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These are my favorite dill pickles

My Damn Good Garlic Dills have become a precious commodity amongst family and friends. In summers when I opt to go pickleless, disappointment abounds.

And so every August, even when there’s barely an ounce of oomph to spare, I have to make the pickles.

With fresh pack pickles, if you don’t feel like processing them in a boiling water canner in order to store them at room temperature, you can simply store them in the refrigerator. In fact, your pickles will be crisper and zestier if you do.

So that’s the way I make my Damn Good Garlic Dills.

Up until just a few years ago I was still packing the cukes into little jars before refrigerating them; a step that takes up room and time when you consider just how many people expect a jar (or two!) of homemade pickles. So I streamlined my method. These days after scrubbing and trimming my pile of pickling cukes, I simply tumble them into large containers, throw in lots of sliced fresh garlic, fresh dill heads, and red pepper flakes, and pour on my spicy, salty, boiling-hot vinegar/water brine.

Then it’s into the refrigerator for several weeks of aging. It’s akin to having an old-fashioned pickle barrel on hand since I dip into my refrigerator cache to fill little gift jars for visiting relatives or friends’ birthdays throughout the year.

The other streamlining step I’ve taken is to make a large batch of brine ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator. Then, when I encounter some high-quality pickling cukes, I can jump right into action.

So that’s it. Feel free to spin off in your own direction. After making up the brine for the Damn Good Dills, consider more garlic, or a pinch more red pepper flakes. You can even back off on the salt.

Make-Ahead Pickling Brine for Jan’s Damn Good Garlic Dills

Makes 1/2 gallon of brine (enough for 1 gallon of pickles)

Store the brine in the fridge — it will keep indefinitely — in a covered container, then simply reheat as much of the chilled brine as needed to make a batch of pickles. Figure on a ratio of two parts pickling cukes to one part brine (i.e., for 2 quarts of pickling cukes, you’ll need 1 quart of brine). So, make up the brine now and keep it in your refrigerator. Then when you’ve got some pickling cukes to pickle, simply pack them into jars or plastic containers as described below and pour in enough of the pickling brine to cover the cukes. Screw on the lid and refrigerate. If you lack refrigerator space, process in a boiling water canner as described below. Store any remaining brine in the refrigerator until you’re ready to pickle another batch of cukes.

1 quart cider vinegar

1 quart water

1/4 cup pickling spices (see note below)

1/3 cup pickling salt (see note below)

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 cup chopped fresh dill heads

In a large non-aluminum pot, combine the vinegar, water, pickling spices, salt, sugar, turmeric and chopped dill heads. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. If readying a batch for the refrigerator, let the mixture cool, then strain off the seasonings and dill (be sure and press down on the strainer to extract as much flavor from the ingredients as possible before discarding them). Pour the 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.

To make the pickles (for up to 1 gallon of pickles):

4 quarts pickling cucumbers rinsed well

4 heads of fresh pickling dill, halved

About 1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

16 whole peeled garlic cloves, sliced

1 batch of prepared brine (makes 1/2 gallon)

After rinsing the cucumbers and removing any dirt, rub or trim away the blossom end of each cuke (the blossom end is opposite the stem end). If the cucumbers are too large, you may want to cut them into chunks, slices or sticks. Otherwise, leave them whole. Pack the 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 the containers. Add a pinch (about 1/4 of a teaspoon per quart) of the dried red pepper flakes to each container (another pinch of two should be used for those folks who enjoy more of a “bite” in their pickles).

If the brine has been refrigerated, then reheat in a non-aluminum pan. Ladle or pour the hot brine into the containers. Cover and let cool to room temperature, then store in the refrigerator.

The 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.

To store your pickles at room temperature:

If you really don’t have enough refrigerator space and need to store batches in your pantry at room temperature, then you’ll have to process the jars in a boiling water canner. Here’s how:

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

Process the jars, using the Low Temperature Pasteurization Treatment (this method keeps the pickles from being subjected to boiling water, which will help them stay a little firmer): Place jars in canner filled halfway with warm (120 to 140 degrees) water. Then, add hot water to a level 1 inch above jars. Heat the water enough to maintain 180- to 185-degree water temperature for 30 minutes. Check with a candy or jelly thermometer to be certain that the water temperature is at least 180 degrees during the entire 30 minutes. Temperatures higher than 185 degrees may cause unnecessary softening of pickles.

Note: there is not a processing time for 2-quart jars, so if you are using this size, the jar(s) must be refrigerated.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.