Late summer, my mother has one mission: homemade pickles. Mom knows that soon it will be hard come by the tall stems of dill and bushels of Colorado cucumbers, she needs to make her famous dill pickles. And the coming months require lots of the crunchy, salty snack.
Ever since my sister and I were young, winters have been about dill pickles. Growing up, on cold school nights, Mom made hearty Polish suppers of pork chops, cream sauce, and pickles. She wanted to teach us our ancestry—and gain some points with her Polish-American husband. For ski weekends, Mom packed pickles, along with ham and cheese on rye. She stuffed our Christmas stockings with dill-filled Mason jars.
While those moments are now memories, Mom’s pickle tradition is not. It continues each year, Mom making pickles for the rest of the family. Or at least that was true, until last year. In the final weekends of August 2009, Mom did what she always does. She called the Greek grocer and put in an order for miniature cucumbers. She collected jars from her neighbors. She bought vinegar in amounts that only professional chefs use.
The difference was that across town, my friend Hannah and I did the same. We also called the Greek grocer, bought too much vinegar, and spent a long, happy Sunday washing dirt from small cucumbers, packing them into hot jars, along with sweet dill and garlic, and dousing them in salty brine. Like my mom, we wanted pickles for holiday gifts, ski weekends, and winter suppers.
Hannah quickly shared her pickles with family and friends. Her in-laws declared them the best they’d ever eaten. They wanted more. They put in an order for Rosh Hashanah. I saved mine for the colder months, and when I gave them out as holiday gifts, my childhood friends smiled. They knew these pickles. They’d had them before—and I imagined that they, like me, would snack on them, with thick slices of cheddar cheese and hard-boiled eggs.
That was a year ago. Now, we are into full September 2010. So last week, Hannah and I took stock of our pantries. No pickles left. Hannah had an order for the Jewish High Holidays—and the Colorado days were growing shorter and colder. So we called up the Greek grocer and put in a cucumber order—twice as large as the year before.
Makes about 9 quarts
When my friend Hannah and I make pickles, we make lots of them. (This year we made 80 jars.) In order to do so many in one day, we cheat and use a hot oven instead of a canning bath to seal our jars. This is a more risky method (not all your jars seal every time), but it makes canning a much quicker process, so that you can get to the real joy of the day—simple, crispy pickles.
9 quart canning jars with seals and rims
16 cups distilled water
4 cups white vinegar
1 cup kosher salt
75 pickling cucumbers, washed and blossom tips removed*
18 cloves garlic, peeled
9 sprigs of dill, washed and dried
*The blossom tip is the end of the cucumber where the flower grows. Usually, this end is a lighter green hue and is marked with a small, brown circle. Once cucumbers are trimmed, keep them in an ice water bath.
Remove lids and seals from jars, and pass jars through a cycle in the dishwasher. This will sterilize the jars.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. When jars are done in the dishwasher, transfer them to the oven.
Place the rims and seals in a bath of boiling water.
In a large pot, bring distilled water, vinegar, and salt to a boil to make brine. Stir occasionally, until the salt has dissolved.
Using a dry towel, remove a jar from the oven. (I recommend working with one jar at a time, unless you have people helping you.) Drop in two cloves of garlic and a sprig of dill. Pack jar with cucumbers, starting with larger cucumbers on the bottom and finishing with smaller ones.
Using a funnel and ladle, fill the jar with brine, leaving an 1/8-inch empty space at the top. Wipe the rim of the jar with a damp cloth to remove splattered brine. Then wipe it with a dry cloth. Remove one lid and one seal from boiling water bath. Dry thoroughly. Place lid on jar, and screw on rim. Let sit overnight, without disturbing. When the lid pops, the jar has sealed.
Store jars in dry place, away from sunlight, and pickles will last for about a year.
For printable recipe, click here.