Easy, No-Waste, Homemade Dill Pickles

So maybe you planted some cucumbers and now you’re realizing how many cukes those vines can churn out in a season and you’re wondering what the heck to do with them all.  Once again, I’m here to help!

20190727_171049(All links open a new page, so you won’t lose your spot when you look around!  Get information on gardening and cultural traditions, recipes, stories, and more!)

Whether you have cucumbers growing or not, making your own pickles is just one of those rewarding projects that makes you pat yourself on the back and brag, maybe just a little.  However, depending on what type of pickle you decide to make, that project may become so cumbersome that the reward may not be worth it enough.

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The finely chopped cucumbers were leftovers that went into tzatziki!

This is not that project.  These pickles require no presoaking, no peeling, no salting, no rinsing, no draining, and best of all: no wasted materials.  Yes, there is the cutting and mixing, and you will need some canning equipment to make the process easier and safer (being blinded or burned kind of takes the fun out of things, don’t you agree?).  However, that part is pretty minimal.  It’s even one that allows you to make them in batches, which is great especially if you are growing your own cucumbers which aren’t always ripe all in one go.

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This jar broke in the hot water bath.  It happens sometimes.  Resist the urge to try to salvage the contents.  The glass shards in the bottom right picture is all the reason you need.  If this happens, filter out the solids once they are cool through a mesh strainer.  They go in the garbage as they will be too salty to be composted.  The liquid is also salty and should go down the drain.

How do they taste, you might ask?  Well, my medium boy hates pickles… except for mine.  Is that bragging too much?  Oh well!

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Easy, No-Waste, Homemade Dill Pickles Recipe

  • Difficulty: the hardest part is waiting for them to be ready
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The following recipe is a slightly modified version of the Dill Pickles recipe I found in one of the “Ball Blue Book” cookbooks, which is THE book all first time home canners should invest in (and it’s cheap).  I mention it in my post “Food Canning 101” that you should also read if you are new to home canning.

Ingredients

For the brine:

  • 1 quart water
  • 1 quart distilled white vinegar, 5% acidity
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup non-iodized salt (look for canning salt or fine sea salt, you do not want anything that has anti-caking agents added or it will discolor your pickles)
  • 3 Tbsp. pickling spices
  • 1 tsp. dill seed (only needed if your pickling spice does not already contain dill seeds)
  • calcium chloride (Optional but this natural salt makes for a crisper pickle without the nastiness of using lime.  It is sold as “Pickle Crisp” and can be found in stores where the canning supplies are sold, or purchased online.  By the way, many hardware stores also sell it in their canning sections, too.  Follow the instructions on the label as they are designed to be used with multiple kinds of recipes.)

For the jar:

  • fresh dill sprigs, or fresh or dried dill flower heads
  • fresh pickling cucumbers about 4 to 6 inches in length, about 6 to 8 pounds

Directions

Start by washing your canning jars and lids.  I prefer quart size, wide-mouth jars as these are easier to fill and more efficient with the amount of brine used.  There is no need to sterilize your jars and lids since they will be filled with uncooked food, but they do still need to be completely clean.  This recipe will fill about 3 to 4 quarts, or 6 to 7 pints.

You will need a pot deep enough to submerge your filled jars with an inch of water over them since these jars will be processed in a boiling water bath for safety.  Fill the pot with water to a depth half as high as the jars (remember the filled jars will displace a lot of water) and bring to a boil.  You will also want a rack at the bottom that will keep the jars from being banged around once they are in their boiling water bath (broken jars are a real buzz-kill).  A canning pot is perfect for this, but I also use a tamale pot with the rack turned upside down and that works just as well.  Have some additional very hot water ready just in case the water in the pot isn’t deep enough once the jars are in.

Put all the ingredients for the brine into a pot (check on when to add the calcium chloride!!) and bring just to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer.  Continue to simmer for 15 minutes.

Rinse off your cucumbers well.  If they are store bought, be sure to give a quick wash with a little dish soap to remove any food wax that may have been put on them.  Rinse them very well.  Cut off the ends and slice the cucumbers into 1/4 inch thick slices (check a ruler, it’s thicker than you think).  You may want to make a very thin slice from the middle of the cucumber as a taste test if they are home grown.  If the growing conditions weren’t optimal, the cucumbers can be very bitter and they will not taste any better once pickled.  They can become compost!  Put your cucumber slices in a large bowl.  (You can also cut your cucumbers into spears by slicing them in  quarters length-wise, then cutting them as needed to fit the height of the jars.)

Rinse your dill, if fresh, and shake gently.  I often use fresh sprigs of dill since dill flower heads are hard to come by if you aren’t growing your own.  About 3 sprigs of dill per pint jar and 4 per quart are good, or one flower head per jar.  Set aside.

Start each jar with whatever slices fit best to cover the bottom, then set the dill sprigs in so that they will be along the sides of the jars.  Place more slices in, filling them as snugly as possible without squishing them.  Use a variety of sizes to fill in gaps until the slices are 1/4 inch away from the top.  If using the dill heads instead of the sprigs, put them at the top of the cucumbers.  The calcium chloride that I use goes in next before adding the brine.

Stir the hot brine so that the spices are distributed and carefully ladle the liquid into the jars.  Fill the jars until the liquid is 1/4 inch below the top.  Carefully insert a skinny knife or skewer around the inside edges of the jar to dislodge any bubbles and add more liquid if needed.  Cover with the lids and screw them closed.

**If you don’t have enough cucumbers to fill an additional jar, make tzatziki with the leftovers!  You should only process full jars for safety and good results.  Any leftover brine can be kept in the refrigerator or freezer until you have more cucumbers to pickle.  Just be sure to reheat it to a boil for a minute before adding it to the jars.**

Place the jars in the boiling water bath and add more water if needed to cover the jars by at least an inch.  Close the lid on the pot and process the jars for 15 minutes.  Remove the jars carefully and set them someplace where they can cool.  Once cooled, clean the jars with a damp towel, check that they are sealed, and if using two-piece lids unscrew the ring and clean under before putting the rings back on.  Place the jars in a dark and cool pantry.  Any unsealed jars will need to cure in the refrigerator, instead.

Now for the hard part.  WAIT!  These need to “cure” a while.  Give them at least 4 to 6 weeks (the longer time is better).  It is best to label the jars with either the start date or the ready date to help you keep track.  Refrigerate the remaining pickles after opening the jars, and yes, the pickle juice is AWESOME!  Enjoy!

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