Whoa! Three inches of rain over the past week. And generally cool weather, its been like a surreal extended spring. The heat and the sun are back upon us, but in the meantime the garden is exploding with fruit. Today I could barely carry in the cucumbers and zucchini in one trip. So its time to make some pickles.
I have always loved a cool, crisp dill pickle. On burgers, yes, on a fried chicken sandwich definitely, and also straight out of the jar. I’m not a huge fan of bread and butter pickles or sweet pickles, not a fan of relish. But, dill pickles! (swoon!)
I used to drink pickle juice as a kid, but not anymore as I’ve now reached the age where I’m supposed to worry about blood pressure and ankle swelling. (sigh.) I feel slightly more virtuous eating a pickle, after all, its *fruit, right?*
So these pickles can be made with either cucumber or zucchini squash, or a mixture of both. Smaller fruits tend to make crisper pickles, and zucchini actually stay firm and crisp longer than you’d expect. Pickling cukes are ideal, slicers tend to get softer quicker. Pickling salt is necessary, as regular iodized salt will make the brine cloudy and not as pretty. Dill seed is essential: that’s where the flavor is. Fresh sprigs will offer a mild dill flavor, and seed heads are always a great addition to the jar, but the seeds deliver that *punch* of dill that you’ll be looking for. Feel free to adjust your spices as desired, but don’t mess with the vinegar/water ratio, you need it to be a certain level of acidity to properly preserve your pickles.
Garden Fresh Dill Pickles
(makes 3-4 quarts)
10-15 pickling cucumbers or smallish zucchini.
1/2 c pickling salt
6 cups white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
6 cups water
6 Tbsp dill seeds
3 dried hot chili peppers
6 cloves garlic, peeled
3 tbsp mustard seeds
3 tsp black peppercorns
Celery seed, turmeric, tarragon to taste.
12-ish hours before:
Scrub cucumbers and/or zucchini with cool water and soft cloth or vegetable brush. Cut 1/16″ off of blossom end of fruit. The blossom end contains enzymes that can cause the pickles to go soft, so you don’t want that ruining the fun.
Obtain large crock or stockpot, and layer ice cubes in the bottom, layering fruit on top of the ice, and topping with ice, then another layer of cucumbers/zucchini. Mix the pickling salt in to 4 cups of water and stir to dissolve, pouring over your fruit/ice mixture. Weigh these down in the salt water with another heavy pan and allow these to brine for at least 6-12 hours in the refrigerator or in a cool location.
Meanwhile, prepare your jars, lids, and rings by inspecting them for damage and then washing intact supplies with hot soapy water and allowing to dry.
When you are ready to make the pickles, you’re going to dissolve the sugar in vinegar with 6 c of water and bring to a boil in large stockpot. Mix the dry spices of choice together and add to the solution, reduce heat to a simmer. Prepare your boiling water bath and heat your rings and jars. Add the pickles to the vinegar solution and allow to boil for 5 minutes. Hot pack your pickles into the hot jars, fairly tightly, using tongs. Top off with pickling liquid, distributing spices as evenly as possible, leaving 1/2″ of headspace.
Wipe the rims and threads of the jars well and apply clean new lids to the jars, pressing firmly. Add rings fingertip tight and submerge in boiling water bath. Process quart jars 15 minutes, then allow to rest for 5 before removing to cool. Ping, ping! Hear them snap and seal that goodness in for late summer cookouts and fall picnics. Pickles are best after about 6 weeks, but try waiting that long! I double dog dare you.
And finally, a little pickling humor: