This recipe was perfected by Rachel Knight of Denison, Tx.
It was passed on to me by my dad and 2 uncles who grew up on these pickles, and when done right, there are none better.
I have made a few modifications here and there but always return to the core recipe as it is truly the best, but I now substitute pickling lime for the alum since in side by side testing I found the lime to produce a crisper pickle. (Go here for my step by step pictorial)
Alum or Pickling Lime
Pickling or Kosher salt
at least 1 quart white vinegar
2 dill heads and/or 2 tsp dill seed per quart jar (I like to do both)
2 dill sprigs per jar
1 tsp peppercorns per jar
2 cloves garlic per jar
1 red jalapeno per jar
(In examining my jar from last year- I noticed that I also added 1 tsp black and yellow mustard seeds)
Here is my step by step report on making my Grandma Rachel's pickles:
Gather the ingredients
I had some things around the house already, but to make grandmas pickles, first I needed to gather the fresh ingredients. Sometimes I try to grow whatever I can in the garden, especially the dill heads and red jalapenos as they can be hard to find occasionally, but this time I just went to the store for everything.
My first stop was the Vallarta supermarket.
Vallarta has really good prices on produce in general, but the main reason I go there is because they ALWAYS have the pickling sized cucumbers in mass amounts. This time they were on sale, so they were a little picked over, but they still had plenty for my needs. In contrast. at the other 3 stores I visited that day, each store only had a tiny tiny section for pickling cucumbers, and they were not nearly as fresh looking.
Even at Vallarta I had to be choosy. I selected only the firmest ones and rejected any shriveled ones. Unfortunately, the little skinny ones are almost always spongy or shrivelled looking, so I ended up with mostly monster sized ones, but that's OK because I prefer a "big"pickle.
I also got my garlic, some red peppers and black peppercorns at Vallarta, but they never seem to have dill there so I had to shop on....
Next stop- Albertsons.
Whereas I had to pick through the huge pile of peppers at Vallarta to find about 6 red ones, Albertsons had them in abundance, but they only 3 packs of fresh dill (nobody had dill heads. In fact, I've never found them in a store) and only had dill seeds in a teeny tiny jar for $5. I don't want to name names, but if you see this little jar- it's a total rip-off.
So it was on to Ralph's...
Ralph's at least had tons of fresh dill- but still no dill seeds. I was beginning to think that I was going to have to buy the crazy $5 bottles and I needed too many of them!
I decided to try 2 more stores. Smart and Final had nothing, but then I went to Whole Foods.
For the same price as the tiny red capped jar, I was able to get TWO BIG jars of dill seeds at whole foods!
So with my ingredients all gathered, I returned home to start the pickles...
Soak the cucumbers overnight in a solution of 1 cup pickling lime to 1 gallon of water.
Be extra careful when measuring out the lime, as it is a very fine powder and it is easy to fill the air with a floating dust that will irritate your lungs. The can says to work in a well ventilated area, which is good advice.
I have eaten my share of pickles, and I always save the big jars when they are empty. Since I was making 4 gallons of pickles, I did not have a bowl big enough to soak them in, and just decided to soak them in the jars. It took two gallons of mix to cover 4 jars of pickles.
the pre-mixed lime solution
I packed each jar full of cucumbers and covered them in the lime/water solution. It doesn't really dissolve, but kid of settles to the bottom, so I occasionally go into the fridge and shake the bottles again to redistribute the lime.
It looks really gross at this stage, but it is well worth it in the end.
the pickles soaking and ready to put in the refrigerator
Wash the soaking mixture off of the pickles. With the lime you really really have to make sure you get it all off.
This part takes the longest, so before I began, I test packed my quart jar with some smallish cucumbers and set them aside separately so I did not waste a lot of time finding ones that fit later when the jar was boiling hot...
Then, I washed out my 2 mason jars and put them in the canner to start boiling which also takes a long time.
On to washing the cucumbers...
Here is what a gallon jar looked like after the overnight soak:
The directions on the lime can say to rinse in 4 changes of water. That gets most of the residue, but the cucumbers will still have a fine gritty coating on them that I scrub off one by one. I also take this opportunity to clean off the blossom ends as I have read that leaving them au-natural leads to unwanted enzymes that can cause spoilage.
before washing after washing
normal blossom end cleaned blossom end
Once I had all of the cucumbers cleaned, I moved on to the rest of the jars.
Sterilize the jars and lids. This can be done in the dishwasher on HOT or in boiling water. Either way- do this very close to when you are ready to pickle so they are still piping hot when you are ready for them.
I already had my quart jars in the boiling water,
but my gallon jars will not fit into the canner so for them I use bleach.
I use one capful (about 1 Tbls) to one gallon water to sterilize the jars and then rinse rinse and rinse again to make sure all of the bleach is gone. Then I cap the jars while I work on the brine and ingredients.
Mix up the brine in a ratio of 11 oz pickling salt (this is about 1 cup but it's better to go by weight) to 1 quart white vinegar to 5 quarts of water and bring to a boil.
Pickling salt is hard to find. I've never seen it in a store, so luckily my mom sends me some in the mail once in a while.
If you measure by weight, don't forget to zero out the scale with the cup in place before measuring out the salt.
(notice the plastic wrap under the lid: this helps keep the salt from clumping while stored)
Add the salt to a mixture of 5 parts water to one part white vinegar.
I bought a quart bottle of vinegar to make it easy. I also used our brita filter to clean up the taste of the tap water.
Stir the brine to dissolve the salt. It will take a little while, but the salt will be fully dissolved when the mixture is clear again.
I figured I'd need more than 1 6QT batch of brine to cover my 4 gallons of pickles, so I made up another 1/2 batch and turned on the fire.
It takes a while to come to a boil, so in the mean time, I prepped my ingredients...
I split each pepper down the middle and removed the stem end
peeled and smashed the garlic
and portioned out the ingredients for 4 gallons(for each gallon I used 4x the quart jar recipe) + 2 quarts.
The rest of the dill I added to the pots of hot brine to steep.
I also prepared 4 cucumbers to pickle as spears (these will be my taste testers, as they pickle faster than the whole ones, and I can eat them a little at a time until the big ones are ready) You may notice some extra spices in this picture. It was clear from looking at the jar I had from last year's batch in the refrigerator, that I had also added mustard seeds. So for this batch I also added 1 tsp of black and yellow mustard seeds (per quart) to all of my jars along with the peppercorns and the dill seeds.
With the jars fully boiling and the brine also at a boil, I removed one of the jars and its lid (be careful, the jars will be full of scalding hot water)
quickly packed the spears and the herbs and spices and added the hot brine
poked them around a bit with a stick to release as much air as possible,
and after making sure that the rim was clean, I screwed on the lid.
Then I gathered my skinny cucumbers that I had set aside and test packed earlier and got ready for the next jar...
...and screwed on the lid as quickly as possible.
It was not easy to pack 6 pickles into one small jar, even though I had practiced it earlier. This, and the possibility of non sealing jars is the reason I have moved to the large gallon jars and putting all pickles into the refrigerator until ready to eat.
The bigger jars are much easier to work with, and since they were sterilized with bleach, are not hot and unwieldy to work with.
Tilt the jar and start packing the cucumbers in like a puzzle
After I had 1/2 of the jar filled I added some of the garlic, the jalapeno peppers, the spices, and some of the dill and continued filling to the top with more cucumbers and the rest of the dill and jalapeno and garlic.
When all of the jars had been packed in this manner, I added the brine to each jar and screwed on the lids.
You can see in this picture that my plastic club store jars did not do so well with the heat of the brine.
I'll have to get some more glass jars for next time.
Check the seals.
I checked both jars, and my 2 experimental quart jars did seal after I placed them in the refrigerator.
I pressed the center of the lid, and there was no "pop"
and I was also able to lift the jar into the air by the lid itself, telling me I had a good vacuum seal.
I could in theory store these in a cool dark place, but like I said before, I prefer not to chance any spoilage, and just put them all in the refrigerator.
One thing I noticed this time is that with the wide mouth jars, it is a little easer to pack the cucumbers, but without the little neck, it made it harder to wedge them in and not have them float up to the top while I was trying to fill the jar with brine. This being the case, I just filled them to the top and tried not to get too much air in the top of the jar before I screwed the lid on...