What is it about a dill pickle that everyone loves? Of course there is the anticipation of the pleasant tangy flavor that makes you salivate before even taking the first bite, but there is something even more important – the audible crunch of the perfect crispy pickle! We love our tried and true dill pickle recipe below, but it wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t crispy.
No one wants to open a jar and bite into a soft and mushy pickle – even if the flavor is outstanding. So why is it so difficult to get a pickle to become crunchy? There are several reasons.
The most important way to avoid mushy pickles is to use fresh picked, pickling cucumbers. Some people don’t realize that standard garden salad cucumbers are not ideal for making pickles. Those cucumbers tend to be larger and contain a thick seed base than pickling cucumbers. And of course, you don’t want to use them if they are overripe. When picking, look for a slim and dark green cucumber with prickly bumps on the skin. If it has begun to yellow or become overly swollen, it will not make a good pickle – save that one to enjoy as a snack or with a salad.
Another important tip to making crisp pickles is to make them within hours of picking, whenever possible. The water in cucumbers begins to evaporate soon after picking, leaving them to soften quickly. And that means soft and mushy pickles. Also, make sure to cut off the blossom end of the cucumber. The tip contains an enzyme that can change the overall chemical balance in your pickles causing them to soften.
Another possible reason that you might get mushy pickles is by over-processing them. It is best to have your hot water bath close to a boiling point when hot packing your jars so they don’t spend excessive time in the hot water. There are also recipes that call for low temperature processing where you keep the water bath temperature at 180 degrees F and process for 30 minutes. If you do try this method, make sure to find a recipe that calls for low temperature processing. We use the Ball Water Bath Canner and Tool Kit to easily make our pickles.
What about using the ingredient alum, that my grandmother used to tell me about? Alum is no longer a recommended additive for canning pickles per the FDA. However, some people recommend using lime to make crisp pickles. This involves soaking pickles in lime for 24 hours and then making sure to remove all the lime before pickling by washing and soaking the cucumbers in water, because it is not safe to leave lime on the skin during the canning process. I am not sure about you, but I don’t want to soak my cucumbers in anything that isn’t safe to eat.
And finally, our secret to crisp pickles – adding half of a grape leaf to each jar. This really isn’t a secret, rather an old method that has been passed down from generation to generation. These tannin-rich leaves keep lacto-fermented foods crispy, without negatively effecting the taste of the pickles. For us, it is easy to use grape leaves – we just gather a few from the vineyard, but you can find them by asking neighbors, local vineyards, and of course picking them from wild crops (just make sure they are grape leaves without poison ivy, oak, etc….).
This recipe is our standard dill pickle recipe – but feel free to add additional spices to make them to your liking.
Dill Pickle Recipe – with Grape Leaves
*makes 7 pints
6 lbs. pickling cucumbers (approximately 3-4 cucumbers per jar)
3 cups white vinegar
3 cups water
4 tbsp. pickling salt
7 garlic cloves, peeled
7 tsp. dill seeds
3 1/2 tsp. whole black peppercorns
4 large, fresh grape leaves
1. Prepare jars – wash or sterilize them in the dishwasher – keeping them hot.
2. Start water bath now – you want it close to the boiling point by the time you are ready to add your jars.
3. Wash cucumbers – making sure to scrub the skin thoroughly.
4. Cut off each end of the cucumber, and slice, dice or spear as desired.
5. In a medium sauce pan, over medium high heat, bring vinegar, water and salt to a boil.
6. In each jar, add 1 garlic clove, 1 teaspoon of dill seed, and 1/2 teaspoon of peppercorns to the bottom.
7. Pack cucumbers tightly into each jar.
8. Pour hot brine over cucumbers, leaving 1/4 inch head space.
9. Run a plastic utensil on the inside of the jar to release any air bubbles.
10. Add 1/2 of a grape leaf on top of the cucumbers.
11. Wipe top of jar with a clean damp cloth, add hot lid and band.
12. Place in hot water bath and process for 10 minutes at a roiling boil. (adjust time based on altitude as required)
13. Remove jars and place on a thick towel. Let cool at room temperature for 24 hours.
14. After 24 hours, check to make sure the jars are sealed by pressing down on the center of the lid. If it does not ‘pop’ then it is sealed. If you are able to press down on the lid, place in the refrigerator and use within 2 weeks.
**It is best to wait at least 2 weeks before opening your first jar of pickles — believe me, it’s worth the wait!
Mary and Jim
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Crisp Dill Pickles
- 6 lbs. pickling cucumbers approximately 3-4 cucumbers per jar
- 3 cups white vinegar
- 3 cups water
- 4 tbsp. pickling salt
- 7 garlic cloves peeled
- 7 tsp. dill seeds
- 3 1/2 tsp. whole black peppercorns
- 4 large fresh grape leaves
- Prepare jars - wash or sterilize them in the dishwasher - keeping them hot.
- Start water bath now - you want it close to the boiling point by the time you are ready to add your jars.
- Wash cucumbers - making sure to scrub the skin thoroughly.
- Cut off each end of the cucumber, and slice, dice or spear as desired.
- In a medium sauce pan, over medium high heat, bring vinegar, water and salt to a boil.
- In each jar, add 1 garlic clove, 1 teaspoon of dill seed, and 1/2 teaspoon of peppercorns to the bottom.
- Pack cucumbers tightly into each jar.
- Pour hot brine over cucumbers, leaving 1/4 inch head space.
- Run a plastic utensil on the inside of the jar to release any air bubbles.
- Add 1/2 of a grape leaf on top of the cucumbers.
- Wipe top of jar with a clean damp cloth, add hot lid and band.
- Place in hot water bath and process for 10 minutes at a roiling boil. (adjust time based on altitude as required)
- Remove jars and place on a thick towel. Let cool at room temperature for 24 hours.
- After 24 hours, check to make sure the jars are sealed by pressing down on the center of the lid. If it does not 'pop' then it is sealed. If you are able to press down on the lid, place in the refrigerator and use within 2 weeks.
It is best to wait at least 2 weeks before using.
Recipe courtesy of Old World Garden Farms