).  I like to buy the smaller, hotter peppers (I like the inferno pepper) as they maintain their heat better than the larger hot banana types.  Jalapenos are NOT suitable.  I usually use one pepper per jar, but slice them in half and seed them.  I found its best to make some jars with peppers and some without, for variety.

This recipe calls for fresh dill heads and sprigs.  They aren't always easy to find and for some reason, I've had trouble growing them.  While I do believe the best pickles are packed with fresh dill, I have had to resort to using dried dill seed only.  The pickles were still yummy but lacked the full, earthy flavor that only the fresh dill can give them.

Turning to the spice mix - I love my own homemade spice blend (click here).  Use my blend, and your pickles definitely won't taste commercial.  Of course, if there's a spice in the blend you absolutely abhor, omit it!

Finally, I am convinced that salting and chilling the cukes before pickling, helps keep them crunchy. It's an extra step, and takes more time, but its worth it.

All produce is cheaper by quantity.  The quantities listed below, are for 3 quarts of pickles.  But, if prefer to buy a larger quantity, I've found a 1/2 bushel of cukes makes approximately 19 quarts of pickles.  You'll have adjust the ingredients to suit.

4 pounds pickling cukes
1 - 2 garlic cloves per quart jar (may leave whole or chop)
6 large heads of dill (two per jar is best)
2 3/4 cups cider, white wine or distilled vinegar
3 cups water
1/4 cup pickling salt (NOT iodized salt) plus additional salt for ice-brine
1 heaping tablespoon spice blend, adding more dill seed if no fresh is available (see above for link)
fresh or dried peppers (I use one fresh HOT pepper per jar, sliced and seeded)

One day ahead, thoroughly wash the cukes and sort them according to size.  Unless you buy the little cornichons variety, you'll probably end up with a variety of shapes and sizes.   If cukes are really big, cut into good size chunks, halves or spears (no more than than 4 spears per cuke).  You'll need to hold back smaller cukes to 'fill' the jars!!

With paring knife, cut off BOTH ends of cukes (blossom and stem ends) being careful not to waste too much.  Pile cukes in big basin, bowl or wash tub, sprinkle with pickling salt, and cover with a good layer of ice.  Place in frig for 12 - 24 hours (with really fresh, firm cukes, I have left them up to 48 hours).

When ready to process, drain and rinse cukes.  Put garlic, head of dill and spice blend in bottom of each sterile, quart size jar. Pack tightly with cukes (add a pepper half to each side of jar, if desired) and shove a second dill head on top, leaving 1/2 inch headspace to rim.  

Combine vinegar, water, and salt in a large pot.  Bring to a boil and dissolve salt. Pour hot brine into jars.  Run a straight-edge around outside of jar to release air bubbles.  Top with enough brine to cover (remembering to leave 1/2 inch head space). Secure with lids and process in boiling water bath for 15 minutes (pints - 10 minutes).

Remove from canner and let sit until lids pop (seal).  Store for 10 - 14 days to allow pickles to fully cure before opening.  The longer the hot pickles remain in the jars, usually the spicier they become.


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