When I was growing up in Alaska, my friend's mother, Evelyn, made the best dill pickles. She special ordered her cukes, dill, and Walla Walla onions. It was exciting to be at her house when she was making them, because I knew in a couple of months, they would be pickles. Now, I frequently had lunch at their house during the school year. Back then, lots of students would walk home for lunch. Starting in September, I would ask if the pickles were ready. "Not yet," was always the reply. But, oh come about late November, she would bring out a quart of pickles. We were only allowed one each. And I think secretly, that maybe come November, I wasn't invited quite as often for lunch, because I always wanted a pickle. And if it was up to me, the pickles would probably be all gone by Christmas!
But years later, as I wanted to get into canning and making my own pickles, I wrote and got Evelyn's recipe. I made a couple of changes. For example, I use Pickle Crisp (calcium chloride) instead of Alum. And she calls for adding a small red pepper per jar, but I don't know what kind, so I just use red pepper flakes. Also, if possible, I add a grape leaf to each jar.
Now I will tell you the truth. It has taken several years for me to perfect pickles. I have had several failures. The first year I did not scrub the pickles with a brush. You must scrub your pickles clean so there is no white residue. My jars of my prized pickles came out of the canner with these long, white, threads growing up out of the pickles! I am not kidding. The threads were waving around in the jars even though the jars were still on the counter. They had to be alive! It was like some sort of freak biology experiment. I vowed to scrub my pickles so as not to have any sort of weird, psycho bacteria that will grow and thrive in a pickle jar. It reminded me of those odd sea horses you could order and grow as a kid. Remember those? Anyway...
Next, I got the brilliant idea to do it the old fashioned way and ferment them in a crock. Gross. The disgusting layer of film you have to skim off every day is yucky. It is time consuming, anyway. And after all that skimming of film, how can you be sure they are even safe to eat?
Then I tried Evelyn's recipe again, but the pickles were soft and not crunchy, and sort of sad. Not at all like I remembered. Someone suggested putting a grape leaf in each jar to make them crisp. Hey, I was desperate and didn't care that when I asked for grape leaves down at the local farm stand, he thought I was nuts. I explained I needed them to make pickles. Yeah. So he called the neighbor who grows grapes and he let me come and pick grape leaves for free. Now, the pickles were a bit crisper, and the grape leaves lend a unique taste to the pickles. They were getting better. Love the grape leaf flavor, but they still needed more crispness.
So we come to present day. This has been a 15 year learning experience. I use grape leaves when I can get them. 2 years ago I bought some brined in a jar and they were okay, but expensive. So now I will only put them in if I can get them for cheap, or better yet, free. The key I have learned is to scrub your cukes, and use Pickle Crisp by Ball.
Here's her modified recipe and my method for making delicious, crisp pickles.
Evelyn's Dill Pickles
For approximately 20 qt. jars, you will need:
2 head garlic
1 bunch dill
20# pickling cucumbers
In each sterile jar pack:
1 grape leaf (optional)
1 thick slice onion (Walla Walla)
2 cloves peeled garlic
2-3 dry red peppers, or a rounded 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes)
1 spray dill
1/2 tsp mustard seed
pickle crisp (according to directions)
cucumbers to fill
2 C plain salt
4 qts. vinegar
4 qts water
Bring to a boil.
While you're prepping your cukes, bring to a boil your liquid.
First, soak your pickles well to lift off surface dirt.
Next, scrub those cucumbers!
Trim off about 1/16" from the blossom end. It has some sort of enzyme that can cause spoilage. Rinse your cukes well.
Fill your jars with 1 grape leaf, if using, 1 slice onion, 1 spray dill, red pepper, mustard seed, and garlic.
Add your cukes to the jar. I try to put larger straight ones around the outside and fill in with smaller or misshapen ones. You may need to cut cukes to fit you jar. Pack tightly.
Add your boiling liquid, remove air bubbles, wipe rims, cap and seal.
Process in a boiling water bath (BWB) for 15 min. adjusting for altitude. Fresh pack dills are one of the few food items that the water doesn't need to return to a boil before you start timing. Wish I had read my Ball Blue book a little more thoroughly. I spent years waiting forever for the water to return to a boil. One more reason my pickles weren't as crisp as they could have been.
There you have it. Processed pickles just waiting for a couple of months to pass by to be opened up and enjoyed.
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask. I will do my best to answer them. Happy Canning!