One of my family's favorite snacks has always been pickles. At every family gathering, there's a tray out with several different kinds of pickles, from sweet to spicy to dilled.
When I got into canning, I quickly learned that one of the easiest things to can — and one of the most popular gifts! — are dill pickles.
For this recipe, prepping the cucumbers will take you longer than actually canning them.
Crisp, fresh, seedless cucumbers (one regular-sized cucumber makes about two 8-ounce half-pint jars of pickles); vinegar; cold water; spices; pickling salt; jars, lids and bands.
The best cucumbers for pickles are seedless ones; over time, the seeds will get soft and mushy after you've canned them. Good varieties to use include Kirby, Asian seedless and Persian.
1 whole cucumber
1 cup vinegar
1 cup cold water
1 teaspoon pickling salt
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon dill seed
Fill your canner with water, put the jar rack in and the lid on, bring to a boil. Sterilize your canning jars. Put the lids in a shallow pan of water and bring to a boil to sterilize.
Mix equal parts water and vinegar (for making two half-pints, it's one cup of each; extrapolate from there if you're making more), add the salt and dill seed, stir until the salt dissolves, and bring to a boil.
While waiting for the vinegar mixture to boil, cut the cucumbers in half width-wise. Cut off both ends (the blossom end contains an enzyme that will make the cucumbers go soft after they've been canned.) At this point, you can slice the cucumbers into rounds, spears or flat slices for sandwiches. My father loves pickles on sandwiches, so I often make sandwich spear pickles.
Put one clove of garlic in each jar. Add the sliced cucumbers on top. The cucumbers should be 1/2-inch below the top of the jar. Using your funnel, pour the vinegar mixture evenly into both jars. Put lids on and secure with bands. Tap gently against the counter top to remove air bubbles and settle the cucumbers. Process in the hot-water bath for five minutes. Remove promptly and set on a stable surface to cool. Once jars have cooled and lids have popped, they're shelf-stable and can be stored for up to 18 months.
•As far as spices go, traditional dill pickles include dill seeds (not the feathery fronds on top that you normally associate with dill), garlic, pickling salt and a little bit of red pepper. Don't be constrained by this — go wild! Add any other spices you want. More red pepper will make them spicier, more garlic will make them more garlicky.
•Your pickles will turn from the bright green of a cucumber to the duller green of pickles during processing. This is normal.
•No matter how vigilant you are about removing the pickles from the hot water as soon as they're done, homemade dill pickles will never be as crispy as store-bought, because store-bought have extra preservatives in them that maintain that crunch.
•This recipe can also be used for refrigerator pickles. Instead of hot-water processing the pickles, put lids and bands on them and store them in the fridge for up to several weeks.
•This recipe can also be used for pickling other vegetables — peppers, okra, green beans, asparagus, carrots. I am very fond of dilly beans, personally.
•Kosher salt can be substituted for pickling salt.
•Pickling ingredients are available in most grocery stores, but if you prefer to shop local, you can get pickling salt, dill seeds and pre-mixed pickling spices at Kramer's in Central Market.
— Lauren Gross, a York transplant, has long been fascinated by the science of cooking. Her column, Food in Jars, runs seasonally in The York Dispatch food section.