In New York City, where I was born, half-sour pickles and pickled green tomatoes grace every table at every delicatessen for every meal, including breakfast. My grandmother made the world's best pickled lox. A friend's grandmother made pickled eggs, and pickled beets.
I never felt the urge to pickle anything until, back in the 1990s, I acquired a used copy of The Victory Garden Cookbook. The book is organized by vegetable — clever! — so I began to flip through: asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, celery. And then I arrived at cucumbers, with the most beautiful photograph of perfect little Kirbys floating in an antique glass Planters Peanuts jar, enveloped by fresh dill weed, cloves of garlic, and pickling spice.
That one photo utterly seduced me; I had to make those pickles. In the absence of a perfect crock, I discovered that a large ceramic bowl worked just as well, especially when I submerged the cucumbers under a plate weighted down with a glass jar. An unexpected bonus was the wonderful aroma of the brine as the pickles sat on my countertop for two days.
Pickling spice, available in the supermarket spice aisle, was "invented" by the English to flavor chutneys, fruits and vegetables. Each spice merchant has his or her own special blend of ingredients; the spices are left whole or crushed, rather than ground as a spice paste. Penzeys' richly flavored version combines yellow and brown mustard seeds, allspice, cinnamon, crushed bay leaves, dill seed, cloves, ginger, black peppercorns, star anise, coriander, juniper berries, mace, cardamom, and crushed red peppers. You can spice up your pickling blend by adding some whole hot peppers.
This recipe's for our son-in-law Nick, who loves to make these pickles when cucumbers and dill arrive at his New York farmers' market.
Countertop dill pickles
If your cucumbers are large or you have more than 18 small ones, double this recipe. You need to have enough brine to cover the cucumbers completely. Adapted from The Victory Garden Cookbook.
12 pickling cukes (2-1/2 lb), or more
1 large clove garlic
big hunk of fresh dill
1/4 tsp dill seed (optional)
1 generous tsp pickling spice (the blend -- has allspice, bay, etc.)
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup white vinegar
2-1/2 quarts water
Clean the cukes. Smash the unpeeled garlic (no need to peel it). Place cukes, garlic, dill, dill seed and pickling spice in a large bowl.
In a pot, place kosher salt, white vinegar and water. Bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Pour hot brine over the cukes, and weight down with a plate and something to keep the cukes submerged. Leave on the counter for at least one day, and up to two days, then refrigerate.
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