Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Too Many Pickles?

In my quest to eat locally, I am starting to go a bit overboard with the home canning. So far this year I have canned strawberry-rhubarb jam, blackberry jam, banana pepper relish, salsa, and now...more pickles than we could ever eat.

Ranch Foods Direct (2901 N. El Paso St., Colorado Springs) hosted a free pickling class on Saturday taught by Rachel Zimmerman. Rachel was the youngest of 10 children, and one of her earliest memories is sitting on a stool as a toddler, entrusted with the responsibility of placing the peach halves into the bottom of gallon jars; her little hands were the only ones that fit. In class, we made a batch of dill pickles, and I was eager to volunteer as her assistant so I could get hands-on experience.

Her recipe comes from a vintage Kerr canning book, no longer in print.

Dill Pickles - Fresh Kosher Style

36 to 36 cucumbers, 3-4 inches long
3 cups vinegar
3 cups water
6 tablespoons pickling salt
Fresh or dried dill
Mustard Seed

Wash the cucumbers. Make a brine of the vinegar, water and salt. Bring to boil. Place a generous layer of dill, 1/2 to 1 clove of garlic (sliced) and 1/2 tablespoon of mustard seed in bottom of each clean quart jar. Pack the cucumbers into the jars. When the jars are half filled with cucumbers add another layer of dill and complete the packing of the jars. Fill the jars to within 1/2 inch of the top with the boiling brine. Put cap on jars, screwing the band firmly tight. Process 15 minutes* in boiling water bath. Pickles will shrivel some after processing. They will later plump in sealed jar.

*Add 1 minute processing time for each 1000 feet elevation above 1000 feet. For Colorado Springs residents, this would be 21 minutes processing time.

Rachel showed us a couple of variations to this recipe. You can add a layer of cherry or grape leaves in the top of the jar to add crispness (that's right, just go pluck a few leaves off your cherry tree or grape vine). Another option is to add some sliced fresh ginger root for a spicier flavor. I did both of these variations in my pickles.

This is only one of the boxes of cucumbers, washed and ready to go with a bowl of fresh dill.

Now, you may be wondering why I made so many pickles for a small family of 3. First of all, I had no idea how many cucumbers were in each 25 pound box being sold at the farmers' market. I went up to one stand, and they were selling the most beautiful, small cucumbers for $20/box. The neighboring farmer may have overheard our conversation because when I approached, she said they were selling cucumbers for $20 as well but she would give me a box for $15. I paid for my cukes before realizing that this farm stand was selling larger ones, and I really wanted small ones so I could can them whole. Too embarassed to "return" my produce, I went back to the first stand and bought another box. I thought, maybe I'll get a couple dozen quarts out of this and I'll have enough for Christmas stocking stuffers. A whopping 38 quarts later, I still had half a box to go...I called my neighbor and begged her to take them off my hands. I didn't care if she threw them away, as long as they were out of my sight! (She made bread and butter pickles).

These are a bit shriveled and will plump up later.

Thanks, mom, for coming to help out when I realized I was in over my head! Poor Baby would have been rather neglected otherwise. I can't taste the pickles for 6-8 weeks, so let's just hope that they're delicious...or I'll have a bunch of unlucky Christmas gift recipients!

Since this is my first year doing pickles, the start-up costs are a bit higher than they'll likely be next year (for example, I will not have to buy the jars again, only lids). Also, I'm including the cost of all 50 pounds of cucumbers even though I only used about 37 pounds.

  • 38 new wide-mouth quart jars (on sale for $11/12 jars): $34.83
  • Cucumbers (50 pounds): $35.00
  • Pickling Salt: $1.29
  • Fresh dill ($2 each, 3 bunches): $6.00
  • Apple Cider Vinegar ($4.39 each, 2 gallons): $8.78
  • Mustard Seed (estimated, I lost the reciept): $5.00
  • Fresh ginger root ($3.99/lb, 0.5 pounds): $2.00
  • Garlic (homegrown): FREE
  • Cherry leaves (homegrown): FREE
Total cost per quart: $2.44

I believe that store-bought pickles are about $3 -$4 for a 24-ounce jar. The lowest sale price that I've seen for pickle spears is $2.50 each. Since a quart jar is 32 ounces, that would cost approximately $3.33 per quart. So, I saved a little bit of money and now have a year's supply of locally grown, mostly organic pickles (I did not buy organic vinegar or mustard seed). Next year, I'll save even more when I recycle those canning jars. Maybe it was worth it to completely trash my kitchen for a day?


  1. What an achievement! I love cukes so much I might never get them into the jars.

  2. Wow! Someday I'm going to ask you how to do that! Those look amazing. I would love to learn how to cook, but space and money are limited at the moment. But someday...(I seem to say that a lot!)

  3. That's too awesome! I really want to learn how to pickle and can and do all that kind of stuff. You'll have to show me how one day!

  4. Barbara, I know what you mean -- but for me the temptation is tomatoes! Elise and Kelsey, this is all easier than you would think (just time consuming); I'd love to show you how, just give me a call!