Tuesday, August 29, 2006

In A Pickle

dill pickles

This week I have been caught off guard thinking it was still summer. Which, of course, it is and will be for another three weeks or so, but around here you can't take these things for granted. Doing so can be a dangerous mistake, since in the blink of an eye, depending on the year, the cucumbers can disappear. Same with the tomatoes. "But I'm not ready yet," does nothing to change the inevitable, Sweetie.

In my mind, summer's not summer without making some dill pickles. They're so satisfying, and so much tastier than your supermarket-issue brands, and they're really very easy to prepare. So go ahead and whip up a batch of dill pickles before it's too late. You can deal with the sweet pickles tomorrow, tomatoes on the weekend.

I bought my cucumbers in a moment of panic last weekend at the market ("It's already the end of August?") and was ready to pickle them when I realised I was missing a key ingredient: pickling spice. I thought about running to the store and buying some but then it occurred to me I could whip up my own batch using Phillipe de Vienne's amazing spices. What I concocted was leagues better than the usual bland pickling spice which has been sitting on the shelf for God knows how long, but boy, was it strong. I will let you know how it turns out in a few weeks.

The following is the basic dill pickles recipe I've been using for the last few years. I give it my personal touch by making some extra spicy, with the addition of some hot chiles, some extra garlicky.

Dill Pickles

pickling cucumbers *
head of dill, divided into small bunches
garlic cloves, peeled
pickling spice
pickling salt
5 % vinegar mixed with an equal part water
1 liter canning jars with lids

* I washed my cucumbers and placed them on ice for a few hours, having heard that this produces crunchier pickles.

Sterilise the canning jars and place the snap lids in a small pot of hot water. Bring the vinegar mixture to a boil and keep it simmering while you load up the jars. Take the jars, one at a time, and add the following to each: 1 bunch dill, 1 clove garlic, 1 tsp. pickling spice, 1 Tbsp. pickling salt, enough cucumbers to fill the jar, and vinegar mixture to cover cucumbers. Close the jars and either hot water process them 15 min. or let them sit on the counter overnight. Check the seals and store any unsealed jars in the fridge. Keep at least 3 weeks before opening or the pickles will be too vinegary.

Pickling Spice

mustard seeds
coriander seeds
cinnamon stick
juniper berries
dill seeds
black peppercorns
bay leaves
dried chiles

It goes without saying that there are countless variations: more garlic and/or hot peppers, as mentioned above, different spices, ginger, half-sour... If anyone out there has a prize-winning dill pickle recipe that they wouldn't mind sharing, please let me know.



Mark Slutsky said...

Might say you're a real dill-etante.

Alexis in Ottawa said...

Your reccipe is very close to the one I use. My Mom (who got her recipe from the old country) always insisted that I should include the following items too: dried cherry stems and berry leaves; why? She couldn't explain but swore it made for great pickles (these days I use vine leaves as berry leaves are a bit harder to find downtown!)
I'm ... ahem ... on my third pickle run already this month! They're so popular with my family & friends that I can't keep up with the demand!

alexwery@hotmail.com said...


I'm interested in your proposition that you can just leave the jar overnight and still get a seal. I am guessing that this would result in much crunchier pickles than giving the hot water treatment... but will the jar still be sterile? Basically, is there a disadvantage to letting them rest overnight?

Anonymous said...

I've been noticing enticing baskets of little gherkins at the market that seem perfect for becoming cornichons. Any idea on how to achieve this feat? I keep thinking of those gorgeous jars of 'em you get at L'Express.

michelle said...

Hi there, thanks for your tips. Alexis, your pickles sounds amazing. I will definitely add cherry stems next time. I have heard of adding grape leaves and am intrigued.

Alexwery, about the procedure, I sterilise both the jars and the lids when I leave them overnight, and the liquid I use is hot, thereby creating a seal as it cools. It is very important that the liquid you use is hot, and that you close the jars right away. I have never failed to get a seal, and it's sterile. I can't vouch 100% that the pickles will be crunchier, but that is the reason I switched methods in the first place. The only "disadvantage" to the overnight method is it's not the North American way, which is the hot water treatment. I find it unecessary, especially when you are dealing with vegetables and vinegar. Good luck.

michelle said...

Hi Anonymous, I would urge you to buy those little cucumbers and pickle as many of them as you can--it's the same procedure as for regular ones. At Quincaillerie Dante they even have those nice Italian clasp-style jars, perfect for pickles. You can add a touch of sweetness by adding sugar to the mix. Good luck.