Smile Politely

The quest for crunchy dill pickles

A couple of weeks ago my friend Nanda called me from California looking for a canned dill pickle recipe. “Do you have a good one?” she asked. “No,” I replied. “I’m surprised; I’d thought you of all people would have one.”

It’s actually not that surprising when you think about it. Everyone says their recipe makes “the best” dill pickles or “pickles like your grandma’s.” They lie. A recipe that would produce pickles with the crunch of those you find in the refrigerator case would be worth millions. If the company that produces the leading refrigerated pickle could find a recipe for a shelf stable version with the crunch that its stork peddling competition claims to have, they’d be all over it. It would save them untold amounts of money to ship in regular trucks and not have to pay for refrigerated space in the store.

So it is that each year I find myself looking for canned dill pickle contenders and each year I find myself coming back to my old standby recipe for refrigerator dills. This is the recipe that I passed along to Nanda. I started with Marion Cunningham’s Victory Garden recipe which makes very pleasant pickles if you’re, say, having a Junior League Tea in Atlanta. But it doesn’t produce anything anyone would recognize as a dill pickle on a Chicago dog. Not happy with Marion’s version, I found myself picking the brain of former C-U resident and community studies professor, Sonya Salamon about her husband Myron’s refrigerator dills. Sure, many of you may have known Myron as a physicist and engineering dean, but the man’s culinary passion was and is refrigerator pickles-jars and jars of them. While Sonya never handed over Myron’s recipe, she did give me a few hints. From there, I continued to play with the vinegar ratio, until last year, when I think I finally got it right.

These are easy enough that a child could make them, providing said child is allowed to play with stoves and boiling liquids.

Refrigerator Dill Pickles

Pickling Solution:

  • 4 to 5 pounds firm cucumbers (the smaller in diameter, the better)
  • 2 t dill seed, or 12 to 15 heads of fresh dill
  • 1 T of pickling spice (cloves removed)
  • pinch of red chili flakes
  • 4 cloves of garlic

Wash cucumbers. Cut in half lengthwise. Seed if larger, and cut again lengthwise or however many times to get desired spear width. Cut in half crosswise, if necessary, to create 4 inch long spears. Alternatively cut smaller diameter cucumbers into 3/8-inch thick slices (see photo). Layer cucumbers, garlic, fresh dill if using, in a 1 gallon glass lidded jar or divided among quart canning jars with lined lids.

  • 6 cups water
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt

Bring ingredients for the pickling solution to a boil. Turn off heat. Pour hot vinegar solution over cucumbers. Use wooden skewers to keep cucumbers below brine. Let the mixture rest with lid open on kitchen counter for 3 or 4 hours covered with a clean flour sack towel. Close lid. Refrigerate. Pickles are ready to eat in 2 to 4 days and will keep for about a year.

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