You Can-Can: Dill Pickles

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Today I’m just going to tell you about pickles. And how you should make them because they are really good on grilled cheese. I’ve really been wanting to tell you about pickles for a while now, but I keep getting distracted by other, seemingly more pressing posts.

Every year I threaten to not make these because I can’t always eat seven jars of dill pickles in a year (you’d think I’d just make fewer, but no), but some invisible force draws me to those cute mini cucumbers at the farmstand and there I find myself once again. It’s a good thing, because pickles are delicious. Also, when she heard I was into canning, my hair stylist told my mom that she wants to trade free haircuts for homemade pickles(!). That was enough motivation for me this year. (And yes, we share a hair stylist, but not a hair style, thank god).

While I’m at it, I guess I might as well tell you about how to use a water bath canner, too. Don’t worry. It’s easy. And the odds of you getting botulism are like 5,034,804 to 1 (I think).

Now this may seem obvious, but more people make this mistake (including me) than you would think. First rule of canning: don’t make anything you don’t like to eat. The first year I canned I spent HOURS cooking down and storing tomato sauce. However, I hardly ever eat red sauce on pasta anymore, so I didn’t use it. If you don’t already like eating dill pickles, making your own and canning them isn’t going make them taste any better. If you hate the bitter taste of marmalade on your toast, don’t make any. Like I said, it seems like it would be obvious, but people are often tempted by how fun something looks to MAKE, they forget they then have to eat it later…

Dill Pickles:

Makes about 6 pint jars (5ish pickles per jar)

Ingredients:

White vinegar

Pickling salt (this type of salt lacks iodine which can discolor the pickles. It’s cheap and they sell it in most grocery stores)

Sugar

Peppercorns

1 bunch fresh dill

1 head garlic

30ish pickling cucumbers

There are lots of theories about how to keep your pickles crisp. I cut or pick off the blossom and stem ends of mine, as these can apparently release an enzyme that softens the pickles (or someone has at least fooled me into believing they can). I then soak my cucumbers in ice water before packing them, as my pickle research has indicated this might improve the final texture. However, my pickles usually turn out pretty crisp, so I continue to follow these questionably scientific tips. 

1. Make a brine of:

6 cups water

2 cups vinegar

1/3 cup salt

½ of a third cup measure sugar (it seemed easier just to dirty one measuring cup…)

2. Bring the brine to a boil and then keep warm.

3. Sterilize jars and lids in a water bath canner. A water bath canner is just a Really Big Pot. In fact, you can use a Really Big Pot if you don’t have a canner, but you’ll need some sort of rack so the jars don’t contact the bottom (makes them prone to breakage). In a pinch, a bunch of jar rings set in the pot will do the trick. But really you should go to your closest hardware store/grocery store/Amazon cart and buy a beginning canning set. They’re cheap.

4. Fill hot jars with 2-3 half cloves garlic, a few peppercorns, and a few sprigs dill

Then stuff with cucumbers (I’ve found about five smallish pickling cukes fit in a wide mouth pint jar)

Top with two more garlic halves and more dill.

5. Use a funnel (or a steady hand) to pour the hot brine over the cold cukes in the hot jars. The temperatures are relevant because you want the filled jars to stay hot enough that when you put them back in the boiling water they don’t crack. Fill the jars leaving 1/4-1/2” headspace. This way the jars wont overflow and you’ll get a proper seal. 

6. Use a knife to let out any trapped air bubbles in the jars. If these get stuck there can be parts of your pickles that go bad. I don’t think this really happens very often but I go through this step nonetheless. 

7. Wipe the top of the jar rims with a paper towel or clean kitchen towel. You want to remove anything that could get in the way of the lid properly sealing over the jar. Take the lids out of the hot water (where they have been softening) and place them on top of each jar. Screw the ring over the top until it is “finger tight”, not so tight air can't escape but tight enough the lid won't come loose. 

8. Process in boiling water for 15 min (you’re really not supposed to start timing until the pot returns to a full, roaring boil, but I usually cheat a little bit).

9. When they’re done, take them out using a jar lifter (a really useful tool to have) and set them on a clean surface where they won’t be disturbed - I use a fresh tea towel spread over a cutting board. Let the jars sit and cool, ideally for 24 hours, before you touch or move them. This will ensure that they seal properly. 

You’ll hear the most satisfying little “pop” when the vacuum in each jar pulls the lid down and seals it. Really, it’s one of the most fun things to listen for ever. 

Pickles, unlike many canned goods, have to sit for a while before you eat them. I usually wait a month to allow the brine to really seep in and “pickle” the cukes. When they’re ready, slice them up and get them on a grilled cheese sandwich as fast as you can. They should last on the shelf for ~1 year. 

P.S. You can use essentially this same method to can any number of things. For instance, if you're canning peaches, replace cucumbers with skinned peaches and brine with sugar water and voila! (You'll probably also want to omit the garlic, dill and peppercorns however...)