Ever wonder if you could make pickles yourself? If I can, you can. Or in other words, if I can can, you can can, too.
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Homemade pickles make me think of summers in Minnesota. For most of my childhood summer vacations, my parents loaded four, then five kids, into a van and we drove cross-country at lightning speed — because that’s how my dad, aka Rocket Man, rolls. Visiting with my aunts Peg and Sandy and my Gramma John were the culinary highlights of the trip since they were all three such good cooks.
And they made pickles.
They all had gardens and knew how to can. That wasn’t something our family did back in California. My mom didn’t grow up on a farm or with a garden, so that’s not something she did in her childhood home or her adult home, either. Plus, it was the 80s when those domesticky things were falling out of style.
When FishPapa and I bought our first home sixteen years ago, it was in a small farm town on the Central Coast of California. I went ollalieberry picking with the kids and grew a garden. Our neighbors raised a cow. Just one. And I learned to make jam.
By reading a book.
A few years ago I learned to make pickles. By reading blogs.
Two years ago, I bought pickling cucumbers: 10 pounds from Abundant Harvest Organics, and a few months later 10 pounds from local JR Organics. Those 20 pounds of cucumbers converted into a lot of pickles. The supply lasted us about 18 months. We ate the last jar near Christmas time. And then we were sad.
You see, I don’t like all the junk, namely food colorings, that they add to commercial pickles. Sure, I can buy a ginormous jar at Costco for cheap, but it’s full of junk. Organic pickles are kinda pricey. In that lull since Christmas I bought a few jars which the kids inhaled in a matter of minutes. I was waiting and waiting for cucumber season so we could make our own again.
When I first made them, I wasn’t sure it was worth the DIY. Ask me again next summer. I’m still tired from doing this last week:
30 pounds of pickling cucumbers resulted in a lot of pickles! 18 quarts in the pantry and 5 pints in the fridge. I realized how easy it is to make refrigerator pickles with the same pickling liquid that I used for the ones I canned. This will fill the gap next time we run out.
Actually, we really enjoyed the pickles I made a few years ago. We were generous with sharing them with friends and family, but when we saw our jar unopened at the grandparents over the holiday, we took them back. Well, we actually ate them up right then and there.
Making homemade pickles
So, here’s how the Big Pickling Day went down:
1. I sorted and washed the cucumbers.
The pickling cucumbers came in a variety of sizes and they were pretty muddy. So, I sorted them into small, medium, and large and scrubbed them well. I also cut off a bit from the blossom ends because I read that helps them not get too mushy.
2. I got equipment ready.
At the same time I sanitized my jars in the dishwasher and gathered my gear. This is the canning equipment I use for pickling:
- Utensil Set (funnel, tongs, magnetic lid lifter)
- Water Bath Canner with Rack
- Quart-size Wide Mouth Canning Jars
- Pint-size Wide Mouth Canning Jars
We ended up using every quart jar we own and many of the pints. This bums me out a bit since I use those jars year round to store homemade baking mixes and prepared foods.
3. I brushed up on my pickling knowledge.
One can only wash so many pickles at a time without going numb in the brain, so I revisited blog posts that have been helpful in the past as well as a few new ones.
- Blue Book Guide to Preserving
- How to Make Garlic Dill Pickles
- 5 Ways to Give Your Pickles Better Texture
- How to Make Dill Pickles
4. I prepared the jars and the pickling liquid.
The cukes I bought came with dill heads as well as regular fresh dill. I divided those up between the jars and added peppercorns, red pepper flakes, and smashed garlic cloves. Unfortunately, I didn’t have dill seed and since I’d already been to Walmart twice in the previous two days, I was reticent to go back. These won’t have as much of a dill flavor as other pickles, but honestly? I’ve never used dill seed before — just pickling spice in a batch my husband didn’t like — so I think we’re good.
For the pickling liquid, I adapted this recipe from the back of the Mrs. Wages Pickling Salt. That’s what I used last time and our family loved it. Hopefully, that is still the case. I vaguely remember adding bay leaves in the past, but I didn’t see that in my rereading this time, so I didn’t use it.
Homemade Garlic Dill Pickles
- 9 lbs pickling cucumbers
- 8 cups water
- 4 cups white vinegar (5% acidity)
- 1 cup pickling salt
- 7 to 8 heads fresh dill
- 7 to 16 garlic cloves
- red pepper flakes
- black peppercorns
- Sanitize canning jars and lids according to manufacturer’s instructions for sterilized jars. Keep jars hot. Read the Ball book on this. It’s important.
- Wash cucumbers. Cut off a bit from the blossom end and discard. Leave cucumbers whole, cut into spears, or slice.
- In a large non-reactive pot, combine the water, vinegar, and pickling salt. (Don’t use an aluminum pan.) Bring to a boil. Remove from heat.
- In the bottom of each hot jar, place a head of fresh dill, a couple cloves of smashed garlic, a 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, and 2 to 3 peppercorns. Pack the cucumbers snugly into the jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Pour the hot pickling liquid into the packed jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles, wipe rim and cap each jar as it is filled.
- Process quart jars for 15 minutes, in a boiling water bath canner. Remove the jars and place a few inches apart on a towel on the counter. Leave jars alone to cool at room temperature overnight. Wipe the tops, remove the bands and check to see that the lids are tight. If you can’t pry them off with your fingers, you’re good. Be careful, though, I once got a pickle shower when a lid didn’t seal properly. Refrigerate any that don’t seal and eat those up within a few weeks.
- Label and store in a cool place. Their flavor will develop over time.
Yield: 7 to 8 quarts
You can make refrigerator pickles, too.
I had five small jars of leftover brine and cukes but not enough energy to run the canner again one more time, so I capped the jars, let them cool to room temperature and refrigerated them. Two days later they were ready to eat and the kids love them! This refrigerator style pickle is more like the Vlasics you get at the store. Those are the ones in the top picture.
How did the numbers crunch?
It’s kinda pertinent to know how this makes cents, right? Well, I spent $30 on the cucumbers and another $7 on vinegar, garlic, and salt. The other items I had on hand. I didn’t buy new jars or any canning equipment. I’m still using the utensil set that I bought 16 years ago!
$30 – organic pickling cucumbers and dill + $7 – vinegar, salt, and fresh garlic = $37 investment
$37 divided by 20.5 quarts of pickles = $1.81/quart jar
Of course, we should probably factor in my time which was less than 4 hours if I had worked solid and not dawdled. It took me 5 hours instead. But, we’re not going to count my time, because how do we put a price on that?!
Final cost - $1.81/quart jar
That number works out for me, particularly since I didn’t need to buy any new equipment or supplies. And I’ve got a year’s worth of pickles in my pantry!