Pickles are serious business in my husband's family. According to them, pickles should be puckery, crisp, with a great dill tang. There should NOT be sweet, floppy or bland pickles. Over the years, I have come to agree with them. My husband's paternal grandmother came up with a refrigerator pickle that really is perfection. These have a decided crunch when you bite into them and pack the ideal punch of dill, salt and vinegar. Best of all, these are super-easy to make. No boiling, no two-part jar lids, even a food preserving novice can make a great pickle. I know this, because these pickles were one of my first successes.
I got married young. Twenty-one, starry-eyed and quite confident in my ability to be the perfect wife, I couldn't wait to set up housekeeping with the man of my dreams. Our first summer we planted a small garden in the back yard. Watering and weeding, I planned out all the delicious canning projects I would impress my new husband with. He even installed shelves in the basement in anticipation of jars full of our garden bounty. Excitedly, I skipped off to the dollar store(we were broke and living on love) bought a $8.00 stockpot, the Blue Ball book of canning and a box of jars. I couldn't wait until our beans were ripe, so my first attempt was blueberry jam. Sugar and blueberries got measured into my brand new pot. I cooked and stirred, cooked and stirred and stirred some more. But the jam did strange things. It bubbled over the sides, regardless of my stirring and seeped right into the crevices of my stove. The cheap pot scorched the berries. Rock hard and tasting of ashes, the finished project was a disaster. Even my husband couldn't choke it down. Undaunted, I tossed the jam, scrubbed the pot and got ready to try something else. This time I thought salsa would be just the thing. I chopped tomatoes, onions and peppers in a flurry, ready to prove that I could conquer the mason jar. My husband took one look at my project and urged me to call his mother. "She makes great salsa and she's been canning for a long time. Maybe she could give you a few tips." "Oh, that's not necessary, Honey", I assured him. "I know exactly what I'm doing." He wandered out the door and down the hall to the office. Ten minutes later he was back, recipe card in hand. "I just talked to Mom and this is what she does. See, this is how she thickens up the salsa." I sighed, took the card and reminded him of my expertise. "None of this is the the book," I replied, holding up my brand new canning book. "It can't be right." Well, the salsa was a lot of work. Making it took plenty of expensive produce, and turned out - can you guess? That's right, it was awful!
My husband and I have now been married almost 15 years. Somewhere along the way, I figured out that I don't know it all. Thankfully, my dear mother-in-law took me under her wing and passed along many trade secrets and family recipes. One of the highlights of summertime, is our canning days. "Mom", my sister-in-laws and I spending the day chopping veggies, catching up, laughing and working together while the cousins play. These days are memories that I will always treasure. Also treasured, is the Grandma Ropp pickle recipe. This is one of first things I successfully made after I finally got tired of wasting ingredients and took some advice. Now, my kids help me make these pickles all summer long. Currently, we are going through a gallon per week. They really are that good! My baby eats them whole, like corn on the cob. He nibbles bites all the way around, and then wants a new one. I like them cut into wedges, while the husband prefers them sliced thin and piled on his ham sandwich. There really is no wrong way to eat these.
Grandma Ropp Pickles
We make these by the gallon. Stored in the refrigerator, they will keep for a couple of months. Keep in mind, the longer they are stored, the stronger and more sour they will become. If you want to slow down the pickling, pull them out of the brine and store them in a resealable bag or other container. If you want to make fewer pickles, it's easy to half the recipe. I use an old gallon pickle jar. If you don't have one, it's easy to find big glass jars at almost any Walmart, Target, TJ Maxx, Marshalls etc.
Pickling cucumbers are best to use for this project. They are small, firm and less seedy then their larger version. Right now, our local farmers markets are overflowing with locally grown pickling cucumbers.
You will need dill for this project. Grandma Ropp used fresh dill heads, which look like this:
Now that I have schooled you in everything you ever wanted to know about dill, here's the rest of the recipe.
- 8-10 cloves of garlic
- 2 large heads of dill or 2 tablespoons dill seed plus a few sprigs of dill weed
- 3 scant tablespoons mixed pickling spice (available at any grocery store)
- 6 tablespoons non-iodized salt. Kosher or pickling salt both work fine.
- 1 3/4 cups apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes or a chopped jalepeno (optional - use if you like a little heat)
- pickling cucumbers, (the smaller - the better) scrubbed clean