My grandmother, Martha, wasn’t known for her cooking. In fact, she took a lot of ribbing from us all about her unique recipes (pressure cooker spaghetti, anyone?), but she did have a few specialties and one of them was spicy, hot dill pickles. They were crunchy and full of garlic heat, and they got more intense the longer they cured in the basement.
I remember many a winter family get-together when someone would emerge from the basement, jar triumphantly held aloft. A spicy jar! Contents gone in minutes.
When my sister and I were kids and spending our summers with our grandparents, we helped make the pickles by adding the spices, garlic, peppers, and dill to jars. Then grandma would pack the prepared jars with cucumbers and top with brine. As far as I remember, she just stuck those jars in the basement until it was time to eat the pickles. Did she process them a month later, after we’d gone home? Or did she skim the scum off the tops and refill with brine, then screw the lids down tight? As I have so many other times these past few years, I really wish I has asked my grandmother more questions.
This weekend, M and I, and my sister, in our separate kitchens, tried to replicate her process by using our grandmother’s recipe as written out by our Aunt Ann.
Tonight, the filled jars are in our cool basement. In spite of my strong belief in using the hot-water canning method to kill bacteria, I’m going to trust my grandmother on this one. We’ll skim the scum and top with brine, and wait for four weeks. And then, if we’re feeling brave, we’ll see how close we’ve come to the dill pickles of my dreams.