Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Dill Pickle Lust Revived

I have this childhood memory--shared to my knowledge with at least one of my cousins--of going to see my Nana and Poppa (i.e., my maternal grandparents) on weekends and invariably seeing several quarts jars of dill pickles soaking in the sun on their front porch. And that meant one thing: that we'd be sent home with these oh so sour, garlicky pickles with instructions to shake the jars periodically and let them sit for several more days before opening.

Ah, they were good. Nana, a magical cook and baker in your basic Eastern European Jewish immigrant tradition, used small--perhaps three inch--pickling cucumbers and tons of fresh dill. She'd make a slit into the middle of each cuke so they would absorb the flavors of the spices and herbs that she stuffed into the jar with them. The pickles would have a bit of a crunch and then spill out a delicious sour garlicky dill juice that I still associate with summer and the knockwursts that my dad would split lengthwise and pan fry, then smother with bright-tasting Ba-Tampte deli mustard and crunchy sauerkraut. If we had a batch of Nana's pickles around, my dad's coming-home-from-work ritual would be to head straight to the fridge after entering the house, pull out the jar and reach in for a pickle or two for a quick snack before heading upstairs to change. My dad was obsessed with them, as was the rest of our family.

Nana's been gone for close to 20 years, but I have her recipe. And my mom, who made them sporadically over the years but not lately, not only also has that recipe of her mother's, but also very similar ones from Nana's sister Goldie and daughter-in-law Lois. So, my mom and I got together a couple of weeks ago and pooled our recipe resources to create a batch.

There was a bit of a hiccup, though. Back in the day, these ladies all used alum to keep the cucumbers crisp. But it's hard to find and now regarded as not a good chemical to consume. Also, it was hard to find small pickling cucumbers and whole dill plants (My mom tells me that during the Depression, Nana grew hers in her victory garden; she also made her pickles in a large bowl, not in jars). Specialty Produce contributed to the cause with the cucumbers they had in stock, which were much larger. And I picked up some of the packaged baby dill sold at the supermarkets. To compensate for the alum, I also bought a container of Ball pickling spice for kosher dill cucumbers because I noticed it included pickle crisp granules. (I've since bought the granules and pickling salt online through Ball's website.)

With everything in hand, we set to work.

First things, first--scrub the cucumbers.

Here's my mom, Evie Golden, volunteer model for the photos and the best cook/baker I know.
 Then, I like to set up all the ingredients:

We didn't process the pickles (Nana never did), but we did wash, then boil the jars and lids. Then the big strategic question: How to fill the jars? First, because these cukes were so big, we could only squeeze three in if I really worked them. Not a viable solution, so we cut them into thirds (and a few even smaller to fit more into each jar). Then Mom tried putting in the cukes first before adding the spices.

But that made adding the dill too difficult. So, we pulled out the cucumber pieces and put the spices and herbs in the jars first. Much better.

After that, you fill the jars with boiling water, leaving half an inch of head space. Top the jars with the lid and screw the band on tightly before turning the jars upside down for a few days.

That's it. Sit them out in the sun for a day or so to expedite the curing process. Then bring them in the house and let them cure for five days. Once you open the jars, keep them in the refrigerator. I'm going to try processing them in a water bath next time so I can put spare jars into the pantry for eating later in the year.

Here's the recipe pulled together from the three I mentioned:

Badion Family Kosher Dill Pickles
(Printable Recipe)

By the way, this will also work for green tomatoes. When Valdivia's green tomatoes show up at the farmers markets, I'm going to try this recipe with them.

Makes 8 quarts (use wide-mouth glass jars)

6 to 7 pounds small pickling cucumbers OR green tomatoes (The larger cucumbers simply don't get the same intense flavor from fermentation as the smaller ones do.)

For each jar:
2 or more large sprigs of fresh dill (you can't use too much)
1 tablespoon pickling spices
4 cloves garlic, roughly sliced
1 dried chile pepper
4 bay leaves
5 or more peppercorns
1 pinch Ball Pickle Crisp Granules
1 rounded tablespoon kosher salt
Boiling water

(optional for color: baby carrots, celery)

1. Prep washed jars and lids by sterilizing in boiling water or running through the dishwasher. Wash the bands in soap and water.

2. Wash and scrub the cucumbers/tomatoes.

3. Make a small slit into the cucumbers or tomatoes so they will absorb the liquid. For the tomatoes, you can leave them whole or slice them in half to fit.

4. Fill the bottom of each jar first with the dill, pickling spices, garlic, chile pepper, bay leaves, peppercorns, Pickle Crisp Granules, and salt. Then pack in the cucumbers/tomatoes--but don't force them in.

5. Fill each jar with boiling water, leaving half an inch of head space.

6. Top with the lid and screw on the band tightly. Turn each jar upside down to spread the pickling spices throughout the jar. You can put them in the sun to cure for a day or two. They should be ready in five days but you ought to let them sit longer (up to 10 days) to get more sour and flavorful.

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