Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Pickle Primer, Part One

It's Cucumber Pickle Season!

There's something so particular and delicious about the smell of vinegar and garlic hanging in the air.  I feel all nostalgic, which doesn't exactly make sense considering my mom didn't make pickles or even do any sort of canning.  It must be hard-wired into me, possibly a component of my love of summer.

I started making pickles 3 years ago.  First, a teeny bit of background. When Ellis was about six months old, I joined this awesome hippie mama collective filled with amazing women.  We'd hang out wearing our babies in their cloth diapers (or no diapers) and talk about the pros and cons of this or that form of composting or whatever.  We'd drink wine and knit and dream of a hippie farm with all of the benefits of city life.

Here's where pickles enter the story.  We were having a big park play date picnics with kids and crazy and yummy food.  One friend, we'll call her Vanessa M, brought a mason jar of pickles.  Pickles she had made herself.  What?!?  Who ever heard of such a thing?  They were fabulous.  I'm sure I ate half the jar all on my own.  My family did not go in for pickling or preserving, and despite my hippie tendencies, I had not yet run into the cult of food preservation and canning.  That jar of pickles changed everything.  It was a whole new world.

Vanessa gave me her pickle "recipe".  It was the sort of recipe that was right up my alley.  It was more a general roadmap of refrigerator pickles, an idea of what it was to make them.  So I started with her recipe and changed it and tried new things.  I made a boat load of pickles. What a revelation.

Even better, I gave my pickles to friends and they loved them.  I was so proud.  Over the years, I've changed and refined my recipe.  It's still sort of vague and requires some finnesse on the part of the pickler.  But I'll spill my secrets here.  (Please note:  These instructions are for refrigerator pickles only.  For canning, please use a road-tested, USDA approved recipe.  Otherwise, you're taking a big risk.)

Here's my basic recipe.  The spice amounts are the least I'd use.  Feel free to bump it up as seems appropriate to your family.

Jen's Garlic Dill Fridge Pickles

5-ish lbs. pickling cucumbers, sliced, ends discarded
4 cups white vinegar, preferably Heinz or better
2 cups water
1/2 cup kosher or pickling salt
lots of cloves of garlic, peeled
6-ish tsp. dill seeds or 1 big sprig fresh dill
6-ish tsp. whole peppercorns
6-ish tsp. celery seed
1 tsp. brown mustard seed
optional:  crushed red pepper, whole dried peppers, other spices that you like

Wash cucumbers and cut off the end.  Slice into coins or spears.
Mix vinegar, water and salt into a large bowl or jar.
Fill 6 or so pint or quart jars with cucumbers and 3-6 cloves garlic, to taste.
Per quart jar, put 1 tsp. dill seeds, whole peppercorns, celery seed, and mustard seed.  If using pint jars, use 3/4 tsp. of each.
If using optional spices, add to taste.
Fill jars with brine, leaving 1/4 inch head space.
Cover and refrigerate at least 24 hours before eating, if you can wait that long.
Will last 3-6 weeks in the fridge.

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