Culinary Adventures: Canning homemade dill pickles
I began pickling and canning a few years ago, and everything I know I taught myself from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. If you’ve never canned before, I’d strongly encourage you to buy this book (it’s a great book) and read up on the how-to before you begin.
There is a lot of science involved in canning, and not following the directions can lead to things going horribly wrong (i.e. botulism). The method of processing and the ratios of ingredients in recipes are designed to ensure that all harmful bacteria are killed off and are unable to grow in the jar once it has been sealed. Always follow the directions and use a tried and true canning recipe.
Fortunately, pickles and jams have a high acidity and are a bit easier to process using the “water bath” canning method. I have yet to try pressure canning regular vegetables, but I’d like to someday.
I bought my inexpensive canning kit on Amazon, but there are a lot of grocery stores that sell them as well. Once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy and pickles make great gifts. My favorite part of canning in August and September: getting a large portion of my Christmas gifts knocked out early.
For this dill pickles recipe, you will need to prepare the pickles the night before. The recipe is for seven pint jars, but I always can an entire box of pickling cucumbers (go big or go home, right?). I order them from my local produce stand Top Banana in Seattle, but you can order them or find them at produce stands and farmers markets near you. The season varies a bit for harvest, but August/early September is usually the time that they are available. I’ve waited until the end of September before and been out of luck. If you are selecting a small amount of pickles yourself instead of ordering a whole box–the smaller the pickle the crisper it will be. Small is good.
The night before you can these dill pickles, you need to brine them in ice water and canning salt overnight for 12-18 hours. Because I have such a large batch, I bleached out a cooler and brined them in there.
Some things you’ll need in addition to the ingredients:
* A pressure canner or very large stainless steel pot with lid, and a rack for the bottom to keep the jars from sitting directly on the bottom of the pot.
* Cheesecloth for creating a “tea bag” with the pickling spice
* Canning kit and ladle (canning funnel, magnetic lid thingy, jar tongs)
* Another large stainless steel pot for the pickling liquid
* A small pot for keeping the lids hot
* Quart sized or pint size canning jars (or a mixture of the two) with NEW lids
*Counter space and a clean kitchen to work in
*A counter or table with a towel over it for putting the hot jars to cool (don’t use a nice wood table, I ruined a wood TV tray once as the heat from the jars made big light spots on the table surface even through the towel). I like to set up card tables.
The recipe is as follows:
Grandma’s Dill Pickles
8 lbs pickling cucumbers (3 to 4 inches long each)
16 cups ice cubes or chipped ice
1 1/4 cups pickling or canning salt, divided
12 cups water, divided
2 tbsp pickling spice
6 cups white distilled vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
7 tsp mustard seeds
11 dill heads or dill weed
7 cloves of peeled garlic
1. In a large, clean crock, glass, or stainless steel container, layer cucumbers and ice
2. In a large glass or stainless steel bowl, dissolve 1/2 cup of the pickling salt in 4 cups of the water. Pour over cucumbers and add cold water to cover cucumbers, if necessary. Place large clean inverted plate on top of the cucumbers and weigh down with two or three quart jars filled with water and capped. Refrigerate (or let stand in cool place) for at least 12 hours, but no longer than 18 hours.
As you can see, I didn’t follow the directions exactly due to the volume of cucumbers, but they all soaked overnight in the ice water well.
1. Prepare canner, jars and lids
Step one is very important. Again, I strongly recommend you buy the Ball canning book as I’m giving you the quick and brief version and there is a lot to know.
I wash the jars, and put my first batch in the canner and turn the burner on to heat them up. It is important to pour the hot pickling liquid into hot jars.
Next, I put all the lids (not the bands, just the lid part) in a small pot with water and heat the water up to just below simmering. I keep the bands close to the stove for easy access. Do not re-use jar lids. The bands and jars are re-useable but the lids must be new every time. Ball does sell lids in packages by themselves as well as complete jars at most grocery stores.
Last, I prepare all of my ingredients: Mustard seed, measuring spoons, garlic cloves, and cut all the dill heads and put them in a bowl ready to go. I also cut the garlic gloves in half to let the garlic infuse better.
**Tip: Mustard seeds are insanely expensive in the regular grocery store and come in small containers. I ordered mine online through Amazon for much cheaper in bulk bags.
2. Tie pickling spice in a square of cheesecloth, creating a spice bag
3. In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine remaining 8 cups of water, vinegar, remaining 3/4 cup pickling salt, sugar, and spice bag. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve salt and sugar. Reduce heat, cover, and boil gently for 15 minutes, until spices have infused the liquid.
4. Transfer cucumbers to a colander placed over a sink and drain. Rinse with cool running water and drain thoroughly. Pack cucumbers into jars to within a generous 1/2 inch of top of jar. Add 1 tsp mustard seeds, 1.5 fresh dill heads, and 1 clove garlic to each hot jar. Ladle hot pickling liquid into hot jar to cover cucumbers, leaving 1/2 inch of head space. Remove air bubbles and adjust head space, if necessary, by adding more pickling liquid. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.
For quart jars, I doubled the ingredients. Pickling cucumbers are better the smaller they are, but I always end up with quite a few big boys that won’t fit in pint jars. I like to do a mixture of pint and quart jars for dill pickles.
Always leave a 1/2 inch of head space in your jar. If it is too full, it might not seal correctly. Use the magnetic lid thingy (I have no idea what it’s real name is, sorry) to pick up a lid out of the small hot pot and place it down on the jar. This keeps you from burning your fingers, and also keeps your fingers from contaminating the jar with more bacteria. Twist on the bands and use the jar tongs to place the jar in the canner.
5. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool, and store.
Once all jars are in the canner, cover them with water to at least 1 inch of water over the tops, cover, and bring to a boil. Once it is boiling (watch it so you don’t accidentally over-process), set the timer for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, turn off the burner, remove the lid (watch out for steam and splashes! I always use pot holders just in case) and wait five more minutes. Then remove the jars with the canning tongs and set the hot jars on a flat surface with a towel over it to cool for 24 hours.
The sealing process completes during cool-down, and it’s important not to disturb the jars or tip them sideways or anything like that. As the jar cools, it creates a suction that inverts the lid, tightening the seal. You might hear a popping sound as jars invert (I love that part).
Continue on until all dill pickles are processed. One of the biggest challenges for me is the hot jar thing. Keeping the jars hot but still getting them ready to go is a bit of a conundrum. I’ve worked around it by filling jars with the ingredients and putting them in a roasting pan, then pouring hot water in around them several minutes before they are ready to fill with liquid. If you’re an experienced canner and this is a totally bad idea -please let me know. So far no problems, so this is my “assembly-line” work-around.
A friend of mine uses her dishwasher to keep jars hot, which is pretty genius. She keeps them in a hot steam in the dish washer and pulls them out as she is ready to process the next batch. I don’t have a dishwasher, so I’ve never done that.
So there you have it, dill pickles. I find that these make the best Christmas gifts. There is so much sugar and fat going around as gifts during the holidays, that everyone I’ve given these to is totally stoked to get something other than more cookies. After the first year I made these, I got lots of hints the next year that more would be appreciated. And doesn’t everybody like dill pickles?