I grew up eating the best dill pickles, but I didn’t know it until I left for college. Try as I might, I could never find a commercial dill pickle as good as Grandma Helen’s. I tried all the brands, all the styles, all the flavors. Nothing ever came close – until I started making my own a few years ago, using my own homegrown cucumbers and Grandma Helen’s very own recipe.
And now, whenever I crack open a jar and take that first pungent sniff, whenever I bite into that crisp, crunchy, garlicky pickle, I’m flooded with childhood memories of eating pickle and cheese sandwiches for lunch and sneaking crunchy pickles from the fridge as a midnight snack.
Grandma was a whiz for scoping out a good deal and knew all the right people on the farms and orchards for miles around her teeny hometown in southern Washington. So when she found a good deal on pickling cukes, she scooped up as many as she could and spent the next several days pickling and canning to beat the band.
She put up oodles and oodles of dill pickles (and peaches and cherries and pears and applesauce and tomato sauce and jam and… well, you get the idea). Then she and Grandad would pack their little Datsun pickup to the gills and haul it all to my family’s ranch in northern British Columbia, Canada and we enjoyed her hard work all winter long.
Grandma Helen’s pickles are the best. Hands down. And every time I put up quarts of pickles, I remember how thoroughly she filled each jar – with love, with memory, with devotion. I’m doing the same, and adding an equal measure of family lore and legacy to boot.
Grandma Helen's Dill Pickles
- Large Roasting Pan
- Sterile Quart Jars, Bands & Lids
- Stainless Steel Pot
- Wide Mouth Funnel
- 3 quarts hot water
- 1 quart vinegar (see notes)
- 3/4 cup pickling salt (see notes)
- 8-12 cloves garlic, peeled
- 8-12 fresh dill heads
- 1 peck fresh pickling cucumbers
- Clean and sanitize 8 quart jars.
- Add 1-2 garlic cloves and 1-2 fresh dill heads to each jar (if it’s a large garlic clove, 1 is enough, use 2 if they’re smaller. Same for the dill heads).
- Pack each jar with fresh pickling cukes. (see notes)
- Meanwhile, bring the water, vinegar, and salt to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer.
- Ladle the pickling brine into each jar, removing air bubbles, and leaving a 1/2″ headspace.
- Add lids and bands and transfer the jars to a large roasting pan with approximately 2″ water in a preheated 350° oven. Leave 1-2″ between each jar. Once all the jars are in the oven, start a timer and let them process for 20 minutes.
- Remove jars to a towel on the countertop and let cool undisturbed for 12-24 hours.
- I’ve known Grandma to use both white vinegar and apple cider vinegar. I like both, but tend to use white vinegar more often. Apple cider vinegar produces a little sharper taste. Experiment with both to see which you prefer.
- “Pickling salt” is often also called “canning salt.” There’s nothing particularly special about it except that it has no added caking agents (an additive used in many salts to keep it from caking into clumps, but those caking agents make your brine cloudy when you can with them).
- Grandma always reminds me to pickle cukes as fresh as I can get them – preferably within a couple hours of picking. Wash them well in cold water, scrubbing with a little brush to remove any spines and trim the blossom ends.
- Packing jars is a bit of an art – choosing just the right size cucumber to fit in just the right spot – I’m still getting the hang of it. They should fit snugly, but not be too tight that the brine cannot penetrate between the cukes; it’s better to pack too loosely than too tightly.
- I like to use regular mouth quart jars for pickles – the shoulders of the jar help keep the pickles submerged under the brine.
- I use our turkey roasting pan to process the jars – it’s wide and flat with high sides. I add about 3 quarts of water or approximately 2″ and add it to the oven as it preheats. When the oven is hot, I add brine to the jars one at a time and add the jar to the pan in the oven. Once all the jars are in, start your processing time.
- The oven method gets the jars good and hot, destroying any bacteria and sealing the jars as they cool. But it doesn’t cook the cucumbers as intensely as a water bath and so they seem to stay crunchier.
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