Nearly every summer over the 10 years that I have known my friend Eli, we have spent at least one afternoon canning some produce. Usually, Eli and I think we can do it all on our own, but inevitably we end up calling Eli’s mother Cathie, who is a canning queen, for help.  Some years we bottle peaches, salsa, or tomato sauce, but the best years are when we make Cathie’s famous pickles. It took a couple of years of canning before Eli and I made the pickles, but he often talked about them with near reverence, and after trying them myself, I understood why! 

Cathie has been making her pickles for 43 years now. She taught herself to can out of the USDA Canning book. The pickle recipe that was in that book has since become hers. The neighborhood kids loved her pickles so much, that they would come to line up outside her door to ask for one – so much so that she had to start planning out her pickle canning in advance to not run out before the next canning season! The pickles (and pickle juice) also became her secret weapon for killer potato salad, with people always begging to know what made hers so good. 

Over the years Cathie has taught all her children to bottle those pickles and they in turn have shared the secret with their friends- including me!


Cathie’s Fresh Pack Dill Pickles

Yield is about 7 Quarts

Cukes-about 18 lbs. 3-5 inches in length- the smaller the cuke, the better they taste. Pack 7-10 (or until the bottle is filled but not too tight) per wide mouth quart jar.

  1. Make 2 gallons of 5% brine. For the brine, dissolve ¾ cup pure un-iodized granulated salt per gallon of water. *Iodized salt causes pickles to be mushy and liquid cloudy when bottled.
  2. Wash cukes thoroughly. Scrub with a veggie brush. Drain well.
  3. Cover scrubbed cukes with the 5% brine and let sit overnight to soften the “skins” on the cukes. I put a heavy lid on top of the soaking cukes to hold them under the brine.
  4. After soaking the cukes overnight, cut about 1/8 inch off the blossom end of the pickle. This makes/keeps them crisp.
  5. Combine and boil the following together until the sugar and salt are dissolved and the liquid is boiling:
    • 6 cups vinegar (make sure it is a high-grade white 4-6% acidity Vinegar)
    • 3/4 cups pure un-iodized granulated salt
    • 1/4 cup sugar
    • 9 cups of water
    • 2 Tbsp pickling spice (you can tie the spices up in a cheesecloth or just dump them into the pot. I dump them into the pot and include them in the bottles when I prepare for processing. I think it adds flavor ??)

   6. Pack the drained cukes into clean, hot, wide-mouthed quart jars. Then add to each jar:

  • 2 tsp mustard seed
  • 1-2 whole garlic cloves per quart
  • Dill plant- 3 heads per quart or 1 tbsp dill seed per jar (I do both)

    7.     Cover the pickles with the boiling liquid to within ½ inch of the top of the jar. Process in a water bath for 25 minutes. Remove Jars and complete seals

 Cool the bottles and put them on a shelf for a few weeks before opening so they can “pickle.”