Cucumber beetles have been a plague and a nuisance for lots of us this year. Friends report they are finding more of them on cukes and squashes than they ever remember seeing before. I was obliged to plant cukes twice before I finally managed to get beetle survivors and pretty soon I’ll begin my annual dill pickle making. So far, this is the best plain dill spear recipe I have come across.
I usually plant long slicers and short blocky pickling cukes. I prefer pickling cucumbers because they have smaller seeds and fit neatly into canning jars. If I am making relish or bread-and-butters, I grind up or slice the long cukes, and save the short ones for spears or to pickle whole.
The dill to flavor my pickles is self-sown in the vegetable garden and I “cultivate” them by elimination. I pull any that plant themselves where I don’t want them and leave the rest. If I think I might run out, I broadcast seed pretty randomly and let it sprout. The dill grows tall, and the chartreuse flower heads spread, turning into seeds. I love the ethereal look of the dill floating above the rest of the garden. I also really love the sturdy flavor of fresh picked dill. I use both a flowering head and a seedy head for each jar.
Also, before adding dill to a jar, I make sure I whack the dill heads against a table top to dislodge any critters lurking in them. One year I blithely went along and unknowingly added protein to my pickles which I observed after I poured in the brine and saw aphids floating on the top.
If you can, locate a grape vine and pick some leaves to stick in the bottom of the canning jars. The leaves help to keep the cucumber spears crisp. Grape leaves are a bit acidic; old-timers used to use alum, also an acid, to keep pickles crisp. Wild grapes are perfectly fine and at the start of pickling season (right about now) I go and pick a bunch of leaves and keep them in the fridge in a plastic bag to use whenever I want them.
The recipe below is written so that you can put up variable amounts of cucumbers, a handy thing because gardens produce variable numbers of cukes at any given time and this way you can put up whatever you have.
Makes enough brine for about 10 quarts jars of pickles
Cucumbers cut into spears or whole small pickling cukes
1 clove of garlic per jar
2 heads of fresh dill seed or 1 tablespoon dried dill seed per jar
1 grape leaf per jar
1 cup pickling salt
3 quarts of water
1 quart of cider vinegar
Sterilize the jars and put the grape leaf in the bottom, then the garlic and dill heads, stems up and pack the cucumbers into the jar as snugly as you can. Bring the brine ingredients to a boil.
Pour the brine into the jars, cap, and process in boiling water bath for ten minutes.
Refrigerate any unused brine for pickle making later.