Make-Ahead Pickling Brine for Jan’s Damn Good Garlic Dills
Makes ½ gallon of brine (enough for 1 gallon of pickles!)
I make up a big batch of brine for my favorite so that when I encounter a good supply of high-quality pickling cukes I can jump right into action. Store the brine in the fridge — it will keep indefinitely — in a covered container, then simply re-heat as much of the chilled brine as needed to make a batch of pickles. Figure on a ratio of two parts pickling cukes to one part brine (i.e., for 2 quarts of pickling cukes, you’ll need 1 quart of brine). So, make up the brine now and keep it in your refrigerator. Then when you’ve got some pickling cukes to pickle, simply pack them into jars or plastic containers as described below and pour in enough of the pickling brine to cover the cukes. Screw on the lid and refrigerate. If you lack refrigerator space process in a boiling water canner as described below. Store any remaining brine in the refrigerator until you’re ready to pickle another batch of cukes.
•1 quart cider vinegar
•1 quart water
•¼ cup pickling spices (see note below)
•1/3 cup pickling salt (see note below)
•2 tablespoons sugar
•½ teaspoon ground turmeric
•1 cup chopped fresh dill heads (this is the umbelliferous seed head, which is usually sold in bundles, with each head still attached to its long stalk)
In a large non-aluminum pot, combine the vinegar, water, pickling spices, salt, sugar, turmeric and chopped dill heads. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. If readying a batch for the refrigerator, then let the mixture cool, then strain off the seasonings and dill (be sure and press down on the strainer to extract as much flavor from the ingredients as possible before discarding them). Pour the brine into non-reactive containers, such as glass canning jars, or food-grade plastic tubs or jugs with tight-fitting lids. Refrigerate until ready to use.
TO MAKE THE PICKLES (for up to 1 gallon of pickles):
•4 quarts pickling cucumbers rinsed well
•4 heads of fresh pickling dill, halved
•About ½ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
•16 whole peeled garlic cloves, sliced
•1 batch of prepared brine (makes ½ gallon)
After rinsing the cucumbers and removing any dirt, rub or trim away the blossom end of each cuke (the blossom end is opposite the stem end). If the cucumbers are too large, you may want to cut them into chunks, slices, or sticks. Otherwise, leave them whole. Pack the cucumbers into clean jars or food grade plastic containers, leaving ½-inch head space. Divide the sliced pieces of garlic and halved heads of fresh pickling dill among the containers. Add a pinch (about ¼ of a teaspoon per quart) of the dried red pepper flakes to each container (another pinch of two should be used for those folks who enjoy more of a "bite" in their pickles).
If the brine has been refrigerated, then reheat in a non-aluminum pan. Ladle or pour the hot brine into the containers. Cover and let cool to room temperature, then store in the refrigerator.
The pickles are "becoming good" after 7 to 10 days of aging, but they won’t be “Damn Good” for at least a month. Even then, they will continue to improve and improve, and improve for months and months. I've kept batches for up to 24 months and they've been fabulous down to the last pickle.
TO STORE YOUR PICKLES AT ROOM TEMPERATURE
If you really don't have enough refrigerator space and need to store batches in your pantry at room temperature, then you'll have to process the jars in a boiling water canner. Here's how:
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Wash pint or quart-size canning jars (such as Ball or Kerr). Keep hot until used. Pack the pickles into the jars, leaving ½-inch head space. Divide the garlic slices among the jars (figure on 4 cloves per quart). Pour the strained hot brine into 1 jar at a time, leaving ½-inch head space. Wipe jar rim with a clean, damp cloth. Place the metal disc of the two-piece lids on top of the jar opening, then screw on the metal screw band. Fill and close remaining jars.
Process jars, using the Low-Temperature Pasteurization Treatment (this method keeps the pickles from being subjected to boiling water, which will help them stay a little firmer): Place jars in canner filled half way with warm (120 to 140 degrees F) water. Then, add hot water to a level 1 inch above jars. Heat the water enough to maintain 180 to 185 degrees F water temperature for 30 minutes. Check with a candy or jelly thermometer to be certain that the water temperature is at least 180 degrees F during the entire 30 minutes. Temperatures higher than 185 degrees F can cause unnecessary softening of pickles.
Note: There is not a processing time for 2-quart jars, so if you are using this size, the jar(s) must be refrigerated.
Fermented Dill Pickles
For each 1 gallon container:
•20 to 24 cucumbers, about 4 inches long
•1 to 2 tablespoons dill seed or 4 to 5 heads green or dry dill weed
•½ cup salt
•¼ cup commercially made vinegar
•2 quarts water
•Garlic cloves (see "NOTE ON GARLIC" at the end of the first paragraph below)
•2 dried red peppers (optional)
•2 teaspoons whole mixed pickling spices (optional)
Wash the cucumbers thoroughly. Run your finger firmly over the blossom end to rub away any remnants of a blossom (blossoms contain enzymes that can soften the pickles). Place a layer of dill and half of the spices on the bottom of a stone crock, stainless steel or food grade plastic container, glass jar or wooden keg or barrel. Fill with cucumbers. Add the remaining dill and spices. (NOTE ON GARLIC: For a strong garlic flavor, add 10 or 12 garlic cloves to the crock. For a mild garlic flavor, add a garlic clove to each jar of pickles before processing it.)
Dissolve salt in vinegar and water. Cover cucumbers with this brine. In open containers (crocks, stainless steel, or plastic containers), cover with a dinner plate, glass pie plate, or wooden disc. Use a plastic bag or glass jar filled with another batch of the brine as a weight to hold the plate under the brine. In individual glass jars, use small plastic bags filled with a batch of the brine to keep cucumbers under the brine.
Store containers in a cool place, preferably at around 70 degrees F. Lower temperatures, 50 to 70 degrees F, can be used but fermentation takes longer. Temperatures above 80 degrees F may promote spoilage.
Dill pickles cure slowly. In about 3 to 4 weeks the cucumbers will become an olive green color and should have a desirable flavor. Temperature influences the pickling time. Keep the jars or kegs filled with brine at all times.
Check the containers often and promptly remove any scum or mold that forms. If at any time the pickles become soft and slimy and develop a disagreeable odor, discard them. When the fermentation is completed, the pickles can be stored satisfactorily in the crock or other container for up to six months if they are stored in a cool place and scum and mold are kept off the brine. Be sure brine covers the pickles at all times.
Pickles will keep better if they are sealed in jars. When the fermentation is completed, pour the brine into a pan and heat to simmering. The brine can be strained through a paper coffee filter if you want to filter out any cloudiness. Wash quart-size jars. Keep hot until used. Pack the pickles into the jars, leaving ½-inch head space. Pour the hot brine into 1 jar at a time, leaving ½-inch head space. Wipe jar rim with a clean, damp cloth. Attach lid. Fill and close remaining jars.
Process jars, using the Low-Temperature Pasteurization Treatment: Place jars in canner filled half way with warm (120 to 140 degrees F) water. Then, add hot water to a level 1 inch above jars. Heat the water enough to maintain 180 to 185 degrees F water temperature for 30 minutes. Check with a candy or jelly thermometer to be certain that the water temperature is at least 180 degrees F during the entire 30 minutes. Temperatures higher than 185 degrees F may cause unnecessary softening of pickles.
Source: Adapted from "Safe Methods for Preparing Pickles, Relishes, & Chutneys," by Cooperative Extension, University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources; Bulletin #4080.