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HOMEGROWN Life: For Perfect Pickles, Keep It Simple






I am a fantastic canning assistant.  Just ask my mom.  She and my aunts and grandmother always pickled and canned excess food so that and we had dills to snack on, peaches in the winter, and sauerkraut galore.  The preservation process is far from foreign to me.  That being said, I’ve never really tried it without the trained hand of a prize-winning pickler guiding me.  But, how hard could it be? The Internet lives in our pockets now!

A few friends and I made good use of a recent Saturday, and a wave of DIY inspiration, and set out to make pickles.  Some of them first-timers, and all of us ever eager, we planned to christen my (unused) canner and make enough pickles to last us well-past the coming end of the Mayan calendar.  Common sense (and a phone call to my parents) got the better of us, though, and for fear of botulism and first-timer errors, we decided on refrigerator dills. Easy!

Although its not cucumber season (guilty), we found organic cukes on sale.  We consulted Google for a recipe and got 1,600,000 results. WHAT?! After combing through a few of them who recommended ingredients ranging from fresh dill to cinnamon bark, I called my Dad for a recipe.  Always the minimalist, he suggested white vinegar, a little dill, salt and pepper.  “Stay simple for the best results” he warned.

Well, sorry, Pops, that recipe’s not adventurous enough for us! We wanted gourmet pickles, not some boring dills. Instead of heeding his warning, we took the mustard seed, peppercorns, and dill from one recipe, the allspice, cloves, and sugar from another, and, why not, we added some cinnamon bark in a few of the jars. After sterilizing the jars, prepping and brining the onions, cucumbers, garlic and hot pepper, and boiling our very-own ingredients mixture, we ladled it into each jar and placed them in the refrigerator to set.

Finally, after 24 hours of curing time, it was time for a taste-test.  The results? Edible (score!). The pickles were crisp, with a strong vinegar flavor mixed with a strange essence of cinnamon, which tasted odd with garlic.  The experiment was not a total loss, but certainly a lesson learned: we should have stayed simple: maybe the best recipe is vinegar, dill, salt and pepper.

Oh well, we enjoyed the fruits (er, pickles) of our labor. Isn’t getting there half the fun? We’re planning on canning in the near future. I think we’ll stick to a simple old standby recipe next time!


I am the Flock-Tender here on I am keeping a chronicle of my experiences learning, living, and growing a homegrown lifestyle just out of college.

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One Response to “HOMEGROWN Life: For Perfect Pickles, Keep It Simple”


    Simple is best for a classic dill, but none of the recipes you mentioned included the most important ingredient, at leas for pickles that are actually canned. Grape leaves. I have made a lot of pickles and eaten a lot more homemade pickles, but nothing makes for a crunchier dill pickle than adding grape leaves to each jar. The link above is my recipe for homemade canned pickles and it produces better pickles than my mother or grandmother ever produced. It can also be used to pickle something that is in season now, which is cabbage. Here is my ingredient list:

    Dill Pickles/cabbage/beans
    * 8 pounds of cucumbers (3- to 5-inch pickling cucumbers, may be sliced, spears or whole) [For dill cabbage use 4 small heads or 1-1 ½ large heads (6-8 pounds)]
    * 1/2 cup salt
    * 1 and 1/2 quarts vinegar
    * 2 quarts water
    * fresh dill and/or dill seed (as needed)
    * 1 Tbsp garlic Powder (optional)
    * 1 Tbsp Onion Powder (optional)
    * 2 tbsp peppercorns
    * 1 garlic clove per jar
    * 1-3 grape leaves per jar (may be omitted but the pickles will be much crunchier with them)
    Optional – 1 hot pepper per jar


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