by Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz –
After several years of extreme summer heat and drought, this year we decided to give the cucumbers the most fertile spot in the garden and trained them to climb a 10 foot tall trellis. Before they ever reached the top (and crawled on to the roof of the house!), they were producing an abundance of fruits. Needless to say, we have had to come up with quite a few novel ways to prepare cucumbers, but nothing beats a classic crunchy dill pickle for long-term satisfaction. In this week’s Show Me Oz, I’ll share a few pickling tips and tricks and the easiest, most laid back pickle recipe ever!
The following recipe is very simple and can easily be adjusted to suit your taste. Feel free to increase the amount of sugar, vinegar or spices. I like to use this basic recipe to make sweet pickles, hot and spicy pickles and curry pickles to name a few. But before you start tweaking this (or any other) pickle recipe, here are a few tips for ensuring safe, attractive and flavorful pickles.
When making the brine for refrigerator or “quick-style pickles”, keep in mind that every quart jar (there are 4 quarts to a gallon) must contain at least 1/2 cup of vinegar (5-6% acidity).
- Too much vinegar and your pickles might shrivel.
- Too little vinegar and pickles turn soft or mushy.
- White sugar makes pickles firm. Too much sugar can shrivel pickles.
- Brown sugar and apple cider vinegar can turn pickles dark.
- Honey can be substituted for white sugar cup for cup.
- Hard water (mineralized with iron or lime) makes pickles dark, limp and mushy and clouds the brine. And when hard water is boiled hard (like you do when you make a brine), the mineral content rises. Use distilled water if possible.
- Only use canning, kosher, or pure sea salt to make pickles. Never use rock salt or ice cream salt.
- Table salt can be used for pickles, particularly the quick-method type. However, table salt it is iodized and contains anti-caking additives that turn pickles dark and makes the brine cloudy. Iodized salt may also prevent fermentation for those wishing to ferment.
- If you don’t want seeds or garlic floating around in the brine, tie them up in cheesecloth before adding to hot syrup. For gallon pickles, the spice ball can be added to the jar and removed after pickles reach the desired flavor.
- If your brine is too tart add sugar or a little water (but be sure to maintain the acidity level!)
- If your brine is too sweet, add more vinegar and water.
- If your brine is too salty, remove one cup of brine and replace with a cup of 50/50 water and vinegar. Do this until the salty taste is reduced.
Before we jump into the recipe, you might notice that my Easy Refrigerator Pickle recipe uses less water than most. That’s because I don’t pre-soak the raw cucumbers in brine, salt, or sugar, which pulls excess water from the cucumbers before pickling (and takes a lot of extra time that I don’t have!). With this recipe, the water is reduced because the natural water in the fruit winds up in the brine during the pickling process. With that said, feel free to add more sugar, more vinegar, or different spices to the pickling brine to suit your taste.
Easy Gallon-Jar Refrigerator Pickles
4 c. white or apple cider vinegar (5-6% acidity)
2 c. distilled water
1/4 c. kosher, canning or sea salt
1/2 c. white sugar
4 medium wild or cultivated grape leaves
2 tsp. dill seed
1 tsp. mustard seed
1 tsp. celery seed
4 tbs. fresh minced garlic or 7 toes whole cracked garlic
2 large fresh dill heads or about 18 dill “florets”
1 medium onion, quartered
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and halved
1 – one-gallon glass jar (or 4 quart jars)
Measure the vinegar, water, salt and sugar into a large stainless steel pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir until sugar and salt are completely dissolved. Add the grape leaves and dry seeds and steep covered for 10 minutes. Add the garlic, onion, jalapeno and fresh dill heads and cover until cool. Be sure to taste the brine after it has steeped for a while. It will be strong, but it should taste good. Adjust spices until it suits your taste.
Meanwhile, wash your jar(s) in very hot water or sterilize by filling with boiling water and allowing to stand until ready to fill with brine. Wash and drain cucumbers. Cut 1/4” off of the blossom end of each cucumber and either leave whole or cut into spears, slices, or chunks.
Fish the grape leaves out of the cooled brine and put them all in the bottom of the gallon jar. If using quart jars, put one grape leaf in each jar. Pack the prepared cucumbers into the jar. If you have a lot of cucumbers, pack them as tightly as possible. For quart jars – pack one jar at a time until cucumbers are used up.
Add just enough cooled brine to the jar to cover the cucumbers. If you are starting with only a few cucumbers, add just enough brine to make them float. Cap the jar and store in the refrigerator. Reserve the remaining brine in one or more clean empty jars and store in the refrigerator as well. As you add more cucumbers to the pickle jar, add just enough fresh brine to cover. Be sure to push the fresh cucumbers down into the brine so they are covered. If you put all of the brine into the jar at once without having a full jar of cucumbers to go with it, the first ones will absorb all the salt and be very strong-tasting and the last ones will be bland.
As the jar fills, add additional brine as necessary to keep the cucumbers covered and to keep the acidity level high enough to prevent fermentation. After each addition of cucumbers and brine, put the cap on the jar and turn it upside down a couple of times and return the jar to the refrigerator. Pickles can be eaten at any time, but it’s best to wait at least one week after the last addition of cucumbers. If kept in the refrigerator, these pickles will keep for six months or more.
I think you will find that this recipe makes a wonderfully dilly, but not overpowering pickle that is both crunchy and spicy. If you decide to try it or amend it, I’d love to hear how it worked for you! Until then, happy pickling!
If you like this easy recipe, check out our recipe for
© 2014 Jill Henderson Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.
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Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.