Sunday, September 7, 2014

Wilbur's Dill Pickles

Wilbur Wright is a great man. No, not that Wilbur Wright, the aviation pioneer. I'm talking about Wilbur Wright the nuclear engineer, outdoorsman, carpenter, and pickle maker extraordinaire. Wilbur is the grandfather of my good friend, Mason, and he is one mean pickle maker.

Every year at this time he gets the itch to make pickles. We go up to the family cabin near Grand Rapids, MN, and "put up" a few dozen quarts of cucumber pickles. We usually have a few other pickling side-shows as well, such as beets, jalapeƱos, northerns (pickled fish recipe coming up!) or eggs (never had a pickled egg? You're missing out!). Here is Wilbur's dill pickle recipe. It's a project, but it makes the best pickles ever!

Wilbur's Dill Pickles
Makes 5-6 quarts of pickles -- multiply the recipe as needed

Pickling Solution:
6 c. water
3 c. white vinegar
1/2 c. pickling salt (aka, canning salt)

For the Pickles:
A bushel of smallish cucumbers (look for 3-4", very fresh, firm cucumbers)
6-12 heads of fresh dill
20-25 cloves of garlic, peeled, the ends trimmed off
5-6 T pickling spice (typically coriander seed, dill seed, bay leaf, mustard seed and other spices)
Optionally: red pepper flakes, peppercorns, whole cloves

Additional Materials:
6 quart-sized jars, with rings and lids to fit. Jars and rings can be re-used, but lids must be new. You'll also need 2 large stockpots and two small saucepans.

Day 1 - Prep
Shop for your cucumbers, dill and garlic. A farmer's market is almost always the best source. A note on dill: you want dill that has gone to seed and has nice heads at the top. If on dill weed is available -- dill with soft tendrils and no seeds, it will work, but you should add an additional 1/4 tsp of dill seed to each jar during pickling.

Identify a workspace and lay out all required materials. Lay a clean towel over the area that will be used to stage the finished pickles. Carefully wash the pickling jars with soap and warm water; rinse and dry thoroughly, and place open side down on the workspace towel.

Day 2 - Pickling
Prepare a batch of the pickling solution by mixing the water, vinegar and pickling salt in a large stockpot and heating to near boiling. Fill a second large stockpot with water only, and bring it to a boil. In the mean time, rinse all of the cucumbers to remove any sand or dirt. Scrub off any stubborn dirt with a soft brush. Drain and place in a large bowl. Prep all of the garlic. Check over the dill, removing any brown or blackened bits, rinsing as needed, but taking care not to wash away the dill seed. Trim the heads from the stems.

Heat some water in a small sauce pan to boiling, and place the rings and lids in it to sterilize them and soften the rubber seal on the lids. Separate the lids from each other before placing them in the hot water, or they'll be really hard to get apart -- and hot!

Now you're ready to make pickles! Get your helpers and start by packing the jars with cucumbers (nothing else goes in yet). Place the jars in a sink or on a large sheet pan, and fill each with the boiling water from the water-only stockpot (ladle it in, or use a small saucepan as a ladle). Allow the cucumbers to blanch and heat through for 12-15 minutes.

Working quickly, pour off the hot water, and fill jars with remaining ingredients: 3-5 garlic cloves, 1-2 heads of dill, 1 T of pickling spice, plus 1/4 tsp of each of the additional spices, as desired. Now fill each jar with the pickling solution (water, vinegar and salt), leaving about 1/2" of airspace at the top. Make sure the rim of each jar is free of debris so the lids will seal. Next, drain the lids and rings (they'll be hot!), and carefully put a lid and ring on each jar. Using a towel or hot pads, tighten each ring firmly, turn the jars upside down, and arrange on the towel on your workspace. Cover the jars with a thick towel to keep them warm. Allow to cool for several hours.

Check each jar to make sure the lids have popped in, indicating a good seal. You may actually hear them popping as they cool! Store the jars upright at room temperature, or in a cool basement, for at least 10 days, but they are best after a month or more. They will keep, unopened for a year or more. Enjoy!

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