Some of my earliest memories as a little kid are from the vegetable garden at my grandparents’ house. It seemed as large as a football field to me, and when our shadows started to get long in the grass, Gram would lead us cousins down the rows with an enormous colander. We would pluck beans, peas, zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers, and tomato for dinner – filling our tummies more quickly than the dinner basket, which was a great strategy to keep us from complaining of hunger.
My relatives preserved their own food the whole time I was growing up. Fresh food that we grew ourselves was tastier (and cheaper) than store-bought, so the pressure canners got passed around and everyone had a large collection of long-used and well-loved mason jars that got passed from house to house. I remember my mom carrying jar after jar of corn scraped fresh from the cob with small, bright pieces of red pepper down the stairs to our cellar while I sat at the kitchen table, well out of her way.
When I moved to the city on my own, I took on the work of hot-water-bath canning high acid foods on my own – sourced from pick-your-own orchards and farms, or the generous overflow from my hobby-farming uncles. By this point I’ve put up hundreds if not thousands of pints of tomato sauce, salsa fresca, spiced applesauce, apple butter, fruit jams, and sour dill pickles. The pickles are my absolute favorite.
I couldn’t tell you whose recipe this was to start with, but it’s pretty simple:
- The night before canning begins, scrub your pickling cucumbers to remove dirt and the spiny growths from the nubbly outer skins. Toss the washed cukes into a colander in the fridge to dry.
- The morning of canning, prep your cukes:
- Slice off both ends
- Sort the vegetables by size, and practice stuffing an empty jar, so you know how many of each size will fit into your jars.
- Set up the hot water bath and sterilize jars, lids, and rings. While they are sterilizing,
- Make a brine and bring it to a boil, following these ratios:
- 1 cup of vinegar
- 1 cup of water
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 1-1/2 tsp granulated sugar
- Prep your seasonings. For each jar:
- 1 head of fresh dill or 2 tsp of dried dill seeds
- 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 clove of garlic, peeled but whole
- Once the jars are sterilized, remove them from the canner. Into each jar, place the seasonings, then the cucumbers, then ladle in the hot brine (leaving 1/2 inch of headroom). Seal the jars and dump them back in the water bath for 10 minutes. Let cool, check the lids for a vacuum seal, label with the date, and place them into a cool dark cupboard to mellow for at least six weeks.
*If I’m 100% honest I’ll admit that most of the family prefer sweet bread-and-butter pickles to the dill ones. I despise those fake pickles, so am calling these the favorites.