Our cucumbers are doing their thing.
Every time I look under the prickly leaves, a few more have ripened from little green dashes to overgrown submarines. I don’t know how it happens – I can pick them all off in the morning, and by evening a few more of the sneaky little beggars have ballooned to pickle size, supplying me with a steady trickle of Cucumis sativus fruits to eat fresh with a sprinkle of seasoned salt, to make cucumbler salads, or to preserve in big jars as crunchy dill pickles.
In our northern Alberta climate, we don’t always have good pickle years. Cucumbers need a lot of heat and good moisture. Since we have such a big garden and well-water that has too much sodium to be good for the soil, our plants have to tough it out and rely on Mother Nature for whatever she decides to dole out. This year she was very generous – we had lots of sweltering hot days with +30°C temperatures, and well-timed soaking rains.
Our garden is glorious – corn is several feet taller than I am, kale is a sprawling hedge, potatoes like baseballs and kohlrabi like basketballs, peas and beans loaded, and cucumbers rolling out a steady harvest. And it’s a good pickle year.
The variety of pickling cucumbers we plant is called ‘Cool Breeze’, meant for short season growing. They perform well for me in years when the conditions are right. I’ll plant them again next year, hoping it will be another ‘pickle year’.
This recipe for pickles is so easy peasy. I make up a batch of the brine and keep the leftovers in a jar in the fridge. Then whenever I have enough cucumbers collected to make a few more quarts, I reheat the brine and pickle ‘em up.
The recipe comes from my friend Ronaye, and since I’ve adopted her super-easy method of pickle-making, I don’t dread the job anymore. The magic to her method is that you don’t need to mess with a canner and boiling water bath, you seal them in the oven. It’s fun and very satisfying to turn a big bowl of pickling cukes into jars of puckery dill pickles we’ll enjoy all winter long. I can get a few jars canned while I’m baking a batch of cookies or cleaning up my kitchen. These dills never fail. The pickles are crunchy and sour like we love them, and the jars always seal. It doesn’t even feel like canning – it’s just filling jars and sticking ‘em in the oven! (Thanks, Ronaye.)
* * * * *
Kitchen Frau Notes: The trick to making these dill pickles is to use distilled water, so there’s no chlorine or minerals in the water to affect the crunch and flavour of the pickles. We have a reverse osmosis water filtration system, so I use that water, but before we had the system installed, I purchased gallon jugs of distilled water from the store to make these pickles.
Also, make sure to use pickling salt (which is pure sodium chloride), as the iodine or stabilizing agents in other salts can make pickles lose their crunch.
I’ve given no amounts for cucumbers, since it really depends on how many you have. I find that it takes about 1¼ lbs (550gms), or a little less, of cucumbers to fill 1 quart jar and 1½ to 1¾ cups (360-420mls) of brine to cover 1 quart of cucumbers, depending on how big the cukes are and how tightly you pack them in. One batch of brine will fill 8 to 9 quarts of pickles. I make 4 or 5 jars of pickles at a time, then save the brine in the fridge until I have enough to make a few more jars. With this method you can even make 1 or 2 jars at a time, if you only have a few cucumbers ready. (Make a half-batch of the brine, too, if that’s all you need.)
The cucumbers can be stuffed in the jars whole, if they are small, or cut into spears or slices if they are large. If you’re not into garlic or dill, you could even be totally minimalist and use only cucumbers and brine, though then they wouldn’t be dill pickles anymore, just plain ol’ pickles.
For this last batch I added some heads of green coriander seeds (cilantro that went to seed in the garden). I think they’ll add a great flavour to the pickles.
*I only use this easy oven-canning method for these pickles because of the high acid content and have never tried it with any other foods. I use a water bath method to seal the jars for any other kinds of canning.
Never Fail Dill Pickles
For the brine:
- 12 cups distilled water (2.84 litres)
- 5 cups white vinegar (1.18 litres)
- ½ cup pickling salt (140gms)
For the pickles:
Per each quart jar-
- 1 dill blossom head or several sprigs of fresh dill
- 1 clove garlic (optional)
- 6 whole black peppercorns (optional)
- pickling cucumbers to fill the jar (not optional)
Estimate how many quart canning jars you think you will need for the cucumbers you have and prepare a couple extra. Wash the jars in the dishwasher on the hottest water setting.
While the jars are washing, wash and drain the pickling cucumbers. Wash the dill blossom heads or dill sprigs, and shake dry.
Combine the ingredients for the brine in a large stockpot and bring to a boil. When it has boiled, turn off the heat and cover the pot with a lid to keep the brine hot until you need it.
Preheat the oven to 310°F (155°C) and remove all the racks except the bottom one. (Yes, that is the right temperature – not a typo.)
Set the metal canning lids into a saucepan of water and bring to a simmer. Keep hot until you need them.
When the jars have finished washing, set them onto a clean dishtowel on the counter. Into each one place 1 dill seed head, 1 clove of garlic and 6 peppercorns. Hold the jar sideways, and fill it with cucumbers, packing them in tightly to fit in as many as possible. Larger cucumbers can be cut into quarters lengthwise as ‘pickle spears’ to make them easier to fit into the jars. Pack the cucumbers so there is an inch of space between them and the top of the jars.
Bring the brine back up to a boil, then pour it over the cucumbers, covering them completely and leaving a half to three quarters of an inch headspace at the tops of the jars. Wipe the rims of the jars with a clean, wet dishcloth. Place one of the hot metal lids on each jar and screw on the metal ring so it is just finger tight (how tight you can turn it with just your thumb and index finger).
Place the jars onto a cookie sheet or in a 9×13″ pan (easier to handle) and carefully slide it into the oven. This is the only tricky part since the pan full of jars is awkward and heavy. I only do 4 to 6 jars at a time.
Bake for 10 minutes (14 minutes for 1.5 quart jars).
Carefully remove the jars from the oven, keeping them level as you handle them, and place them right-side-up on a tea towel on the counter. Leave them undisturbed until they cool.
You will notice some bright green spots where the brine hasn’t penetrated the pickles totally yet. Don’t worry about them – they will be uniformly olive green in colour by the time they are cooled. You should hear a slight pop as each jar seals over the next half hour or so. (Don’t be tempted to touch the lids and force the seal to happen.)
Once the jars are cool, check to see that they have sealed by seeing if the slight bulge in the middle of the metal lid is sucked down and the lids are smooth. If you can make the center of the lid move up and down by pressing on it with your finger, it has not sealed. Keep those jars in the refrigerator, wait a week for them to totally pickle, then use up in a couple months (should be no problem to do that).
Although, I have never had any jars fail to seal by doing them this way.
Tighten the rings and store the jars in a cool dark spot. They will be ready to eat after one week.
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