How to Make Refrigerator and Canned Dill Pickles

August 15, 2011

in Appetizers & Misc., DIY & Crafts, Preserving, Recipes, Russian & Azerbaijani

dill pickle recipe

Who doesn’t love a pleasant rush of sanctimony when biting into a crunchy homemade pickle or admiring a row of colorful jars on a pantry shelf, especially when growing and making your own is much cheaper than buying? It makes a lot of sense for our farm household, especially since my kids adore them and I like using them in two of my all-time favorite Russian recipes, the Olivier salad and rassolnyk, or pickle soup.

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In the ideal world, you would grow the cukes in your garden – this is how you assure that you pick them when they are just the right size. But if you have to buy them, look for poky, perky ones, and don’t be shy to ask when they were picked since pickles are the crispiest when processed the same day.

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This summer we may have planted about ten plants, which we started in our window in March. Here in Wisconsin you can also saw your cucumber seeds directly into the ground, but your crop will come in later this way. We’ve done it before, but we really prefer to go with the transplants, which we put out there in late May or early June, once the danger of the frost has passed.

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If you are not familiar with growing them, cucumbers grow on a vine that looks a lot like the watermelon vine. These yellow flowers are what eventually turns into pickles.

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And here are the cukes – see how poky they are? If you are going to plant cukes for pickling, be sure to select the seeds of a pickling variety (Kirby and so forth). While the normal slicer cukes can also be pickled successfully, these here are the ones that will give you the classic, pleasantly-plump pickle shape.

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When it comes to choosing the right size, I tend to stick to the smaller ones because they make crunchier pickles and fit better into quart jars. If you are growing them yourself, keep in mind that once they start coming in, they’ll be coming in fast and get big even faster, so be sure to check your vine every couple of days. The cucumber above is my favorite size for pickling.

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This one is a little bigger but still OK.

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And I certainly wouldn’t go any bigger than this.

Now you can cut bigger cukes into spears if you can’t stand wasting them, but I find that spears don’t come out quite as crunchy.

The following ingredients are what makes dill pickles such:

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Grape leaves – they contain the enzymes that promote crispness. I use about two per jar. Again, be sure to wash your leaves thoroughly and remove any blemish that you see.

Peeled garlic cloves – I use about 5-6 per quart jar. These must also be washed.

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Dill - I like to use the entire stalks, heads and all. I kink them up like so to fit in the jars.

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Black Peppercorns or Peppercorn Blend – I use approximately 2 T per jar. Some people will also add a hot pepper or two, such as fresh or dried whole cayenne peppers.

Preparing Cucumbers for Pickling:

  • Scrub your cukes thoroughly using a vegetable brush, as any dirt left on may lead to spoilage. Soaking the pickles in cool water for about ten minutes prior makes this easier. Take special care to clean between the little bumps.
  • Trim off both ends – trimmed cukes can be better penetrated by the brine, and, more importantly, the blossom end contains the enzymes that promote softening.

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Canning Equipment:

  • Canner: If you are planning to process your pickles for long-term storage, they need to be sealed and processed in a boiling-water canner (not pressure canner). Be sure that your canner comes with a rack that prevents the jars from touching the bottom.
  • Jars: You will need special canning jars, which will always say either Ball, Kerr, Mason, or Atlas on them. Be sure to examine your jars for cracks and chips before using, especially along the rim – any small crack can lead to a jar shattering once it hits the boiling water, and any chip along the rim will prevent it from sealing properly. Either wide-mouth or regular jars can be used, but the former allow more room for your hand to get in when packing.
  • Lids: To assure the best chance of sealing, it is recommended that you purchase new canning lids every time you can. Cannig rings, on the other hand, can be reused, and need not be replaced until they get rusty.
  • Jar lifter to get your jars in and out of the boiling water.
  • Canning funnel to facilitate the pouring of hot brine into jars. I recommend that you stay away from plastic and go with stainless steel instead. It is also handy for a variety of other tasks, such as pouring homemade yogurt into jars for storage.
  • Tongs: A must for dipping lids in hot water to sterilize them.

Sterilizing Equipment (skip if making refrigerator pickles):

  • Wash your jars, lids, and rings in hot, soapy water and rinse out well.
  • Dry the rings and set aside. They need not be sterilized as they won’t come in contact with the contents of the jars.
  • Using your jar lifter, dip your jars into the boiling water – I use my canner for this. Be sure to submerge them fully to get the hot water on the inside.
  • Remove the jars from the canner and set them on a kitchen towel spread out on the counter. 

Packing Jars:

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I start by placing a grape leaf or two on the bottom of each jar, followed by a few garlic cloves.

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Dill is next – squash it all down. Follow by a tablespoon of peppercorns.

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Next, stuff the cucumbers in jars really tight so they don’t float to the top when you add the brine – we want them to remain fully submerged to avoid spoilage. My five-year-old daugther got pretty serious about make sure this happens. Child labor is a real important part, by the way!  Also, their smaller hands are perfect for those regular-mouth jars.

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Husband labor is real important too! Their hands are not small enough for regular jars, but this is made up for by the length of their fingers. Plus, it’s hot.

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Don’t fill your jars all the way to the top, leaving some space for more dill, garlic, peppercorns, and grape leaves, as well as head space above the brine for expansion during processing. You can tell we stuck one or two cukes too many in this one.

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Top the cukes with more dill, garlic, peppercorns, and a grape leaf.

The Brine:

Over the years, I’ve experimented with different brine recipes, and so can you, as long as your brine is acidic enough to prevent the growth of the botulinum toxin (a 1:1 water-to-vinegar ratio is said to be required). I use the following ingredients in my dill pickle brine:

  • Water - I live in the country and our water comes from a well, which means that it has no additives that city or town water might have. The chlorine often added to city water can interfere with the pickling process, so if you have a filter installed on your tap or buy drinking water from a store that is the best. Note also that while our well water tends to be hard (contains minerals), this factor has had no perceptible effect on the quality of my pickles, except for occasionally making them darker in color.
  • Vinegar - you must use vinegar with 5% acidity to assure consistent and safe results, which means that THOU SHALT NOT USE HOMEMADE VINEGAR WHEN MAKING PICKLES for the simple reason that its precise acidity level may vary. I use white vinegar for pickling as it has no particular flavor of its own.
  • Salt – use Pickling salt only, as it has no additives that could interfere with the pickling process.
  • Sugar – while optional, I find that it does round out the other flavors nicely, adding an extra dimension. I use simple white sugar for the same reason that I use white vinegar.

The following recipe is enough for approximately 7-8 quart jars:

  • 2 quarts (8 C) of water
  • 2 quarts store-bought white vinegar with 5% acidity
  • 6-8 T (tablespoons) pickling salt
  • 2-4 T white sugar (optional but highly recommended)

Place everything in a pot and bring to a boil, cooking just until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Taste your brine prior to canning, adding more salt or sugar as needed (do not alter water-to-vinegar ratio). If you make your brine ahead of time, be sure it is boiling temperature before adding it to jars.

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Using your canning funnel, pour the boiling brine over the cucumbers, leaving approximately 3/4″ head space (use the throat of the jar as guide – don’t fill past the beginning of the throat). Be sure that the entire contents of the jar are covered by the brine – push down anything that isn’t with a clean spoon.

Refrigerator Pickles:

Screw on the lid, let the jars cool to room temperature, and stick them in the fridge. They will be ready to eat in about three days. Do not make a large batch of these as they will not keep past a few weeks. This method is especially useful if you didn’t grow a vast field of cukes and are just looking for a way to make the most of occasional loot.

Canned Pickles:

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Use a clean, wet cloth to wipe the rim of each jar and trace the rim with your finger to assure that there is nothing on it to prevent the jar from sealing.

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Using a pair of tongs, dip your lids into boiling water immediately prior to sealing.

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Place lids onto jars and screw on rings.

Processing:

Hot-water processing is there to destroy acid-stable spoilage organisms, namely yeasts and molds. I generally process mine for 3 minutes. Note that the USDA guidelines for processing pickles actually specify 15 minutes per quart and even longer for higher altitudes. However, cooking them this long generally softens the cukes more than I like, so I made a decision to process mine for a shorter period and keep my eyes open for spoilage instead (see “signs of spoilage” below). You have to decide for yourself what you are most comfortable with.

  • Have your water boiling in the canner, making sure that there is enough to keep all jars covered by about 1″. Standard canners usually come with a marker that shows you how far to fill them to keep all the jars submerged at the canner’s full capacity.
  • Use jar lifter to carefully lower your jars into the canner. Be sure that your jar rack is in place so the jars don’t touch the bottom (note that I don’t use the rack to lift the jars in and out of the canner, which strikes me as dangerous business). If, once all of your jars are in, you discover that some of them are not submerged, just add enough hot water to cover everything by 1″.
  • Wait for the water to return to a boil and process for the amount of time above.
  • Unfortunately, one (rarely more) jar might crack and break when it hits the boiling water because of the temperature difference, especially if there was some teeny-tiny invisible crack in the jar itself. Personally, I think of it as a sacrifice to canning gods. Be sure to discard the contents of the broken jar once the processing is over.
  • Once 3 minutes are up, remove the jars from the canner and place them on a counter lined with a doubled-up kitchen towel.
  • Leave the jars on the counter overnight to cool completely – it is during this cooling time that the actual sealing occurs.
  • Check your cooled jars by pushing slightly into the center of each lid with your finger. If you are able to flex the lid up and down, it means that the jar has failed to seal and is not storage-safe. Stick such jars in the fridge and treat them as refrigerator pickles.
  • Remove rings from the jars that have sealed properly. This will allow the lid to pop if the contents go bad and gas builds up inside, or if for some reason the seal comes undone. Plus, you get to reuse the rings this way.
  • Sealed jars will keep for a year, but I wouldn’t keep them any longer. Keep them in a cool, dark, dry place, as moisture may lead to the lids rusting and sunshine may lead to discoloration.
  • Signs of spoilage: if, upon opening, your pickles are slimy, moldy, or anything looks or smells off, discard the contents (burning or burying is the best bet – however you do it, be sure that no animal can find them and eat them). Mold on the outside of the jars or a build-up of gas inside (expressed in bubbles appearing on the surface or gas escaping upon opening) are also bad news.

If you have any additional questions, be sure to leave a comment – I normally check back multiple times throughout the day.

{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Moriah August 15, 2011 at 11:36 am

Will wild grape leaves work for this recipe? I’ve always been afraid to can pickles becauase I’ve been told that the pickles get soft. I’ve never heard about the grape leaves before.

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2 Sofya August 15, 2011 at 11:39 am

You bet you can – and you can also use black currant or oak leaves to the same effect. There are basically 3 tricks to avoiding softening:

1) Choose small cukes and pickle them whole the same day.
2) Don’t process them too long (although the USDA does say 15 min). Fridge pickles will be a tad crispier cause there’s no additional time in the canner.
3 )Add one of the above.

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3 Anna August 15, 2011 at 5:38 pm

OMG! So many pickles! And I thought I had a lot. LOL. I just love pickles and this year, I experimented with pickling tomatoes, my all-time favorite food. But I haven’t posted about any of that yet; just too busy processing all the summer’s bounty.

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4 Sofya August 15, 2011 at 6:15 pm

You could say that again! I love pickled tomatoes too, I also did them successfully in the past. I’ve done the same brine as for these here pickles, it was great! May have processed them longer though not sure why anymore. I plan to make some this year as well. Kinda need a bigger jar for them, like a 1/2 gallon mason.

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5 Anna August 16, 2011 at 6:53 pm

I only made 2 1-quart jars, just to test out the recipe. They turned out pretty good. Now, I have to find a good source for cherry tomatoes (I tried it with cherry tomatoes). But, any tasty tomato would work, it’s just a matter of getting them into jars. I need to stock up! Do you know of any way to keep them longer than a few weeks? For the pickles, I actually processed my lacto-fermented in a water bath (but I’m also keeping them in a cold basement). Not sure how that’ll work, but so far, they look fine.

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6 Sofya August 16, 2011 at 7:20 pm

You’d need to can them in that case, like you do with your other ones. I think the processing time for pickled tomatoes should be like 15 minutes like it is for pickled cukes according to the USDA. Of course tomatoes are more acidic, but the cherry ones not so much, they just tend to be sweeter.

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7 Amy P. August 17, 2011 at 6:18 am

You’ve inspired me! I’m headed to the Farmers’ Market today to stock up on cukes, dill and garlic. Dill this week, sweet next and maybe even some green beans or tomatoes…we’ll see. Thanks!

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8 Zoe August 17, 2011 at 9:28 pm

i let my cukes grow a little large and was thinking about making them into slices or spears….can you still use the grape leaves if you are using sliced cukes?

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9 Sofya August 17, 2011 at 9:41 pm

You bet! And you can always pick a bunch and compost them (or pickle them) and let the little ones grow again if you still have a bunch of flowers left. Mine are still coming in like crazy, I am sort of beginning to hate them for that.

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10 Feride August 20, 2011 at 12:36 am

This is the best cucumber pickles recipes I have seen. Seriously. Very detailed and so very visually appealing! I am going to try your recipe one day. WE love pickles! Thank you for the great tutorial

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11 Sofya August 20, 2011 at 8:40 am

Glad you liked it!

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12 Maia Brindley Nilsson August 21, 2011 at 4:15 pm

I’m really happy to find your recipe and would like to try it since I can’t get dill pickles in Sweden. But I also can’t find pickling salt. Do you have a suggestion for an alternative? The white vinegar here is also a much higher percentage, of 12%. Do you think a white wine vinegar would work?

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13 Sofya August 21, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Maia, I wouldn’t go with white wine vinegar – for 12% vinegar, just dilute 2x. Like if I say, use 1:1 white vinegar and water, use 1:2 12% vinegar and water. Pickling vinegar should be b/w 4 and 6%, technically, and while lower %-tage would be dangerous on the account of the possible growth of botulinum toxin (which is deadly), higher isn’t.

In the past, I substituted Kosher salt for pickling 1:1 by volume. I am sure that people pickle there – just ask around what kind of salt to buy for pickling, and point out that it needs to have no additives, like iodine or anti-caking agents.

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14 Kaitlyn August 28, 2011 at 6:59 am

Your recipe looked so delicious that I had to try it! After letting the processed jars cool overnight, I noticed that the brine doesn’t fully cover a few jars’ contents anymore (only about 1mm is exposed). Are these jars still safe to store without refrigeration? I tried to pack as many cukes in as I could, but now I’m not sure if I overdid it.

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15 Sofya August 28, 2011 at 8:23 am

Hello Kaitlyn – that’s because the cukes have sucked in some of the brine, and also because some brine may have escaped during the processing (this is called siphoning). They are still safe to eat if the seal is good. One of the ways siphoning can be prevented is by removing the bubbles from the top of the brine before sealing. There just was a conversation about that on Food in Jars’ Facebook page (a terrific canning site if you are not familiar). The site itself is http://foodinjars.com

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16 Charlie October 13, 2011 at 7:22 pm

I’m thinking about using this recipe for refrigerator dills for all the leftover Kohlrabi I have. What do you think? Charlie.

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17 Sofya October 13, 2011 at 8:36 pm

I think it’s a great idea – please try and let me know how it turns out, OK?

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18 Charlie October 13, 2011 at 9:34 pm

OK!

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19 LB @ Bullets And Biscuits June 26, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Great post! And just in time because I planted cucumbers just for making pickles this year. I love your step-by-step instructions. Thanks for posting this tutorial again!!

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20 Rebecca July 15, 2012 at 7:45 pm

Thanks for an easy to follow recipe. Tried it today for my first pickling adventure. I did cut my cucs into spears. My question is: how long do they need to sit before they taste like pickles? :)

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21 Sofya July 15, 2012 at 8:01 pm

The fridge ones? Until they taste like pickles, a few days.

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22 Rebecca July 15, 2012 at 9:42 pm

Thanks! I actually made the canned ones. Is that also a few days? Many thanks!

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23 Sofya July 16, 2012 at 9:31 am

For sure after two weeks.

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24 Jon August 5, 2012 at 4:08 pm

how long does it take them to be ready to eat

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25 Sofya August 5, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Between one and two weeks.

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26 Ken Scott August 6, 2012 at 7:22 pm

Had so many cucumbers this year that my wife and I decided to try canning and making pickles. We searched the web and came up with your perfectly simple and easy directions for canning and making pickles so we tried it and behold the better than store bought pickles. Thank you very much.
Sincerely Ken and Anne Marie

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27 Sofya August 6, 2012 at 7:27 pm

So glad to hear!

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28 Cullen August 12, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Hey Sofya, great looking recipe! We just made two more batches of our “famous” recipe from last year…and while last years were exceptional, this years turned out pretty disgusting due to how salty they were. Either we messed up both batches this year, or we had a beneficial mess up last year :) We are going to try your recipe, but are wondering why you don’t use pickling spice in the brine?

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29 Sofya August 12, 2012 at 6:35 pm

Just taste your brine next time! I don’t use pickling spice because I don’t like the sweet tones of cloves and such. I prefer the “clean” (in my mind) taste of black peppercorns, garlic, and dill stalks.

However, I do use pickling spice when making homemade venison (or beef) pastrami and corned beef (or venison).

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30 Cullen August 13, 2012 at 6:32 pm

Thanks – we went without the spices for that same reason. Looking forward to trying the first jar of the fridge pickles. We made 20 total jars, 5 of which ended up being fridge pickles, the rest were fully processed. Thanks!

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31 Cullen August 15, 2012 at 11:30 am

Just cracked the first jar of fridge pickles, they turned out great. Might want to mention that 2T of sugar turns the brine/pickles sweeter than a normal dill. I think I’ll end up with 1T of sugar on the next batch :)

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32 Sofya August 15, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Sounds good!

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33 Amanda August 14, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Hey there, I stumbled upon your blog via pinterest. Awesome pickling tutorial, this is my first year and first attempt at canning anything and your post really was helpful. Potentially dumb question…once I have canned and sealed the pickles do they need to sit for a number of days, weeks, months before they are ready to eat? Thanks again! =)

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34 Sofya August 14, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Two weeks, but should keep for up to a year.

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35 Salihah September 16, 2012 at 10:59 pm

Hi Sofya! I made this today with a few different spices, my first time canning pickles. Thanks for the great info, photos, and instructions! Do I need to wait a few days like with refrigerator pickles or can we pop open a jar tomorrow? Thank you again!
Salihah recently posted..Cucumber Coconut Water and Honey SyrupMy Profile

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36 Sofya September 16, 2012 at 11:49 pm

Oh yeah, at least a week.

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37 Tony Cheatham September 28, 2012 at 8:00 pm

Hello Sofia,
I don’t suppose you get many questions from men. I am retired but try to keep myself busy. In summer I do gardening and alot of drying, freeziung, and canning. I thought I would try pickles last year so did a few pints of bread and butter pickles. They turned out great so thought I’d try dills this year. After searching the web I decided to try your process and recipie. Thanks. Very plain and easy to follow instructions. Now I only have one question.. How long before I can open and eat??

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38 Sofya September 28, 2012 at 10:23 pm

Two weeks in my experience!

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39 George November 17, 2012 at 6:30 pm

I never get the stronger garlic taste I prefer when pickling, even when adding more cloves to the jar than normal. Can I boil a few fresh crushed cloves in the brine, then strain out before adding to the prepared jars? Just wondering if that would mess up the “chemistry” of it all. Thanks!

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40 Sofya November 18, 2012 at 4:39 pm

I think you could!

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41 Colleen Burris November 22, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Sofya,
I am going to start the process in a crock … what has been your experience – then put them in a canning jar?

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42 Sofya November 22, 2012 at 7:44 pm

I don’t see why because the point of the crock is to keep the milk warm during the incubation.

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43 Bill colcord August 2, 2013 at 2:43 pm

I just made your pickles and forgot to add the peppercorns.
I lived for two years ia AZ and made pickles without peppercorns and with less vinegar. I also used sour cherrie leaves and hot peppers.

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44 Ruth August 7, 2013 at 7:39 am

Just saw this post and I have to say I am very excited. We have been through two attempts at processed pickles this summer, and they came out mushy. I am convinced it is the 10 min process time. Thanks for giving me the motivation to cut that time down. If everything is properly sterile, and the brine is boiling, and we are getting a good seal, I can’t see why they have to be boiled for 10 mins.

Our fridge pickles have come out great, bit I really want some for the winter.

I will report back,

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45 Sofya August 7, 2013 at 10:07 am

Thanks, Ruth!

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46 Anna August 8, 2013 at 11:03 pm

I just wanted to add that you can also use horseradish leaves instead of oak or grape, to ensure crispness. Pickle on!!!!

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47 marcie August 22, 2013 at 1:27 am

I’ve enjoyed your tutorial and comments about canning/pickling. To add to the comments – we always used alum to help the pickles stay firm (just 1/8-1/4 tsp in the bottom of each jar). I thought I’d rather try something more natural, so will try the grape leaves. Also, as a young bride, my mother showed me how to can dills without boiling them or using a water bath and that’s what I’ve done ever since, with no problems. I use 3 cups of vinegar to 9 cups of water (so it’s not a 1:1 ratio, but it’s always worked for me) and 1/2 c. salt… after stuffing the jars full of cukes, dill and anything else I want to add (sometimes garlic and/or mustard seed, etc.), I fill them, one at a time w/the brine, wipe the jar edge and the jar lid that has soaked in simmering water (to soften the rubber seal, not to sterilize) and secure the lid – and that’s it. No boiling, etc. They always seal, and the acid of the vinegar is enough to keep the cukes ‘safe’ and I’ve never had any problems. I’ve stored them for up to two years. If anything settles to the bottom (as some say), you can turn them upside down once in while over the course of the weeks/months they are on the shelf. For canning tomatoes, after removing the skins (by dipping them in scalding water), I cut into chunks and let them all simmer in a pot for awhile (only 10 min or so) then put them in the jars (w/the heated lid, again) and seal. They are so acidic, I’ve never had to put them in a bath. Some people I know put chopped onion and bell peppers with them while simmering, and they’re ready for whatever sauce you’re going to prepare. I try to use the tomatoes within a year, maybe two, but they’re gone before then anyway. Because they’re chunky and I prefer smoother sauce in my recipes, I put a jar of canned tomatoes in my blender for just 10-15 seconds and they’re ready to add to chili, spaghetti, or whatever. Just some thoughts that might help some newer canners.

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48 Sofya August 22, 2013 at 8:46 am

Although I know people who do that, I am strongly against non-hot-water-bath. When I did that one time, HALF of them popped open and went bad, and my work went to waste. I also don’t peel the tomatoes for any reason, especially for sauce http://girlsguidetobutter.com/2011/08/quick-tomato-sauce-for-freezing/

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49 Rebecca August 24, 2013 at 10:12 pm

First attempt at pickles. I have a recipie for refridgerator pickles which calls for 1 cup distilled vinegar, 2 cups sugar and 1 Tbs salt (I used table salt because I didnt know there was a difference). I boiled the ingrediants mixed it with my cukes and peppers and onions then I put it in jars and canned it. I didnt realize the recipie said to just put them in the fridge. Are they safe to eat now? Do I need to refridgerate the canned jars?

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50 Sofya August 24, 2013 at 11:15 pm

I think that it is safe to eat – with that amount of vinegar and sugar. But would you please consult a greater expert – try Marisa from Food in Jars.

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51 John September 25, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Hello Sofya,
Let me first say that I found your site by searching for a dill pickle recipe and I think it is great, your photographs and instructions are very good. I am the cook for my wife and I and I also do all of the vegetable gardening. This year was my first attempt at canning and tried a dill recipe on the pickling salt bag, it was terrible, way too salty, I tried yours and they were prefect. I made 15 quarts, also have done 23 quarts bread and butter pickles, 26 quarts green beans, 10qts beets and now I am working on apple sauce and pie filling. I also tried your method of cooking the tomatoes and blending them, worked perfectly have 10 quarts frozen. I also have a farm background and work in Agriculture, hunt deer, geese and pheasants. I liked your idea of hanging the deer carcass in a tree for our feathered friends, will try it this year. Thanks for the great site, oh my nieces husband was born and raised in Ukraine and now lives near us in central Illinois.

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