kosher dills

It's a Book!

The Pickled Pantry is here!  thumbnail imageAnd now my summer truly begins.  I am planning to take my show on the road and bring dilly happiness to folks at book stores, festivals, farmers’ markets, and cooking classes.

Over Memorial Day weekend I pickled a case (that’s 48 pounds) of pickling cucumbers into dill chips, bread and butters, and curry chips. I have 60 pint jars of pickles aging in a corner of my dining room.  Then I bought another 5 pounds of cukes and made a gallon of half-sours, which I hope to be ready by Sunday, June 8, when I take part in the Grand Opening of Phoenix Books in Burlington, Vermont.
60 jars of pickles plus a gallon of half-sours
People often ask how long it takes to write a cookbook like this, which has about 150 recipes.  The answer is usually, “All my adult life.”  If the book covers a subject I care passionately about – cooking vegetables, making pickles, preserving – then, truthfully, I’ve been at it since I left my mother’s house, a long, long time ago.  

Pickles got me started as a cookbook author.  As the newly anointed cookbook editor for Garden Way Publishing, which specialized in books about gardening and other self-sufficiency, homesteading skills, I was looking for someone to write a book about pickling.  When I couldn’t find anyone, I said to the publisher, “Heck, I could write it myself.”  That book was Pickles and Relishes: 150 Recipes from Apples to Zucchini, and it was publishing in 1983.  Then Garden Way morphed into Storey Publishing but I went freelance rather than relocate when the company moved.  My next book was Summer in Jar, which included jams as well as pickles.  That publishing company was bought out by a Christian publisher with no interest in cookbooks.  But I was off and running, writing  and editing cookbooks as a freelancer, writing for magazines, gardening, cooking, and raising a family.

Those first preserving books are out of print. The Pickled Pantry combines the very best of those original recipes with new ones.  Kimchi, anyone?

All along, through busy summers and leisurely ones, I had one quest: to make the perfect dill pickle.  Have I succeeded?  You be the judge. 


 A sample of No-Fail Half-Sour Dills

No-Fail Half-Sour Dill Pickles

Makes about 2 quarts


Vinegar gives a kick-start to the pickling process in these quick and easy pickles, guaranteeing success. If you’ve never tried fermented pickles, this is definitely the recipe to start with. You can multiply this recipe as many times as you like, but these pickles are best enjoyed at 1 to 2 weeks, so it makes sense to make small batches as the cucumber season progresses.


4 cups water

2 tablespoons pickling or fine sea salt

1/2 cup distilled white vinegar

1 dill head or 6 sprigs fresh dill

4 garlic cloves, peeled

8 cups whole pickling cucumbers


1. Heat the water and salt in a saucepan, stirring until the salt is fully dissolved. Add the white vinegar and let cool to room temperature.


2. Slice 1/16 inch off the blossom end of each cucumber.


3. Pack a clean 2-quart canning jar or crock with the dill, garlic, and cucumbers, in that order. Pour in the brine. Weight the cucumbers so they are completely submerged in the brine.


3. Cover the container to exclude the air. Set the jar where the temperature will remain constant: 65° to 75°F is ideal.


4. Check the jar daily and remove any scum that forms on the surface.


5. The pickles will be ready in 2 to 3 days, although full flavor will not be reached for a week. If your kitchen is reasonably cool, you can leave these pickles out for up to 2 weeks. If the brine starts to become cloudy, refrigerate immediately to prevent spoiling. The flavor of the dill and garlic will continue to develop. The pickles will keep for at least 3 months in the refrigerator.


Kitchen Note

If your cucumbers are large, you may want to cut them into spears rather than leave them whole. Spears will pickle faster and more evenly than whole cucumbers.

Adapted from The Pickled Pantry  by Andrea Chesman.  ©2012 Andrea Chesman.  All rights reserved.




Real Deal Dill Pickles

I’ve been in a bit of a pickle this past year as I raced to meet a deadline to revise my 1983 book, Pickles and Relishes: From Apples to Zucchini.

When a cookbook sells well, it is pretty much inevitable that a publisher will ask the author to revise and update an older title in the hopes of breathing new sales life into a steady seller.  As a cookbook writer and editor, though, I am a project person—not a process person.  When I press that “Send” button on computer, I am done with a manuscript, with a specific topic.  Not that I don’t still enjoy making pickles.  But that book, my first book, was done and it took me a while to get enthusiastic about revising it.

Much has changed in the intervening years.

I grew up on kosher dills and stories of my great-grandfather’s crocks of sauerkraut that bubbled in the attic all through the winter.  When I asked my grandmother how to make pickles, she said to put the cucumbers in a crock with water and dill and add enough salt until it is just before you gag.  Turns out, I gag easily.  Without enough salt to kill spoilage bacteria, the cucumbers were a stinky, slimy mess in no time.

I learned how to make pickles from books and talking with older Vermonters.  I was part of the back-to-the-land movement, and I think the neighbors got a kick out of the young hippies who asked endless questions and didn’t seem to have much in the way of commonsense. 

Today there is the Internet, and recipes and how-to videos proliferate.  Farmers’ markets bring pickle-worthy produce to urban areas, separating pickling from gardening.  Many of today’s pickle makers are more interested in creating intensely flavored, fermented foods rather than in preserving food for the coming winter.  

Here’s a recipe for kosher dill pickles.  I love the way they squeak as I eat them. 

Full Sour Dill Pickles

Full Sour Kosher Dills
Makes 1 gallon

The secret to full sour pickles is to have a salty enough brine (5 percent is fairly standard) to enable a long, slow fermentation.  Cleanliness is critical here, as are daily checks to remove any scum that might form.  Pickles must be submerged in the brine.  These pickles will be salty, but not too salty to enjoy.  If you decrease the salt, the pickles will be fine, but will not keep as long.

12 cups water
9 tablespoons pickling or fine sea salt
1 whole head garlic, cloves separated and peeled
3 tablespoons dill seeds
4 dill heads or 24 sprigs fresh dill
2 tablespoons mixed pickling spices
1 gallon whole pickling cucumbers

1.  Heat the water and salt until the salt is fully dissolved.  Let cool to room temperature.

2.  Put the garlic, dill seeds, dill heads, and mixed pickling spices in a 1-gallon jar or crock.  Slice off the blossom end from the cucumbers and pack into the jar.  Pour the cooled brine over the cucumbers; you will not need all of it.  Set aside any extra in a covered jar. Weight the cucumbers so they are submerged under the brine.  Add more brine if needed to cover the pickles.  Cover the crock to exclude air.

3.  Set the crock in a cool place for 24 hours. It should be set in a place where it can overflow with damage to the floor.  (I set my crock in a plastic crate.) Check on the pickles.  The level of the brine may be even higher, which is fine.  If you press on the weight, bubbles should rise.  Skim off any foam that forms.

4.  Check the crock daily, skimming off any foam.  When fermentation tapers off, after 1 to 2 weeks, taste a pickle.  When it is pleasantly sour, the pickle is ready for storage.  At this point, you can make up fresh brine, or use the liquid in the crock.  Refrigerate for best keeping qualities.

Kitchen Notes
You probably won’t use all the brine, but it is handy to have extra on hand if needed.  How much brine and how many cucumbers you can fit in your crock depends on the shape of the crock, the size and shape of the cucumbers, and how tightly you packed the crock.