4 quarts pickling cucumbers, rinsed well
16 whole garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
4 heads fresh pickling dill, halved
About 1/2 teaspoon dried red-pepper flakes
1 batch brine (recipe follows)

After rinsing the cucumbers and removing any dirt, rub or trim away blossom end of each cuke (opposite its stem end). If cucumbers are too large, you may want to cut them into chunks, slices or sticks. Otherwise, leave them whole. Pack cucumbers into clean jars or food-grade, plastic containers, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Divide the sliced pieces of garlic and halved heads of fresh pickling dill among containers. Add a pinch (about 1/4 teaspoon per quart) of the dried red-pepper flakes to each container (another pinch or two should be used for folks who enjoy more of a "bite" in their pickles).

If the brine has been refrigerated, reheat in a nonaluminum pan. Ladle or pour hot brine into containers. Cover and let cool to room temperature, then store in refrigerator. Pickles are "becoming good" after 7 to 10 days of aging, but they won't be "damn good" for at least a month. Even then, they will continue to improve and improve and improve for months and months. I've kept batches for up to 24 months, and they've been fabulous down to the last pickle. Makes up to a gallon.

To store pickles at room temperature, wash pint or quart-sized canning jars (such as Ball or Kerr). Keep hot until used. Pack pickles into jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Divide garlic slices among jars (figure on 4 cloves per quart). Pour strained, hot brine into 1 jar at a time, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Wipe jar rim with a clean, damp cloth. Place metal disc of two-piece lids on top of jar opening, then screw on metal screw band. Fill and close remaining jars.

Process jars, using low-temperature pasteurization, which keeps pickles from being subjected to boiling water, helping them to stay a little firmer. Place jars in canner filled halfway with warm (120 to 140 F) water. Then add hot water to a level 1 inch above jars. Heat water enough to maintain 180 to 185 F for 30 minutes. Check with a candy or jelly thermometer to be certain that water temperature is at least 180 F during entire 30 minutes. Temperatures higher than 185 F may cause unnecessary softening of pickles. There is not a processing time for 2-quart jars, so if you are using this size, jar(s) must be refrigerated.

MAKE-AHEAD BRINE: In a large nonaluminum pot, combine 1 quart cider vinegar, 1 quart water, 1/4 cup pickling spices, 1/3 cup pickling salt, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric and 1 cup chopped dill heads. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. If readying a batch of refrigerator pickles, let mixture cool, then strain off seasonings and dill (be sure and press down on strainer to extract as much flavor from ingredients as possible before discarding them). Pour brine into nonreactive containers, such as glass canning jars or food-grade plastic tubs or jugs with tight-fitting lids. Refrigerate until ready to use. Makes 1/2 gallon.