Sunday, July 24, 2011

Dill Pickles!!

It's pickle time again! 

Canning dill pickles is one of the easiest and foolproof recipes around - second to canning tomatoes probably (which are insanely easy).

You don't need much - dill, garlic, canning salt, white vinegar, water and cucumbers - pickling cucumbers work best as they are made to be "ready" when they're little and stand up well to the heat needed for canning. I prefer to use wide-mouth canning jars for pickles, it's easier to get the pickles out. To determine how many jars you need, pack the cucumbers into the jars before doing anything. However many jars it takes to get them all in is how many you need

To make the brine for 3 quarts of pickles, use 5 cups of water, 1 1/3 cups of vinegar and 1/3 cup of salt.  Keep those ratios if you're making more or less.

First step I do is to soak the cucumbers overnight or for a few hours in ice water - just keep adding ice to keep them super cold. I don't know why this helps, but they seem to be nice and crunchy crisp when you eat them. Some recipes use alum to keep the crispness, but I prefer to avoid that. Many premade pickle mixes use alum and other stuff, read the ingredients. Besides, making from scratch is just as easy.

 Make sure you get your jars ready. Make sure you have new lids - the lids should not be reused, but the rings can be used over and over. Just check them for rust and dents. Check the rims of the jars for any cracks or chips - if there are any, don't use that jar. Wash them well with hot soapy water and rinse thoroughly. If you have a dishwasher, you can run them through that.

 I didn't get around to planting dill, but many grocery stores will carry dill or baby dill fresh in the herbs section of the produce area. For three quarts, I used one and a half packs of dill. I like dill. If you have plants, you can use the leafy fronds and the flower heads. The garlic I purchased was HUGE, and I used two cloves per jar. If it's smaller garlic, you can use more. Peel the skin off the garlic.

 Get the water bath ready. I got this from some people who sold me a ton of jars, but you can find these all over at garage sales, or buy them new. I don't know how many quarts mine is, but it's big. Some people say you can't waterbath on ceramic top stoves, apparently some don't get hot enough, or there is concern the waterbath will break it. My stove cost me a whopping $50, so if it breaks, well, I'm not out much. I've canned on it for a few years now, with no issues. Just be gentle setting the pot on there. I fill it to about 5" from the top - it's easier to add water than to scoop out boiling water once you get the jars in. Set it to go on high heat.
Put your lids in a small pot with water and bring to a boil to clean those too. The heat also makes the lids seal better.
Measure out your salt, water and vinegar. Canning salt does not have iodine like table salt - be sure to use only canning salt, not table salt. There's nothing special about white vinegar, but if you do a lot of pickles, it makes more sense to buy jugs of it.

Bring the salt, water and vinegar to a boil, and while it's heating up, pack your cucumbers.
  Prep your jars - I put a few bunches of dill in and one of the cloves of garlic in each. There is no real rhyme or reason to how much is needed, just toss it in there.
 Pack the cucumbers in.
Put a few more bunches of dill in and the other clove of garlic.
 Top view.

Canning funnels are SUPER nice to have - they are cheap, but they are heat resistant and make canning anything hot much easier. You can find them in the canning section of most stores.
 Fill the jars up to about 1/2" from the top with the boiling brine.Wipe the rim of the jar off gently with a paper towel to make sure there isn't any extra stuff that stuck to it that might interfere with the seal.

 Put the lids on and screw the rings on so they are snug, but not super tight. Put them in the waterbath that should be close to boiling or boiling, and add enough water so the lids are under about 1" of water. Once the water is boiling again, put the lid on the waterbath and set a timer for 15 minutes.

Gently take them out of the water bath and place on a towel on the counter. They are HOT. You can wipe the water off with a cloth around them. Just let them cool off naturally, and after a while you'll hear them "pop" and the lid will dent in. This means they sealed, and are ready to sit. You'll want to put them in a cool dark place for about 8 WEEKS - yes, that long. It will be worth it! They will last for about a year as long as the lid is sealed. Refrigerate after opening them and eat them within a few days or whatnot.
If they don't "pop", go ahead and recheck the rim of the jar and reprocess in the waterbath