Friday, July 20, 2012

Old-Fashioned Dill Pickles

I've talked pickles before.  Last summer I cooked up a batch of pickled carrots that wowed my friends and family.  Ever since then, I have had a jar of those babies hanging out in the fridge at all times (no, not the same jar!).  There always seems to be a good reason to grab the jar and snack on a crunchy, zesty carrot.  And my pickle repertoire continues to expand.

If you were to take a look in my fridge right now (actually, I beg of you not to, it's a mess), you'd see that the top shelf is littered with jars full of briny solutions and veggies of all sorts.  There is a smattering of jams and fruit butters nestled amongst the pickle jars as well.  Don't get me wrong, the jams are great- we use them in some way almost every day.  But what my family is currently obsessed with, as in just can't get enough of, are those pickles.

There is something deeply satisfying about gathering a bounty of vegetables that may never otherwise get eaten, chopping and slicing them, stacking them in jars and sealing in the fresh taste of summer. Seeing the shelf lined with jars of cucumbers, zucchini, carrots and green beans just makes me smile.

And what's even better than that?  Sharing the wealth and the fun of the process with friends.  My current crop of pickles was made during a long, hot afternoon in my kitchen with two friends who are equally obsessed with putting food in jars.  We sliced, boiled, measured, juiced, made a huge mess and got to know each other a little better.  And when we were done, we each had a supply of goodies to share with our families.  It was a success in more ways than one in my opinion.  And I'm certain the fun will happen again (I'm thinking tomatoes for next time).  I wholeheartedly suggest that you try the same with your friends.
Old-Fashioned Dill Pickles
Makes 6 pints of pickles.  Adapted from a Better Homes and Gardens recipe.
For a printable version, click here.

It was difficult waiting the recommended week for these pickles to reach their full potential.  But it was worth the wait. My family and friends demolished the first jar over a campfire in Sequoia National Park.  I've never had a better burger.

If you don't have a cucumber plant in your garden that produces like crazy, or if you simply want to dip your toe into the world of pickles, you can make a single pint of pickles and skip the processing steps all together.  Simply divide the recipe to accommodate the amount of cucumbers you have and refrigerate your jars right away.

3 lbs crisp cucumbers, sliced in 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices
4 cups water
4 cups white vinegar
1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup kosher salt (we couldn't find the pickling salt the recipe called for and I'm perfectly satisfied with the results from using the kosher salt)
6 tbs dill seeds
6 cloves garlic
3 tsp black peppercorns

In a large stainless steel pot, bring the water, vinegar, sugar and salt to a boil.  Stir to dissolve the sugar.  Remove the pot from the heat.

Pack the cucumber slices loosely into clean, hot, sterilized jars.  Add 1 garlic clove, 1 tbs dill seeds and 1/2 tsp peppercorns to each jar.  Ladle the hot vinegar mixture over the cucumbers, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace at the top.  Wipe the jar rims and cover with lids that have been cleaned and sitting in a hot water bath.  Twist on the screw bands until they are just tight (do not over tighten or the air will not be able to escape).

Process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes (start timing when the water reaches a boil).  Remove the jars from the canner and let cool on wire racks or towels.  When cool, tighten the screw bands completely.  Allow the pickles to stand at room temperature for 1 week before serving.  The jars will keep, unopened, for 6 months at room temperature.

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