I’ve always loved pickles since I was a kid and thought it was fascinating when I learned (at a young age) they actually came from cucumbers. At the time, I didn’t like cucumbers at all but I loved pickles, and I thought it was curious something I like could be made from something I didn’t like so much. Well nowadays, I like both cucumbers and pickles but I would probably lean slightly towards pickles if I had to choose. I love to try new things in the kitchen and I’ve wanted to make homemade pickles for about two years. In theory, they aren’t terribly hard to make if you follow the instructions and you aren’t doing old school fermented pickles.
I read up a lot on pickling before I decided to do this. One of the biggest considerations when you are considering pickling or preserving any type of food for long term storage at room temperature is taking safety really seriously. When you’re storing food for a long time at room temperature, you have to be extremely careful to remove any bacteria from the process and keep bacteria from growing in the finished canned goods.
Dill seed was hard to find at first and sometimes mason jars can be thought too depending on the time of year. Keep in mind the band and jar can be reused but the lid should not because it can only be sealed once. The Kroger and Publix in our area keep a variety of mason jars and canning supplies on hand year round. You also need to make sure you use a pure salt that doesn’t have any additives or an anti-caking agent because they can effect the color of the brine solution in the jars. I used kosher salt but they make pickling salt for this too.
You can sanitize the jars by washing them with soap and water first and then bringing them to boil in the pot you plan to do the water bath in. Once the jars come to a boil you can turn down the heat and add the bands and lids once the water is at a simmer (or you can do the bands and lids in a separate pot for convenience). The water should stay right below a simmer until you are ready to use the jars. You can alternatively use the sanitize cycle in your dishwasher if you plan ahead. Lids should not be put in the dishwasher as this can keep them from sealing correctly later.
When your making pickles, you can’t use regular cucumbers. You need to look for pickling cucumbers or some stores call them salad cucumbers. You should look for cucumbers that are dark green and warty. Whenever canning anything you should use the items quickly after purchasing so you are preserving a ripe and fresh product. I usually cut them several different ways so I have a variety of pickle styles to eat.
There are several different spice combinations you can use when making pickles. I did a slight twist on Dill Pickles using dill seed, kosher salt, a crushed garlic clove, red pepper flakes, whole black peppercorns, and a jalapeño slice. The jalapeño added a little hotness as well as some sweetness. You can tweak the spices to your individual preferences or you can just pickup pickling spices for the flavor you want in the canning section of your local store. The jars should be pulled out right as you are ready to use them. You should pack them and take care to make sure the cucumbers don’t come up much beyond the shoulders of the jars so they will be covered by the brine.
The part that actually pickles the cucumbers is the vinegar brine. I used a brine solution with apple cider vinegar but you can use regular white vinegar as well. The brine solution should be really hot when you pour it over the jars so the glass temperature doesn’t vary too much during the process to avoid breaking. The rims should be wiped with a damp rag and then the lid and band put on.
The jars should be returned to the water bath with at least an inch of water covering them. If the jars we’re sanitized in the dishwasher, the water should be warmed first before adding jars. The pot should be brought to a rolling boil, and then processed for 5 minutes. The water bath should be at a rolling boil during the entire processing time.
After processing, remove the jars and set them on a towel spaced sufficiently apart to cool down. Once they have cooled enough to touch, you should loosen the bands slightly to prevent trapped moisture from rusting in between the band and lid. The lids should all pull down after processing. You can check this by pushing down on the lids. If they pop back up, they haven’t sealed properly and should be put in the fridge and used first. If the lids pulled down, they are sealed properly and can be stored for up to a year before using. Once you open a jar it should be refrigerated and used within several weeks.
Spicy Dill Pickles Recipe
Yields six pint jars
- 3 to 4 lbs. pickling cucumbers
- 3 cups apple cider vinegar
- 3 cups water
- 4.5 Tablespoons kosher salt
- 6 medium sized garlic cloves, peeled
- 6 teaspoons dill seed
- 3 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
- 6 pinches red pepper flakes
- 1 jalapeño
- Water Bath Canner or Large Stock Pot that can cover jars with inch of water
- Jar Grabber for lifting jars out of hot water
- Pint Jars with new lids
- Sanitize the jars in a massive pot by bringing water to a rolling boil. Reduce heat and once at a simmer, add lids and bands to water. Keep jars in hot water until ready to pack and process. You can also sanitize the jars with the dishwasher sanitize cycle method.
- Wash the cucumbers off really well and cut according to your preference. Make sure to cut off the blossom end as this can soften the pickles later on. Crush each garlic clove with the side of a knife so it opens up but is not completely flattened. Slice jalapeño and remove the seeds if desired.
- Add the vinegar, water, and salt to a pot and bring to a boil. Keep the brine very hot until ready to pour into jars.
- Remove jars from the water bath. For each jar, add one crushed garlic clove, one teaspoon dill seed, 1/2 teaspoon peppercorns, pinch of red pepper flakes, and a slice or two of the jalapeño. Pack the cucumbers into the jars tightly but not too tightly. Make sure to leave 1/2 inch space at the top of jar so the brine will cover the cucumbers completely.
- Using funnel, pour brine into jars leaving 1/2 inch space. Wipe the mouth of each jar with a damp cloth and seal with lid and band. Don’t over tighten the band.
- Place each jar back into the water bath and bring pot to a rolling boil. Once brought to a rolling boil, the jars should remain under the boil for five minutes.
- Remove the jars from the water bath and lay out to dry on a kitchen towel. The jars should be spaced out well so they have room to independently cool.
- Once cool enough to touch, loosen the bands to avoid trapped moisture from starting to rust. Check jars to ensure the lids pop down meaning they are sealed correctly. If not popped down, refrigerate after cooling and use first.
- Sealed jars will keep for up to a year on the shelf. After opening, jars should be refrigerated and used within several weeks.
These links were a great resource for this project. I based my recipe on the first two links and added some additional ingredients. The third link provides some handy information on sterilizing mason jars.