When asked, I say love fall for all the reasons everyone else loves fall: Changing leaves, cozy sweaters, shorter days, and colder nights.
But while these aspects of fall are indeed beautiful and necessary in their own right, I feel pulled on a deeper, emotional level, one that isn’t exactly nice and happy and cozy. In autumn, a call emanates from my bone marrow to split wood, can all my vegetables, stock up on batteries and dry foods and get ready to hunker down, or perhaps die.
I suspect many people feel a similar echo in their DNA from our predecessors who were much more at the mercy of the elements when the seasons changed. For me, fall is the best season to have consistent, generalized anxiety, because I can sublimate my anxious feelings into preparation.
Feeling like a lion is hunting you down and you can’t ever relax? It’s cool, you’ve got a cupboard full of pickled vegetables and a closet where you store gallons of clean water, so you’re ready for — something, I’m not sure what yet, but it will be disastrous and I’ll be ready.
My therapist and I talk about this, and it’s an aspect of my anxiety that I have no impulse to change. I like it. I like feeling like something wicked this way comes, and when it does, I can hunker down and keep me and mine safe and warm. Game of Thrones works for me because “Winter is coming” is basically my life motto.
Since it’s September and we’re getting into the heart of Molly Makes Things To Assuage Her Irrational Fears season, I’ve been in the kitchen doing some pickling and canning. My favorite recipe is easy and fun and will make you feel super capable: Canned Garlic Dill Pickles, motherfucker.
Before you begin, there are going to be some pieces of equipment you’ll need. It’s not a lot — canning by its very nature is pretty austere — and it’s not prohibitively expensive!
What You’ll Need for the Canning
Quart or pint mason jars (can be used) with new lids (two pints equals a quart, for recipe math)
Big metal cooking pot
Jar rack for the pot (optional)
Canning tools (metal kitchen tongs also work!)
What You’ll Need for the Pickles:
1-2 pounds of pickling cucumbers
4 garlic cloves
2 Tbsp dill seeds/2 sprigs dill weed
For the brine:
2 cups of white vinegar (most vinegars work, I like white because it doesn’t have extra flavor)
2 cups of water
2 Tbsp kosher salt or pickling salt
1 Tbsp sugar
Pickling spice: Sold in stores, but if you want to make it yourself,
2 tablespoons mustard seeds
1 tablespoon allspice berries
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (add more according to personal taste)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 bay leaves, crumbled
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
6 whole cloves
**Before you even start pickling, your jars need to be clean. Most dishwashers have a “sanitize” setting, but you can also boil water and dip your jars in there. Boil the lids and rings for the jars as well. Also, use only metal implements to work with the food going into the jars.
1. First up, you need some kickass pickling cucumbers. Given that it’s fall and I live in Montana, it’s not hard to find these at a local farmers market. I snagged mine a bit early, so I opted for white cucumbers, which make what I like to call ghost pickles. But major grocery stores should start carrying these lil beauties soon, if not now. Even Costco usually has them. Regular-sized cucumbers are also totally fine, you just have to cut them into spears. Wash your cukes.
2. Nice job, you did it, first step complete. Pick up some garlic and pickling dill. Pickling dill uses the seeds of the plant, not just the green sprigs. But the green sprigs are fine if that’s what you can find (omg yes I AM Ina Garten). Then you’re going to need some pickling spices. You can either find it in the store or you can make it yourself! I went the recipe route this last time.
3. Distribute your spices in the jars. Add as much as you’d like, this is the part where the recipe is a suggestion. Do you really like garlic? Add more. Love heat? Add more red pepper. This is when you can experiment.
4. Get your cucumbers into your jars, and count how many quarts you have. Apply the above recipe for brine in multiples of that number. Pack the cukes tightly, but don’t smash them.
5. Now that you know how much brine you’ll need, you can get it cooking on the stove. Bring the water, vinegar, salt, and sugar to a boil. Awesome, look at you, making brine and being badass. Pro-tip: inhaling hot vinegar steam almost feels like using diet mace on your lungs, so breathe carefully.
6. Once you’ve got your jars full of cukes and spice, ladle the brine into the jars within half an inch from the top. Tap the jar on the counter a couple times to remove air bubbles. Dry the lip of the jar and the lid before tightly screwing on the ring.
7. Boil water in that huge pot. Place your jar rack in there — this keeps the jars from bouncing into each other in all the bubbles.
8. Submerge each quart for at least 12-15 minutes (sometimes you need to add time for higher altitudes). Use your tongs to retrieve them from the pot and set them aside to cool. When the jars first emerge from the water bath, the lids won’t yet be suctioned flat. Wait until the jars are cool. The lids should pull flat from the vacuum seal of the water bath, and if any of your lids are still bubbled up (like an open Snapple bottle cap), those aren’t safe to store away and need to be put in the fridge for more immediate snacking.
9. Wait two to three weeks for your cukes to absorb all the goodness you put in those jars. They will last for years in their cans and make amazing presents.
Hey! Good job! You made pickles! You also made yourself into more of a self-sufficient survivalist by learning new, important skills. Are you already a canner? Have you stored away some goddamn great bounty this fall already? Show us your treasure trove in the comments!