16 July 2014

Super Sour Dill Pickle Recipe

I freaking love pickles. On chicken sandwiches. On overly-burned hot dogs. Straight out of the jar for an afternoon snack. So when I learned to make my own pickles, I felt like I was unstoppable.

Except, the first few jars of pickles I made were soft and limp. And if you're averse to creepy food textures like me, I didn't want to have anything to do with these unsatisfying salty treats. Hadn't I followed all the canning instructions? Yes. Didn't I look into using pickling lime and crisping pellets? Sure. But that felt about as natural as the food dyes they put in Vlasic dill chips.

That's right. They dye them that color.

I started looking for pickles that contained more natural ingredients and fell in love with Claussen. They still had a couple of ingredients I questioned (high fructose corn syrup??? IN PICKLES?), but they preserve their cukes differently: cold processing. No heating their produce.

I looked into copycat recipes for cold processing and found this one from Foodie with Family. It was a good start, but of course, I had to tweak it to my liking. I wanted my pickles to be sour enough that your mouth puckers with each bite. Foodie's recipe just didn't use enough vinegar for that.

So here's my process for making super sour dill pickles:

craploads of cucumbers
1/2 gallon apple cider vinegar
1/2 gallon water
2/3 cup Kosher salt or canning/pickling salt (DO NOT USE IODIZED SALT)
fresh dill sprigs (NO DRIED DILL WEED)
whole garlic cloves (preferably smashed)
fresh onion, cut into quarter rings
dill seed
pickling spices (I sometimes leave these out)

Some folks hate the fact that I don't always use exact measurements. But one of the cold hard facts about harvesting from your own garden is that you don't almost end up with the exact number of pieces of produce that a recipe calls for.  After a heavy rain, you might walk in with 40 gorgeously fat cukes. When you have long stretches of heat without a drop of precipitation, you might bring in a handful of short and oddly-shaped cukes. So to prepare for canning anywhere from 2 to 20 pints, I just make a gallon of pickling brine (vinegar, water, and salt) when making a batch of pickles, and whatever is left over gets stored in our fridge until the next time I need it.

Wash and cut your cukes to your liking. When I made a batch with my 13 year-old neighbor, we decided to make a "scrap" jar because so many cukes were weirdly shaped. It contained odd hunks, half slices, and whole baby cukes all in the same jar. Very fun.

If you believe cold-soaking cukes helps keep them crispy, you can put them in an ice water bath while you do the rest of the prep.

Make sure your jars, lids, and bands are clean and sterilized just before you start putting stuff in each one. Either run them through the dishwasher or clean them in hot, soapy water. Set them open-end up (lids, too) on a cooling rack.

Here's where you get to experiment. Add as much of the garlic, onion, fresh dill, dill seed, and pickling spices as you like TO EACH JAR! Think I'm crazy? Well, I am, but it's what makes the process fun and different each session. If you want some sort of "standard," though, here's a good baseline for each jar: 2 cloves garlic, 1 sprig fresh dill, several pieces of onion, 1-2 tsp dill seed, 1 tbsp pickling spices. I'm not a huge fan of the pickling spices, and I don't always have fresh dill. So at the very least, try to use the garlic, onion, and dill seed.

Pack each jar with the cut cukes to the top, pour the brine over them until the jars are almost full, and cover with a lid and band. Don't forget the date on top. They're supposed to be good for only a month, but we've had a couple of jars make it a year. Vinegar is a hell of a preservative. Let them cure on your counter until you open them, and then store them in your electric cold box.


Are these super sour pickles any good? Well, one friend ate an entire pint within 5 hours of me giving it to her. She even sent a photo of the empty jar with a request for another. A co-worker took a pint home to his family, only getting the chance to eat one spear before his step-daughter tore through the rest. He was pretty mad he didn't get to eat more.

As for Nerd? Our tot will put on her best polite act to get her hands on a jar from the fridge.

And as you can see from this recipe, there are no dyes or lime. Not for this pickling hippie. Take that, Vlasic.

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