Saturday, July 7, 2012

Preserving the Past (Kosher Dill Pickles)

Growing up in North Carolina, I instantly fell in love with my great-grandmother's homemade dill pickles. Among the many culinary marvels she created, these were in my Top 3, and a jar given to me would rarely make it past a day or two. A few months ago, my mom and I were going through some boxes of old things, and we discovered a copy of the recipe, in my mom's handwriting, on the back of a large receipt for air conditioning unit servicing - I was ecstatic!

In a pickle? Have a pickle

I was a very picky child, unlikely to try onions, tomatoes, or mushrooms and generally preferring only minimally colored items made of bread and cheese. Grandma's dill pickles provided a definite exception. One of the things I loved, and as a child was somewhat astounded by, was the way the flavor overtook the onion wedges included in the jar, and suddenly made onions delicious. Dill pickled onions were just about the only way my mom could get me to eat them.

Perfectly pickley

Pickling, a form of fermentation, is one of the oldest ways of preserving food. Original fermentation was nothing more than storing foods in tightly covered holes in the ground. Brine protects foods in a number of ways: it provides a physical buffer against oxygen, preventing aerobic spoilage microbes and basic oxidization and also contributes copious amounts of acid and salt. These conditions are rather inhospitable to many, but make a perfect home for lactic acid bacteria, who further acidify and digest the pickles, driving out unicellular competition and creating entirely new flavor compounds. Pickling was essential at a time when refrigeration did not exist and families needed to extend the life of foods through harsh winter conditions, but now we can just enjoy it because it tastes good.

No need for a hole in the ground!
Luckily for us, we no longer need to resort to digging holes in our back yards, but fermenting/pickling various foods can provide a wealth of delicious treats - think pickled plums and radishes or preserved lemons. Just a few simple steps, a few simple ingredients, and a gentle wait for the fermentation to work it's magic and you can preserve whole garden's worth of vegetables to enjoy again and again.

FYI - your garlic may turn slightly blue - that's OK
Kosher Dill Pickles
Adapted from Lula Mae Taylor's recipe

36 cucumbers, 4" or longer
3 cups vinegar
3 cups water
6 tbs sea salt
4 yellow onions, sliced to wedges
2 tsp fresh or dried dill
8 cloves garlic
8 tsp mustard seed
4 1-quart jars

Combine the vinegar, water, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Fill a separate, large stock pot with water and bring it to a boil, too.

Mmm, flavor
In the meantime, prepare the jars with the remaining ingredients. Place 1/2 tsp dill, 1 tsp mustard seed, half of one onion, and a clove of garlic into each jar. Then pack 4-6 cucumbers into each jar.

Using the (now boiling) brine, fill each jar, leaving about 1/2" of space at the top, then immediately top the jar with the metal seal, screw on the outer ring (but don't screw in on too tightly), and place in the stock pot to complete the seal process (you should hear a small 'pop' as the vacuum seal is created.

Fill 'er up
Place in a cool, dark cabinet, or store in your fridge for approximately 3 weeks before consuming (or, of course, build up a stock in your pantry along with any other canning projects). Once opened, the pickle jar should be stored in the fridge.



Unknown said...

Pickles are my favorite condiment at a barbecue. Love the heirloom recipe! Did your grandmother grow her own cucumbers and dill?

Unknown said...

Glad you enjoyed the recipe - they really are delicious She did, in fact, keep an extensive garden, including cucumbers and dill, and preserved (pickled, fermented, canned) many of the items it bore. Hope you get a chance to try these out!

Amy said...

OOOooohhh, I can't WAIT to try these! I just pray that they taste somewhat akin to my great-grandmother's recipe which sadly nobody seems to have anymore. Boo.
Thanks for sharing...I'll be canning tonight!

WTFM8 said...

I've never canned or pickled anything before, but your recipe sounds absolutely delicious! I was hoping you could clarify for me: when I put the jars into the stockpot, does the water need to cover them, or just come up to a certain height?

Unknown said...

WTFM8: Sorry for such a terribly delayed response! The water doesn't have to completely cover the jars, but it should *mostly* cover them. The key is to hear the "pop" of the lid sealing into place as it creates a vacuum seal.