Sunday, July 18, 2010

CanJam # 7 - My Dad's Dills

Can you believe we're more than half way through the CanJam challenge already? When I read about Tigress's plan for a year long canning challenge back in December, the very first thing I thought of was my dad's dill pickle recipe. My dad's dills are legendary and a staple of my childhood. They were also the first pickles I ever made on my own and I have shared this recipe and the canning techniques I learned with it, with a number of my friends over the years. When Colette and I were roommates many years ago I turned her on to my dad's dills and she's been a convert ever since. Every Sept we watch for the price on pickling cucumbers to drop significantly- our ideal is $.39/lb but some years they never get that low. We buy about a bushel, as well as large bunches of dill and garlic and have a marathon pickling session! Every year we think we've made enough to get us through till next year and every year we have eaten them all by spring- they are just too good!

Over the years we have experimented with small variations of my dad's original recipe- we usually do a few jars with hot peppers added for some spicy pickles, and Colette uses less garlic in her jars because of her garlic allergy. Our latest variation is to add a single grape leaf to each jar- the tannins make for a very crisp pickle without changing the taste in any way. But the basic recipe has remained unchanged for decades and everyone that eats them considers them the best pickles they've ever had. Even tho we know the recipe pretty much by heart we usually call my dad when making them to 'double check' the recipe- this was a tradition begun in our early days as novice canners and now it's become a way to let my dad know we are thinking of him when we make them.

Earle's Dills

(In Imperial measurements because my dad is old school! 1 qt = 4 cups = 0.95 l )

2-3 lbs pickling cucumbers ( the freshest possible; pick smaller cukes to fit many per jar)
1 bunch of flowering dillweed
2-3 bulbs of garlic, separated in cloves and peeled
1 grape leave per jar (optional)
1 qt vinegar ( 5%)
2 qt water
3/4 cup pickling salt

Soak cukes in water for min of 3 hours. Wash and sterilize 4 or 5 quart jars. Heat snap lids to just boiling and turn off heat. In a large non reactive pot heat water, vinegar and salt till boiling.

Add one dill flowerhead and 2-3 cloves of garlic to each sterilized jar. Stuff each jar with as many cukes as will fit, leaving 1/2" head space. You can cut cukes to fit but they tend to be less crisp so we try to avoid this when possible. Add one grape leave, another dill flower and more garlic if there's room and stuff in the spaces between cukes.

Pour brine mixture over cukes, leaving headspace as above. Fit snap lids finger tight and process immediately for 10 minutes. Allow jars to sit for min 3 weeks before opening. (We usually make triple or more of this recipe.- in larger quantities we sometimes use salt to taste- as long at the vinegar to water ratio remains the same, the amount of salt can be used as a guideline and adjusted more or less dependent on your tastes)

This is the earliest we've ever made dills but the weather has been so cooperative this year that pickling cukes appeared at the markets at least month early and the price has already started to drop. As well my dillweed was almost 5' tall and about to seed so the cucurbit CanJam came at the perfect time! We will still do the bulk of our dill pickles later this summer but it is a wonderfull treat to have a batch of early summer dills almost ready to crack open!


  1. I love cornichons! I tried to grow some last year, the plant grew a few but wasn't enough to pickle. Also they were kinda prickly?!?! What's the best variety to grow for pickling cornichons?

  2. you have encouraged me to try pickling cukes again---sounds like a no-fail method. i wonder why whole stays crisper than cut? great post!

  3. I'm going to have to try keeping mine cucumbers whole. I cut mine last year and they definitely weren't as crisp as I wanted them.

  4. Elsie, I'm growing pickling cucumbers for the first time ever! They stay much smaller than an eating cuke and yes,they are covered in tiny black spines! I didn't have enough yet to use in this batch but hopefully I will when we do some later this summer.

    I don't know why cutting makes a softer pickle- maybe the skin allows the vinegar to be absorbed differently?

  5. Great pics... I just did my first pickles of the year and am really looking forward to harvesting my cukes for my own.

    @stylishly yours... cornichons are prickly by nature... a quick wash before pickling will remove a lot of the prickly things.. and the hot brine will take care of the rest.


  6. Wonderful story. I am going to give the grape leaves trick a try.

  7. These look fantastic! I'm going to try the grape leaves as well! Does it matter what kind?

  8. Will wild grape leaves work, or do I need true grape leaves?