Food for Architects

The Alchemy of Dill Pickles

I bet that you have been tempted by those small kirby cucumbers that you see in the farmer’s market. Huge piles of them, mounded up, covered in a fine coat of dust, knobbly and oddly shaped. Tempted, but perhaps a bit puzzled on how to deal with them seeing as no one you know puts up their own pickles? Transforming a glut of veg into something savory and delicious, something that will remind you of hot summer days, is easier than you think. The dill pickles that I make are not the whim of the moment lacto-fermented type of pickle but rather old school garlicky-dill-salt and white vinegar brined pickles. Eating these pickles bring me memories of my mom making pickles in the small town where I grew up. I know she got the recipe from a neighbour…or was it a friend. She had no prior experience or family history of putting up pickles, but she managed it anyhow. And you can too, preserving your own pickles says to people that yes you are competent in the kitchen. Don’t bother with refrigerator pickles which take up real estate in your fridge, these real old school pickles will keep in your pantry for a year.

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So go ahead and buy the kirby cucumbers from the market and buy the dill there too. Don’t waste your time with limp leafy dill or dried dill seeds, those are for commercial operations. You want the over-sized bunches of seedy dill right next to the cucumbers. That’s the type of dill to use and sometimes the farmer will even give it to you for free when you buy cucumbers from them. Use the intensely perfumed springy seed heads. Secondly buy good garlic, not the dried out garlic from China, and not the large elephant garlic which has little flavor. Use local garlic.


Make these pickles on hot summer day. Bottle summer for later. Open a jar of pickles and remember days of going outside without a heavy winter coat. In a country which has 8 months of winter, and some years 10 months of winter summer is something to be savored. Pickles can be for hard times  as well as for burgers and grilled cheese sandwiches. In fact I even discovered that there is such thing as dill pickle soup. I saw it on the menu of a small town restaurant ahead of the huckleberry pie. Once upon a time in the dusty prairie settler days, but perhaps not so much now, people used to make dill pickle soup in the winter. I can imagine the resourcefulness of old time settlers when it was cold and snowy outside with -30C weather and all they had were potatoes in the root cellar and jars of pickles in the pantry. It’s a soup that I’ve not made yet but am curious to try. I haven’t decided if it will be strange or delicious.

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Here are a few notes for pickles. Now that you have the correct ingredients the rest is a snap. I recommend reviewing the basic pickling method from a canning website or a government website just to make sure your pickles will be properly preserved. I found an old government pamphlet in my mom’s stash of recipes. Back then the government cared about such important matters as proper pickling protocol and distributed pamphlets about it. Anyway here’s my recipe!

Dill Pickles *

Makes 8 quart jars

For Each 1 quart jar
2 dill seed heads
3 cloves garlic

12 cups water
4 cups white vinegar (5% acetic acid)
2/3 cups pickling salt (sold next to the regular salt)

8 lbs kirby cucumbers, washed 3 times to get rid of dirt

First wash all your jars with soap and water. Next sterilize your jars. I like to put them in a 275F oven for 20 minutes then let them cool down a bit so that I can handle them. Meanwhile add all your brine ingredients to a large pot and bring to a boil. Next Sterilize your lids by placing them in a pot of just boiled water, and leave them in the hot water until needed.

Now you are ready to pack the pickles. Start packing jars with with 1 dill seed head and 2 cloves of garlic in each jar. Then pack each jar tightly with the super clean cucumbers making sure to leave at least 1 cm of free space at the top. Then stuff in another garlic clove and dill seed head in each jar.

While the jars are still warm, pour over the boiling brine leaving 1 cm of space at the top and put on the hot lids and rings. Watch the cucumbers turn from fresh bright green, to vivid electric green, to somber pickle green. The garlic might even turn a greenish blueish tinge, don’t panic and throw the lot out, this is safe to eat too. Leave these jars undisturbed for 24 hours. The next day check that the lids have all gone down tightly. Refrigerate any jar that has not sealed and eat those first. I like to let the pickles cure for 6 weeks before eating.


This entry was published on July 24, 2014 at 9:30 pm and is filed under process, Recipes. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

One thought on “The Alchemy of Dill Pickles

  1. Charlie Zinkan on said:

    We were visiting Stu & Anne last evening and the conversation turned to gardening and pickling. Anne linked me to your blog. Each year I challenge my gardening/food storage knowledge with some challenges and this year it was mushrooms (Heard inspired), fermented pickles and vinegar base pickles (in search of the right amount of vinegar).

    I read your blog about the pickles and, next year, will make some with your recipe to challenge some of my new found pickled fermented recipes.

    The Kootenay climate is warm enough for some table grapes. A friend told me that adding grape leaves to bottom of the jar and then at top will make pickles more crispy and the leaves on top keep the pickles submerged in the jar – a natural alternative to old fashion alum.

    When are this way, consider a visit. I have been struggling with the idea of a sustainable/efficient vegetable gardening bog and look forward to meeting you again.

    Charlie Z

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