Pioneer Dad’s Tasty Dill Pickles

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I’ve been experimenting with dill pickle recipes for several years and this one has become my favorite. Pickling is a great way to extend the enjoyment of fresh cucumbers from the garden.

Pioneer Dad prefers Japanese cucumbers for eating fresh or canning as dill pickles. But, when they’re not available Persian cucumbers are the next best choice. Both will make a crunchy, excellent tasting pickle.

Many recipes suggest garlic is an optional ingredient. No way! Garlic is a necessity in this recipe. Wait at least two weeks after canning for all the ingredients to get happy in the jar. Then enjoy the pickles. They will store up to a year and the longer you wait the better they taste.

This recipe differs from most pickling recipes. Instead of using pre-mixed pickling spices a pickling solution is mixed using water, vinegar, sugar and kosher salt. Then, individual spices, dill, bay leaf and a garlic clove are added to each jar. It’s important to note that changing the mix of spices does not change the acidity of the pickling solution.

If the thought of canning 7 quarts seems daunting the recipe is easy to divide in half by reducing the amount of cucumbers, water, vinegar, sugar and kosher salt. Keep the amount of spices, bay leaf, dill and garlic for each jar the same.

For gifts from my garden, I prefer pickling in pint-sized jars.

Total Time: 2 hrs. 45 min.
Prep: 30 min.
Cook: 15 min.
Processing time: 5-10 min.
Yield: about 7 quarts or 14 pints
Level: Moderate

Ingredients

8 pounds small pickling cucumbers
4 cups water
4 cups distilled white vinegar
¾-cup white sugar
½-cup kosher salt
Bay leaves
Mustard seed
Dill seed
Anise seed
7 1-quart canning jars with lids and rings, or 14 pints
7 heads fresh dill (14 if using pint jars)
7 cloves garlic (14 if using pint jars)

Directions

1. Place cucumbers in a large pot and cover with ice cubes. Let them sit for at least 2 to 4 hours. Drain and pat dry.

2. It is important to cut off the blossom end of the cucumbers. These can be a source of bacteria and blossoms may contain an enzyme, which causes excessive softening of pickles. For pickle spears, measure the inside height of the jars (minus the headspace) and cut the cucumbers to this length. Slice the cucumbers lengthwise into four equal spears. For pickle slices, cut the cucumbers into ½ inch slices. Again, it is important to cut off the blossom end of the cucumbers first.Cucumbers_0059

3. Prepare the pickling solution by placing water, vinegar, sugar and pickling salt into a medium size saucepan. Bring to a full boil. Simmer for 3 minutes.Cucumbers_0056

4. Sterilize the jars in boiling water for a minimum of 5 minutes. Do not boil the lids. Instead place them in simmering hot water (180 degrees) to sterilize.

5. Next, put 1 tsp. each of mustard seed, dill seed, bay leaf and anise seed into the hot, sterilized jars. Pack the cucumbers filling the jars to within 1/2 inch of the top. Place one dill head and one clove of garlic into each jar. Pour the hot pickling solution into the jars, filling to within 1/4 inch of the rim. Wipe the rims of the jars with a moist towel to remove all residues. Top with sterile lids and screw rings.Cucumbers_0062

6. Place a rack in the bottom of a water bath canner or large stockpot and fill halfway with water. Bring water to a boil over high heat. Carefully lower the jars into the stockpot using a tongs. Leave one inch of space between the jars. Add more boiling water as needed until the water level is one inch above the tops of the jars. Bring the water to a full boil, cover the pot, and process for 15 minutes. Cucumbers_0065

Remove the jars from the water bath canner or stockpot and place on a cloth-covered or wood surface, several inches apart, until cool. Allow jars to cool for 12 hours before handling. Gently tap the top of each lid with a finger, ensuring that the seal is tight (lid should not move up or down). If any jars have not sealed properly, refrigerate them and eat within two weeks. Store sealed jars in a cool, dark area, and wait at least 2 weeks before eating.

Pickling tips

A dill head is the 3 to 4-inch, umbrella-shaped seed head of a dill plant. If you can’t find fresh dill heads, substitute 1 tsp. dill seeds for each dill head.

Japanese cucumbers or Persian cucumbers are my favorite varieties for pickling. When buying cucumbers make certain they are pickling cucumbers and not a hothouse variety.

Keep cucumbers in the refrigerator until you are ready to can them. Starting with cold cucumbers helps keep the pickles crisp and crunchy.

If this is your first time canning, buy a basic canning kit with jar lifter, funnel and headspace gauge. They are inexpensive usually under $20.00 and will save valuable time over the stove.

It is not necessary to buy a water bath canner. A large stockpot works nicely if sufficiently deep to cover the tops of the jars with several inches of water.

Water bath canners should not be used on glass stovetops. There is a danger of cracking the glass stovetop. Instead, use a portable propane burner outside. They are inexpensive and allow the canning process to be done outdoors instead of heating up the kitchen.

Important food safety tip: The level of acidity in a pickled product is as important to its safety as it is to taste and texture. Do not alter vinegar, vegetable, or water proportions in a recipe or use vinegar with unknown acidity. Use only recipes with tested proportions of ingredients. There must be a minimum, uniform level of acidity throughout the canned product to prevent the growth of botulin bacteria.

Resources

Several of the books that caught my interest in pickling are:

Saving the Season: A Cook’s Guide to Home Canning, Pickling and Preserving a 544 page book by Kevin West about $22.00 on Amazon ISBN-10: 0307599485. This is my favorite book on pickling and home canning.

The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine, 448 pages of tips on pickling, canning and preserving, considered by many to be the Bible on home preservation, available on Amazon ISBN-10: 0778801314 about $14.00 in paperback.

About Bill Washburn

The Pioneer Dad (aka Bill Washburn) is an expert gardener, carpenter and fine art painter who brings his gardening, home brewing and home improvement expertise to the web.

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