Dill Pickles... they're evocative of my childhood and weekends at Nana's house. Each summer my grandmother would carry out the ritual of preserving the garden surplus and of everything she made, pickles were my favourite. Her store room would be filled with bottles showcasing the colours of the rainbow and without fail there would always be at least a dozen quarts of sharp and crunchy gherkins ready for a little blonde headed girl to crack into. I loved them so much that I'd even sip the brine though I don't really recommend it to anyone else!
To this day I still enjoy homemade pickles and not just for the nostalgia factor. They're a relatively simple preserve to make and some of the ingredients are easy to grow in most any temperate garden. For me they're one of the best ways as a kitchen gardener to connect the dots between all four seasons. From sowing seeds in the spring, to harvesting garlic, dill, and gherkins in the summer, to preserving the lot and enjoying them in the darkest days of winter. Each jar of pickles contains not only a savoury treat but also a year's worth of experiences.
Though some people seem surprised to find that I grow cucumbers outdoors in the Isle of Man, many varieties are well suited for our climate and can produce mountains of fruit from just a few plants. The way I grow my gherkins is to sow the seeds indoors at the end of April and then plant the small plants out into a sunny spot in mid-June. This year I also decided to give them a bit of shelter by planting them along the back of a row of raspberries and against an old metal headboard that I found at the tip. I haven't spent much time training them up the metal bars but they've latched onto them on their own, giving the plants more support for windy days.
For this recipe I've also grown the dill and garlic and for me they are ready to harvest at about the same time as the gherkins. Growing garlic is easy though they need a bit of prior planning since you plant the cloves at the beginning of winter. In late April I direct sowed dill seed in a large swathe of soil just above where I grow the gherkins and the plants are now about four feet high. Though I've dried some of the leaves for use in winter recipes there's plenty left for use in pickling. For pickles it's also nice to let the dill form flowers since the flowers and seed have a more intense flavour than dill leaves on their own.
Bottled Dill Pickles ~ Hot water bath method
Ingredient quantities will vary based on how many quarts/pints of pickles you're making.
Pickling cucumbers / Gherkins
1 Tbsp Dill leaves and 1-2whole heads of Dill per quart
2 Whole Garlic cloves per quart
1/2 tsp Peppercorns per quart
Sea Salt / Kosher Salt / Preserving Salt
Preserving jars & lids*
1. Sterilise your preserving jars with either boiling water or by placing them in an oven at 130°C/265°F for thirty minutes. Whatever your method of sterilisation, allow the jars to cool before packing them with your ingredients. While they're cooling, take your jar's lids and place them in bowl of boiling hot water. Leave them there until you need to fit them onto the jars.
2. Wash your gherkins and start packing them into your jars. If they're small, pop them in whole but if medium to large cut them into slices. This helps to get more into the jar and also for easier serving once the jar is opened. For each quart of pickles you'll add half a teaspoon of black peppercorns, two whole garlic cloves and plenty of dill.
3. Make the brine: for approximately every four quarts of tightly packed gherkins you'll need to heat together two quarts of water with one quart of white vinegar along with your choice of a full cup of the specified salt types. Let this cool until warm and then pour into each of the jars, filling to a centimeter (just less than 1/2") below the top of the jar's brim.
4. Clean the tops of the jars then fit on your preserving lids and screw the rings on. Most every preserving recipe will tell you to not over-tighten the rings but in my experience I've found that it's best to twist them on fully but not super tight. If they're too loose then the contents of your jars can leak out in the water bath.
5. Place a metal preserving rack or towel at the bottom of a deep preserving pan and then place the jars inside. The jars should be at least an inch apart and the pan needs to be deep enough to have the jars inside with over an inch of water comfortably covering the tops.
6. Cover the jars with warm/hot water from the tap then bring the pan to a boil. Boil the jars for fifteen minutes then lift them out of the water. If you're using a towel at the bottom of the pan then you'll need a 'jar lifter' tool available at many kitchen shops. Set the jars on the counter and allow to cool. You'll know that the jars are properly sealed when you hear the lids popping.
7. Allow the pickles to infuse with the brine for at least two weeks before eating them. Stored in jars in a cool pantry your pickles will last up to two years, though I doubt you'll be able to let them sit there that long! Enjoy ~
* You'll notice that my preserving lids in this recipe are white plastic rather than traditional metal. That's because I'm using Tattler lids, a BPA free alternative to the ones more commonly used. They're fairly new to me but I'm impressed enough to import more in from the USA. Unlike metal lids, you can reuse Tattler lids for life and they ensure that your home preserved food is free from chemicals that can seep in through the coatings under metal preserving lids.