Pop! Goes the...Pickle Top!
If you can't stand the heat...and the smell of vinegar...you might want to stay out of my kitchen today. Yep, Patricia's making pickles!
Pop! That's one done...
Just ignore those popping sounds for a moment, and let's start this story at the beginning, shall we?
It began on a warm, sunny day in mid-April...with some Straight Eight seeds, a trowel, a hefty shovel of compost, a trellis made from some repurposed lattice panels that formerly lived on our deck-railings, and rain...lots and lots of rain. The vines grew big and strong and lush over the lattice.
More rain. The bees and other pollinators visited the lovely yellow flowers.
More rain. And before you knew what was happening...presto! Cucumbers! Lots and lots of cucumbers!!
Pop! Pop! That's another one done...and another...
Have I ever told you I don't eat cucumbers? Well, not raw cucumbers, that is. I like them, really I do, but they don't seem to like me much. My neighbors like them, so I remember to include some in the baskets of garden goodies I share with them. Oh sure, every now and then I take a chance and make my version of Aunt Myrtle's Veggie Spread (carrots, chives or green onions, and cucumbers...all diced/shredded to bits...and blended with softened cream cheese; nothing better on a bagel or a saltine cracker, trust me...;-), but I usually avoid cukes in the raw state. Mr. T is the same in this game.
Ah. But perform the magic that comes in a bottle of vinegar, and I'm first in line for the finished product. Pickles! Sweet...sour...spicy...dill. Whole...spears...slices...chips. Doesn't matter much to me. I love them all!
And today, I'm making two different kinds: Hot Dill! and Easy Sweet 'n Spicy. Read on for more...recipes follow at the bottom.
The Hot Dill! Pickles I make in the "usual" way, using cucumbers, garlic, hot peppers, and dill from the garden.
Each jar gets a cayenne pepper and 3-4 cloves of garlic. Maybe 5...I like me some garlic-y dills!
Then I pack the jars with cucumber slices and add a large sprig of dill that has flowered and started to go to seed.
After boiling the ingredients for the brine (vinegar, water, and canning salt) and filling the jars, I then process the jars for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath. Give them a couple of weeks, and I should have another batch of tasty (and zippy!) dills. The longer they age, the zippier they get. Cayennes are like that, don't you know.
[I say "I should..." because Mr. T wouldn't touch a dill pickle with a ten-foot pole...literally. Whenever we eat at a deli, he is adamant that they NOT put a pickle spear on his plate...or anywhere near his food. Of course, "they" usually do put a pickle spear next to his sandwich, so he hands me his plate to remove the offending condiment...so he won't have to touch the thing. Woe be to the server who brings him his order with the dill pickle on top of his sandwich! There goes the tip. Oh he says he hates all pickles, but he had to admit that Chicken Salad, Tuna Salad, and Potato Salad just are NOT the same if you forego the sweet pickles.]
So that's the dills. Now, about the Easy Sweet 'n Spicy version that I learned from Momma.
First off, you should know I come from a long line of pickle-producing people. There was Bummer (really, my great-great Aunt Velma Stewart...but she wouldn't have answered to anything but Bummer), who pickled anything and everything (including watermelon rind)...and was famous for her 14-day Sweet Pickles (that recipe nearly caused my Aunt Bonnie Keaton to lose her sanity one hot, humid West Tennessee August...but that's another story...;-). Then there was my cousin Pannie, who was famous for saying "If a recipe takes longer than 20 minutes to make, I won't have it." Her recipe for Freezer Pickles is in our Family cookbook...although I must admit I've never tried them, not liking the sound of "To eat, thaw at room temperature." Sounds a bit soggy to me.
Anyway, I have made sweet pickles the old-fashioned way (countless hours of brining, fermenting, soaking, draining, rinsing, and repeating, etc.), and I have gone the easy route. I have come to the conclusion that Nana/Momma/Edith's Easy Sweet 'n Spicy Pickle method cannot be beaten. Oh yeah, I'm with Edith on this one: take the easy route!
In this case, the easy route begins with a trip to Sam's Club...for the gallon-size jar of whole kosher dills. That's right...we by-pass the garden altogether, folks!
While I was there, I picked up 10 pounds of sugar (you "only" need 5), whole cloves, and whole cinnamon sticks. I already had a jar of pickling spice in the cupboard.
After removing the whole dills from the jar and draining, I sliced off the ends of the pickles and cut each crosswise into 1/4" slices...maybe closer to 1/2" since I know that the slices "shrink" after they begin to brine. Then you put a layer or two of pickle slices on the bottom of the empty gallon jar, along with 3-4 cinnamon sticks, 1-2 Tablespoons whole cloves and 1-2 Tablespoons of pickling spices...depending on how spicy you like your sweet pickles. Cover this with a "layer" of sugar (about 1-2 cups). Continue the layering process, adding another 3-4 cinnamon sticks about mid-way to the top.
When you get to the top, you are almost done!* You will see the sugar liquefying before long, developing a lovely sweet-spicy brine that will turn those dill slices into sweet pickles in just a few days. After about a week in the fridge, during which time you will want to turn the jar over every day to mix the juices and the spices (keeping a pie plate under the lid catches any drips), you can either leave your sweet slices in the Mother Jar or download them to smaller quarts (which I do, in order to share the goodness...:-). If you do move your sweet slices to smaller jars, you can heat the liquid from the Mother Jar to boiling before pouring over the slices in quart jars and processing in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.
Pop! That's the last one done...success! The dills are done!!
Pickles packed...time to tackle the tomatoes...! Gardening is never done...:-)
* Now, at this point, I do add my "secret ingredient," which isn't necessary but is nice. As the sugar turns to liquid and the slices start to absorb the juices, there will be a bit of room left in the jar. I add the pickle juice leftover from the last jar of sweet pickles I made in the previous batch, cinnamon sticks and all. That's it! Just remember to save a jar of pickle juice for the next time you make Easy Sweet 'n Spicy Pickles!
Hot Dill! Pickles
yield: Makes 2 quart or 4 pint jars (can double)
8-10 pickling cucumbers (I use Straight Eights)
2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 cups water
2 tablespoons canning or pickling salt
2-4 heads fresh dill, preferably ones that have flowered and are going to seed
4-8 small cloves garlic, depending on your taste
1 Whole cayenne pepper pod for each jar
1. Cut a thin slice from the ends of each cucumber; discard. Slice each cucumber in fourths, lengthwise, to make spears. Trim spears as necessary to fit jars.
2. To make the brine, combine vinegar, water, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, gather your jars, lids, rings, and canning equipment. Prepare as directed by the manufacturer.
3. Remove hot jars from canner. Place 1 head fresh dill, 1 whole cayenne pepper pod, and 1-4 cloves garlic into each jar; pack in cucumbers. Pour boiling vinegar mixture over cucumbers to within 1/2 inch of rim (head space). Wipe rim with a clean cloth, top with lid, and add screw ring (but do not over-tighten ring).
4. Process 10 minutes for pint jars and 15 minutes for quart jars, or as directed for your canning equipment.
5. Set processed jars on towel to cool. When you hear a "pop," test the jar lid for a good seal by pressing the center to make sure it stays depressed. If sealed, your dills are OK to put in the pantry until use. If the lid doesn't seal, put in the refrigerator and use this jar first.
These dills are better if aged at least 2 weeks before eating, and they get hotter as they age. Enjoy!
Edith's Easy Sweet 'n Spicy Pickles
1 gallon Kosher Dill Pickles (whole)
5 pounds white sugar
4-6 sticks cinnamon
1-2 Tablespoons whole cloves
1-2 Tablespoons pickling spices
1. Drain the liquid off the dill pickles.
2. Slice the whole dills crosswise into 1/4-1/2" slices.
3. In the original gallon jar, layer pickle slices, spices, and sugar.
4. Tighten the lid. Put the jar in the refrigerator, using a plate to catch any drips.
5. Turn the jar over every day for 5-7 days. (i.e., turn the jar right side up on Day 1, upside down on Day 2, right side up on Day 3, etc.).
6. Pickles will be ready to eat in a week. You can pack in smaller jars if desired, or just leave them in the original jar if you have the room.