A traditional homemade dill pickle recipe using fresh cucumbers, fresh dill, spices, and pickling brine. This recipe also gives guidance on the types of cucumbers to grow for pickles and step-by-step instructions on how to make the recipe. Dill pickles are a tasty snack on their own or on a sharing platter but are delicious on sandwiches, burgers, and potato salads.
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Dill pickles are incredibly evocative of weekends at Nana’s house when I was a kid. Each summer, my grandmother would carry out the ritual of preserving the garden surplus, and of everything she made, pickles were my favorite. Her pantry would be filled with bottles showcasing all the colors of the rainbow: red beets, orange carrots, green beans, and more. Without fail, there would always be jars of crunchy gherkins ready for a little girl to snack on. I loved them so much that I’d even sip the brine!
This dill pickle recipe follows her basic principle of canning pickles with dill, spices, and vinegar. You can use your own homegrown cucumbers to make them or pick up a load at your local farmers market. The process of making dill pickles is easy – you pack raw gherkins into jars, pour over the homemade brine, and water bath them to sterilize and seal them. Once made, your jars of homemade dill pickles are shelf-stable for about a year.
Homegrown Dill Pickles
For me, traditional dill pickles are one of the best ways for a kitchen gardener to connect the dots between all four seasons. From sowing seeds in the spring to harvesting garlic, dill, and gherkins in the summer to preserving the lot and enjoying them in the darkest days of winter. Each jar of pickles contains not only a savory treat but also a year’s worth of experiences.
Traditional dill pickles are a relatively simple preserve to make, and most of the ingredients are easy to grow in almost any temperate garden. First of all, cucumbers. They’re probably our most beloved fruit masquerading as a vegetable after tomatoes! All cucumbers can be delicious fresh, but some are better for pickling than others. Salad cucumbers are not ideal since they can turn soft and watery. Instead, use gherkins. These are the prickly-looking cucumbers, and some of the best varieties to grow for pickles include Hokus, Cornichon de Paris, and Kirby cucumbers. I’m also growing a heritage variety this year called Dekah, and it looks set to be a winner for dill pickles, too.
Preparing Gherkins for Dill Pickles
Set aside an afternoon for making this batch of traditional dill pickles. The fresher the gherkins are, the better, so if you’re using homegrown, begin by picking them. Some gherkin varieties can have some wicked sharp spikes on them, so be careful and knock them off with the blunt edge of a knife as you’re cleaning the fruit. It’s also best to soak the gherkins in an ice-water bath for several hours before making pickles. It helps to keep them crisp, but this is an optional step. I also find that cutting off the blossom end of the cucumber helps keep them crisp. As does adding a bay leaf to each jar of pickles, both quart and pint jars.
Though smaller gherkins, about the lengths of your fingers, can be pickled whole, larger ones need slicing. Mainly because it helps get more of them into the jar! It’s traditional to cut dill pickles into long quarters or spears, but you can cut them however you’d like. When I’m making fermented pickles (a different process), I tend to cut cucumbers into 1/2″ slices. Though I’ve never done it, I can’t see why doing the same for dill pickles would be an issue.
Garlic and Dill as Flavorings
To make traditional dill pickles, you’ll need dill. Fresh dill is best, and it’s usually ready to pick around the same time that cucumbers are. You could use dried dill from the grocery store in a pinch, though you won’t have the beautiful decoration inside the jar from dill flowers. Both the flowers and seeds have a more intense flavor than dill leaves on their own. Add all three – dill leaves, flowers, and seeds – for a truly delicious batch of dill pickles. They’ll taste incredible!
Garlic is a must for dill pickles, too. At least in my book. Again, you could use purchased garlic cloves, but it’s even better if you grow your own. It’s easy to grow garlic, and it’s again ready around the same time as cucumbers and dill. Other spices and ingredients, like salt, peppercorns, and vinegar, come from the shop, and you can order jars online if you don’t already have a local supplier.
Cucumbers grow well in temperate climates, and I’ve found that one of the easiest ways that you can grow them outdoors is on a DIY Cucumber Pallet Trellis. You can also grow them up strings or netting or let them clamber over the ground. One year, I even grew them up an old metal headboard! The benefit of growing them elevated, though, is that the gherkins don’t come in contact with the ground. That saves them from being eaten by certain pests, makes them easier and cleaner to pick, and makes them easier to find on the plant.
For my zone 9 garden, I tend to sow cucumber seeds in 3″ pots in April, and usually in the house where the plants will be safe from cold snaps. They grow on for about a month before I plant them either outside in the garden or inside my polytunnel. They love rich, well-drained soil and a position in full sun. This year, I have two plants growing on a cucumber pallet trellis, three growing inside a pallet planter in the greenhouse, and one growing up a string in an auto-pot in the polytunnel.
More Preserving Recipes
This is a traditional dill pickle recipe, but there are a few other ways to make pickles. First, there are refrigerator pickles, which are similar to this recipe but are refrigerated instead of water-bathed. Then there’s fermented pickles, typically made in a fermentation jar or crock. These have actually become my favorite since they’re tasty and filled with gut-friendly microbes from the fermentation process. Here are some other recipes and ideas to explore:
- 7 Easy Ways to Preserve Food Without Pressure Canning
- How to Can Chopped Tomatoes
- Rhubarb Wine Recipe
- Green Tomato Relish Recipe
Grandma’s Dill Pickle Recipe
- pickling cucumbers / gherkins
- 1 Tbsp dill leaves
- 1-2 whole dill flower heads
- 1/2 tsp peppercorns
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 bay leaf
- White vinegar
- Sea salt or Kosher salt
- Preserving jars & lids
- Set your clean canning jars out on your work surface. They don't need to be sterilized since the water bath at the end will kill off any microbes, but they do need to be clean. For each quart jar, you'll add half a teaspoon of black peppercorns, two whole garlic cloves, a bay leaf, about 1 Tbsp dill leaves, and 1-2 dill flowers.
- Wash the gherkins and trim off the blossom ends if you wish. Start packing them into your jars, trying to get as many in as possible. If the fruits are small (less than 3" long), put them in whole, but if they're larger, cut them into wedges. This helps to get more into the jar and also for easier serving once the jar is opened.
Make the Brine
- For approximately every four quarts of tightly packed gherkins, you'll need to bring two quarts of water and one quart of white vinegar to a boil. Add 1/2 cup of salt and stir until dissolved. Let this cool until just warm, and then pour it into each of the jars, filling to a centimeter (just less than 1/2") below the top of the jar's brim. If there are air bubbles in the jar, try to remove them by poking at them with a butter knife or debubbler.
- Clean the tops of the jars with a clean rag and then fit on your preserving lids on. Screw the rings on snugly, but not overly tight.
Water Bath the Dill Pickles
- Place a metal preserving rack or towel at the bottom of a deep preserving pan or large stock pot, and then place the jars inside. The jars should be at least an inch apart, and the pan needs to be deep enough to have the jars inside, with over an inch of water comfortably covering the tops.
- Cover the jars with warm/hot water from the tap, cover with a lid, and then bring the pan to a boil. Remove the lid and boil the jars for fifteen minutes and no longer.
- Lift them out of the water, using a jar lifter. Set the jars on the counter and allow them to cool to room temperature. You'll know that the jars are properly sealed when you hear the lids popping.
- Allow the pickles to infuse with the brine for at least two weeks before eating them. Stored in jars in a cool cupboard, your pickles will last up to a year. Once opened, keep them in a fridge and eat them within a month for the best flavor and texture.