Recipe: Dill Pickles

I have been known to say that dill pickles are the only “real” pickle – such is my love of their salty crunch.  For the sake of diplomacy, I’ll drop my very narrow and inaccurate vision of what makes a pickle.  But I will say, that these pickles are delicious and have been known to convert those who are pickle-indifferent.


When I was a child, in my grandmother’s kitchen, vinegar danced brightly in the air.  I would drop the garlic into the jars one sticky clove at a time, listening to the bouncy thunk of garlic on glass.  I would stand at the edge of the table, chin digging into my fingers, watching, as she pushed the heads of dill through the mouths of jars.

“This batch is just for you, Lindy-Loo!”

And though a smile almost never touched her lips, it would sit just on the other side of her voice.


Note: The brine recipe is for 8 – 10 quarts of fresh-packed, dill pickles.  The variation from 8 – 10 will depend upon how tightly you are able to pack the cucumbers.


1 quart cider vinegar
3 quarts water
1 c kosher salt


Garlic and dill make an excellent flavor, peppers are a nice addition if you like some heat.

*Note: My grandmother used alum when packing her pickles.  It was used as a firming agent in certain types of canning.  My curiosity has lead me to discover that alum can be dangerous in large quantities – the quantity in this recipe falls well within the parameters of what has been deemed “safe” by the various food oversight agencies whose reports I have perused.  But if this concerns you, I encourage you to do your own research.

Pack Each Quart Jar with

1/8 tsp alum*
1 large clove garlic
2 large heads of dill
As many small, firm, cucumbers as possible (packed so tightly that their skin squeaks against the glass!)
1-2 fresh grape leaves


Note: When preserving or fermenting food, cleanliness is extremely important.  Run your jars through the dishwasher on a hot setting, wipe any spills from the rims of the jars with a clean cloth, and boil your lids and rings before applying them to the jar tops.  I have had the good fortune to grow-up around home canning.  If you have not, and would like to learn more, I encourage you to do some research. (At the close of this recipe there are some links to resources that are informative and helpful.)

Pack the Jars


Soak the cucumbers overnight (12 – 18 hours), before brining.

  1. 12 – 18 hours prior to beginning, soak your cucumbers in clean, cold water.  Be sure to rinse off any mud or debris prior to soaking, using a gentle brush if necessary.
  2. Cut the heads of the dill from their stalks, rinsing and cleaning them well.
  3. Pick the grape leaves, rinse and clean them well. (I prefer grape leaves, but if none can be found, cherry leaves are a good substitute.)
  4. Peel the cloves of garlic.
  5. Place the garlic and dill in each jar.
  6. Drain the cucumbers and pack them into the prepared jars.  Be sure to pack them tightly, making sure that the cucumbers do not rise above the neck of the jar.
  7. Sprinkle in alum*, or firming agent of choice.
  8. Place grape leaf in the jar, atop the cucumbers.

Prepare the Brine


Heads of dill are best for pickling when they have gone to seed. If fresh dill is not available, dill seeds will work as an excellent substitute.

  1. In a large pan, heat water, vinegar, and salt to a low, slow, boil.  Make sure that the salt is completely dissolved.
  2. While brine is hot, pour it into the packed jars until the level of the liquid is at the neck of the jar. (That should be full enough!)
  3. Wipe away any spilled brine from the rim of the jars.  Place freshly boiled lids (still hot) onto the jars and screw the rings over them tightly.
  4. At this point there are two methods that can be used.  You can either heat the jars in a hot water bath to make a seal, or you can invert the jars, wait for them to cool, and hope that a seal occurs naturally.  Some people use a pressure cooker to create a seal (I have not done this with pickles, but am sure that it works well).

The pickles should be ready for eating about 8 weeks from the date of your pickle making.  They keep very well for at least a year, possibly longer – I tend to eat them quickly, hence the “possibly.”

The following links have some good information about canning and preserving food.  There is so much information beyond these links, but these are a fine place to start:

Sponsored by the Ball Jar company. This site has some interesting video tutorials about various types of canning.

A resource-rich, very scientifically based, government funded, website.  There is a huge amount of well organized information on food preservation, food safety, and techniques to aid in most canning endeavors.

Mother Earth News is always a favorite!  There is good information here, and a variety of perspectives on food safety and consumption, there are also some great links to further resources.  This is a great website for someone who is brand-new to the world of canning and food preservation.


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