My mother used to make dill pickles, sweet pickle spears and bread and butter pickles every year. I never thought about making pickles of any kind because I had so many varieties available to me from family, supermarkets and delicatessens. After starting a large garden some years ago I decided it was time for me to try my hand in making pickles to see if I could compete and perhaps develop something better than what I had before.
I decided to make garlic dill pickles, hot garlic dill pickles and bread and butter pickles, using recipes I found and modified to suit myself. I did not use any family recipe. I decided not to make sweet gherkins, even though I love them and use them in various recipes, because I didn’t want to have to deal with growing or buying tiny cucumbers. What I had to do was identify good types of cucumbers for what I wanted to make and also find seeds to grow seeded heads of dill.
The difficult part was finding the dill seeds, and I looked far and wide before I got what I wanted. I can provide some of them for you to get started if you decide to grow the dill. The best idea is to grow the dill yourself while your cucumbers are growing, or, have a friend or relative grow it/them. Typically you grow a bed of dill in the same garden location every year from seeds dropped the previous fall, though you can be extra smart and harvest a few dill heads when the seeds are mature and dry for planting the following spring, or for passing on to your friends and family for them to grow dill also. Note that virtually all recipes found on the Internet for making dill pickles use either dried dill seed or the type of dill that does not form seeded heads. Do not follow that stupid practice, for the seeded dill heads are robust in dill flavor while the dried seeds and "fronds" from the other type of dill are very weak in flavor.
As for the cucumbers, aside from the fact that certain types are superior for pickling, the types are normally identified regarding eating or pickling on seed packets or in young nursery plants available each spring. Similarly, pickling cucumbers can be purchased in bulk (1/2 peck) at roadside vegetable markets for about 90 cents per pound. I have nothing to say except that cucumbers should always be picked while young, fresh and crisp. Nothing is worse than a pickle made from old, limp, seedy cucumbers. Enough said.
The cucumbers and dill are harvested over a period of many weeks during a growing season, each individual item picked or cut at it's peak and washed and stored in one gallon plastic Ziploc® freezer bags in a refrigerator. You will know when you have about 10 lbs. of cucumbers harvested and ready for pickling, and also enough dill. The dill is often ready to start harvesting before the cucumbers, thus refrigerated or frozen storage is used until sufficient cucumbers are ready. I recommend growing at least eight cucumber plants to provide sufficient cucumbers in a relatively short period of time so that accumulating ten pounds of harvested cucumbers can be done within one to two weeks. Wait any longer and the older cucumbers will turn soft and rot. Similarly, grow around thirty or more dill plants to keep a good supply of dill heads available through the growing season. I recommend multiple plantings. Each plant may provide up to three nicely seeded large dill heads. A dill head is ready to harvest when the seeds have completely formed, following the yellow blossom stage, and are light green in color. Do not wait to harvest the heads individually at that point for they are at their maximum goodness/intensity in flavor.
This recipe is very simple and the results great per the folks who’ve eaten the pickles and requested more ASAP. Ditto the bread and butter pickles, but I provide that recipe separately in Food Nirvana. The ingredient list for hot garlic dill pickles is short, and the processing so simple there is almost nothing to it. You do, however, have to have a few supplies and equipment to do the job.
I have suggested adding a bit of calcium chloride to my original recipe here to enhance crispness. You may choose to use or not use the the calcium chloride, but now I do. Also, if you want to make plain garlic dill pickles, skip the red pepper flakes. I found food grade calcium chloride at www.BulkFoods.com and purchased it inexpensively. Just remember that using too much of it makes the pickles poisonous. Follow the instructions exactly.
Supplies and Equipment:
One white plastic five gallon bucket with a lid (I buy them at Home Depot® in the paint area)
A dinner plate and something to use as weights to hold it under the brine, like two drinking water bottles filled with water and tightly capped
Canning jars, screw-on lids and inserts, or vacuum sealing bags and a vacuum sealer
A long wooden spoon for stirring the bucket contents
10 lbs. of fresh young pickling cucumbers each about four to six inches long, washed and dried
6 to 8 large heads of fresh seeded dill
1 quart of white distilled vinegar
1 1/2 cups of Kosher salt
Up to 1/2 cup of red pepper flakes (Use at least ¼ cup)
15 to 20 large cloves of fresh garlic, sliced
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons of food grade calcium chloride (Do not use more than 3/4 teaspoon per gallon of brine. Less is fine.)
Pour two gallons of water into the bucket and add the quart of vinegar, one and one half cups of kosher salt and the calcium chloride and mix well.
Cut 1/8th of an inch off the ends of each clean cucumber. You can leave the cucumbers whole or cut them in half lengthwise. Put the cucumbers into the bucket.
Add the seeded dill heads and the red pepper flakes to the bucket.
Peel and then cut the garlic cloves into thin slices and add them to the bucket.
Add enough water to bring the bucket contents to about four gallons. The idea is to leave enough space above the brine and cucumbers for adding a dinner plate and some weights, such that you can still cover the bucket with it's lid. Stir the contents thoroughly.
Place a weighted plate on top of the cucumbers to force them down into the brine. I typically use a dinner plate and weigh it down with anything non-metallic, like plastic water bottles filled with water, tightly capped, or a stack of ceramic tiles.
Put the lid on the bucket to keep out foreign matter, insects, etc.
Ferment the pickles for about three weeks in a room that is 60ºF to 70º F. Try to avoid higher temperatures, though fermentation can be done slowly at lower temperatures, like 55ºF.
Check the fermentation progress every three days. Remove any mold that might form on the top of the brine with paper towels. Then mix the contents thoroughly. Replenish the brine if necessary to keep the liquid level above the cucumbers, using a mixture of 1/8 cup of kosher salt and 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar in one quart of water.
Check the pickles after two weeks by eating one. If it is pickled all the way through and tastes fairly intense and uniform in taste through the pickle then the fermentation process is completed. If the pickles need more fermentation time give them three more days and test them again. Repeat as necessary.
Process the completed pickles, garlic, red pepper, dill and brine by canning them, or by pasteurizing and then vacuum sealing them. If you can them immerse six sealed pint or quart canning jars of pickles into a large pot of boiling water with a dish towel or two inside the pot to cushion the bottoms of the jars during canning, or, use a canning pot specially made for that purpose. Repeat as necessary to process all the pickles.
Once the covered pot of water again comes to a boil after inserting the jars of pickles, let the boiling continue on low to medium heat gently for five minutes. Then the jars can be removed and allowed to cool and seal. Remember to retighten the lids when the jars are removed from the boiling water. It is not necessary to can the pickles in the boiling water for any extended period due to the concentration of vinegar and salt in the brine. Canning in boiling water for too long will make the pickles soft instead of crisp.
The alternative to canning is pasteurization at 180ºF for 30 minutes for the pickles and the brine. What I recommend first for reliable long term refrigerated storage of up to a year is increasing the salinity of the brine to increase the preservative effect. Add and mix well 1/4 cup of Kosher Salt per gallon of brine, then proceed with the pasteurization. Then you vacuum seal the pickles and brine and refrigerate the pickles for up to a year. Or, you can simply bottle and refrigerate the pickles and use them within three months.
Enjoy … and I know you will.