Dill Pickles, my way

It’s come down to the time of year when the tomatoes in my garden need to be put up or shut up. In the Midwest, which had screaming-hot summers, our tomatoes would often fully ripen and be finished by sometime in September. Now that we’re in the mild PNW, we don’t get any ripe tomatoes until September and always, always have lots still on the vine when the October rains begin and everything grows mold and dies.

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So: I have a lot of green tomatoes to do what I will with, and that’s good, because green tomatoes are my very favorite vegetable for brine pickling. I like to eat them with fatty fish dishes: with roasted salmon or trout and sour cream, or with spicy fried catfish, hush puppies, and cole slaw. You can pickle other vegetables besides tomatoes too, of course. Cucumbers are the classic, but okra and green beans also make good dill pickle.

My recipe is simple: for each pint jar (and note that the pictures in this post are of half-pints, so I halved this part), put 2t dill seed, 2 peeled cloves garlic, and a pinch of red pepper flakes into the bottom of the jar before you pack in the tomatoes. (If you grow your own dill, you can use whole dried heads of dill flowers, and pack them artistically in the jar).

The proportions for the brine are 1c water: 1c vinegar: 1.5T pickling salt or 2T coarse kosher salt (its bigger grains don’t pack as tightly in the measuring spoon, so you use more).

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Once you’ve packed your jars and topped them off with brine, you can just stick them in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks, then eat them at will. Or, if you hate having forgotten jars of pickles in the back of your fridge the way I do, you can can them with a water-bath process.

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Water-bath canning is easy but does need to be done correctly. Read through the USDA home canning guide before you start. On top of its instructions, my top tips are:

1. Slice the tomatoes before packing them so the brine gets into them really well. Big tomatoes get cut into wedges while little tomatoes like mine get halved.

2. Pack them in really tight. The water bath process cooks the tomatoes, which makes them shrink. If they weren’t in there tight to begin with, you’ll end up with a lot of empty space in your jar, which will make you sad.

3. Boil your brine before you put it in the jars. This helps them get up to temperature for processing more quickly (and also ensures the salt is dissolved).

4. The post-processing step of washing your jars and rings THOROUGHLY is extra-important for pickles because any stray acid will corrode the lids and rings. So keep it clean, people.

5. Remember to label your pickles!

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