I’ve always liked dill pickles, but I didn’t like homemade ones. They just didn’t have the crunch that Bick’s and any store-bought ones had. Then I tried dills that Helen Erskine made. She and her husband Sam were my parents’ neighbours and friends in Belmont. I guess my shock showed because Helen asked me ‘what is it, dear?’ It’s good, that’s what it is!
So good that even though I was a teenager and had never canned pickles in my life, nor had any intention of doing so, I wrote down her recipe. Miraculously, I never lost that scrap of paper.
It was a long time before I started making pickles. Even longer before I felt confident to try dill pickles. I didn’t want to ruin my memory of Mrs. Erskine’s perfect pickles. I saw, when actually using the recipe, that there were key things that I had not written down. But I figured them out. So below is my amended recipe.
Helen Erskine’s Award-Worthy Dill Pickles
4 qts (8 lbs / 3.6 kg) pickling cucumbers
1 pint (2 cups / 480 ml) white vinegar
3 qts (12 cups / 2.85 ltrs) water
1/2 cup (120 ml / 113 g) coarse salt
sprigs and heads of dill – a couple per jar
garlic cloves – one large for each jar
1. Wash cucumbers well. Remove any stems without cutting into the cucumber itself. (2018 note: I read that you should soak whole cucumbers in ice-cold water for 3-4 hours before starting pickling – it helps keep them crisp.)
2. Sterilize 6-7 clean quart/litre jars in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Put snap lids in the canner (or in a separate small pan of boiling water) for the last five minutes.
3. Start preparing the pickle brine (#4). As it heats, your jars should be done. So you can begin packing the clean jars with dill and cucumbers (#5).
4. Put water, vinegar and garlic in large stainless steel or enamel pot and bring to a boil. Add salt. Bring to a rolling boil. (You can instead put a garlic clove in each jar. If you don’t like garlic dill pickles, just leave it out.)
5. When jars are sterilized, remove one (carefully, with jar tongs). Put a couple sprigs of dill in it, then pack cucumbers in tightly but without crushing them. Repeat with remaining jars.
6. Scoop the garlic out of the brine and discard. Then ladle brine into the jars. A jar funnel helps keep the rim of your jars clean. Fill to 1/4″ from the top of the jar. Wipe rim with a clean wet cloth and put snap lid and screw cap on. Repeat until all the brine is in all the jars of cucumbers.
You can either a) pack all the jars with cucumbers then fill and cap or b) pack, fill and cap one jar then another. With the batch pictured here, I chose option b.
With luck, your amounts of cucumbers and brine will match. If not, you’ve either got cucumbers left over for something else or brine you can keep if you’re going to do more pickling soon. If I need a little more brine to fill a jar, I quickly heat up a small amount of vinegar, water and salt. Then I mark that jar with a different coloured cap or make a small scratch on the lid. When I label them, I mark it as ‘use first’.
7. Make sure the screw caps are finger tight and put the jars back in the canner. Bring the water back to the boil. The water should come about one inch over the top of your jars. Let them boil for 10 minutes.
8. Carefully remove and put on a rack to cool. You’ll hear the snap lids pop soon. That tells you your seal is good. (On my handwritten recipe, at top, overflowing the jar with brine and turning upside down is what you do with the old style glass lid sealing jars, not the metal snap lids.)
9. When they’ve cooled, take the screw lids off. Wipe the jars, especially around the top, with warm wet cloth or paper towel. You can put the rings back on, or not as long as the seal is good. Date them and put in a dark, cool place for 6 weeks.