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My husband hates cucumber pickles. Me? I’m kind of so so on them. I don’t like dill pickles on my hamburgers (sweet pickle relish is OK). Sometimes a dill pickle spear that comes with a sandwich will taste amazing. Sometimes terrible. I’m never sure why. Dill is far down the list for my favorite fresh herbs. I’ll choose rosemary, thyme and cilantro any day. Even sage and parsley get more use in my kitchen.

So when it comes to making pickles, I don’t do a lot of it. I’ve tried all manor of recipes for boiling water bath canned dill pickles over the years, including the new technique where you pasteurized them at 180 for 30 minutes instead of boiling them, and I’ve never been all that excited about the results. The texture is never as crisp as I’m looking for. I’ve tried all the tricks including a grape leaf in the jar and using pickling lime.

I’ve tried making fermented pickles as well and didn’t think they were any better. Mostly, after 20 years, I’ve resorted to making a few batches per year of refrigerator pickles based on this recipe from Food In Jars. Just not worth more effort for something only I’m eating and I’m not eating that much of.

But I recently taught a beginning pickling class, in which we made refrigerator cucumber pickles and some candied jalapenos, and it got me to thinking again about what exactly it is that makes me like or dislike a restaurant dill pickle spear.

So I decided to do an experiment with this year’s pickling cucumbers (I only have a few plants – the rest are lemon cucumbers).

Side note: I learned a cool trick from a recent YouTube video on making a salt water holding brine if you don’t have enough cucumbers all at once to make a batch of pickles.

  • Cold salt water holding brine: In a very large container, dissolve ¾ cup pickling salt in one quart hot water. Stir until dissolved. Then add enough additional cold water to make 2 gallons. Cut off blossom end of cucumber before placing in brine (the end contains an enzyme that will make your pickles get soggy). Use a plate or other weight to keep cucumbers submerged. KEEP CUCUMBERS/BRINE REFRIGERATED until ready to use. Best containers are either food grade plastic buckets or food grade plastic containers from a restaurant supply store. Brine for 24 hours or up to 7 days before using. You can keep adding cucumbers until you have enough to do a batch (ie some are more brined, some less brined). But don’t keep over 7 days total.

Second side note: Hot weather can make pickling cucumbers get quite bitter. If they are bitter when fresh, they won’t get any better once pickled. I tasted each cucumber before I cut them into quarters, and two were most definitely bitter and not worth pickling.

One of the things that’s always confused me about dill pickles is how much dill to use. What exactly is a “sprig” of dill? Do they mean the entire head with the seeds? The fronds? Just one small umbel from a big head? Because dill is not my favorite herb, more is not necessarily better for me.

So I did some measuring. Most pickle recipes that use dill seed rather than fresh dill call for one teaspoon dill seed per pint jar. So I picked a fresh dill head with mature seeds, pulled them off, and measured them. One good sized head (about as wide as my open hand) was 40 small individual umbels, and had a total of one tablespoon of seed for the whole head. So about 13 of the small individual umbels is going to be the equivalent of one teaspoon of dill seed. If you were using quart jars, you could put an entire smaller head in the jar and probably be OK.

My 7 pint jars of refrigerator pickles consist of the following variations:

Brine is 3/4 cup vinegar, 3/4 cup water and two teaspoons of pickling salt (enough for about 2 pints – multiply out for more as needed). It should be noted that anything that is less than half vinegar for the brine is not considered acidic enough to be safe. The brine was brought to a boil and poured over quartered raw cucumbers packed in pint jars, and then they were capped and stored in the refrigerator.

  1. 1 tsp fresh dill seed, 2 fresh clove garlic about the size of my index finger. (extra garlic)
  2. 1 tsp fresh dill seed, 1 fresh clove garlic about the size of my index finger, about 1 tbsp fresh onion (added onion)
  3. 1/2 tsp fresh dill seed, 1 fresh clove garlic about the size of my index finger. (less dill)
  4. 1 tsp fresh dill seed, 1 fresh clove garlic about the size of my index finger, 1/2 tsp mustard seed. (added mustard)
  5. 1 tsp fresh dill seed, 1 fresh clove garlic about the size of my index finger, 1/4 tsp red pepper flake (added chili)
  6. 1 tsp fresh dill seed, 1 fresh clove garlic about the size of my index finger, 1/2 tsp black peppercorns (added pepper)
  7. 1 tsp pickling spice, based on this recipe from Michael Ruhlman – originally for corned beef, but similar to any DIY pickling spice recipe (no dill)

What I forgot to do before I ran out of cucumbers is one jar with just 1 tsp dill seed and 1 clove of garlic as a control batch. I’ll get friends and my interns (who love pickles more than I do) to help me do a taste test in a week or so, and then I’ll come back and post the results as an add on here.

© 2021, where we’re miles away from loving every dill pickle we eat, but who knows, maybe I’ll crack the code with this experiment! Want more content? Sign up for a monthly newsletter to your email inbox HERE.