Dill pickles are a perfect beginner project for pickling. However, don't make the beginner mistake of choosing the wrong type of dill and having your pickles fall flat. Both a spice and an herb, dill is a fragrant flavoring most closely associated in American culture with cucumber pickles. Leave the dill weed alone when making pickles and choose fresh dill fronds or dried dill seeds to create that distinct flavor you want.
Pickles are created in two ways -- through acidification and fermentation. Acidified pickles use vinegar to create a soured pickle, while fermentation relies on natural bacteria in the environment to transform the sugars in vegetables into soured lactic acid. In both types of pickling, dill is employed to give flavor to the otherwise salty and sour pickles. Because the dill is not heated outside the canning process, it is important to use a sufficient amount of the herb to infuse the dill flavor throughout the entire contents of a jar. In fermented pickles, dill is added to the crock at the beginning of pickling, so the flavors are well established at the time of canning. In acidified pickles, dill is typically added to each jar; once canned, the pickles need to sit for at least three weeks to develop a solid dill flavor.
For pickling purposes, you should choose fresh dill when available. Use the flower heads, called umbels, to give your pickles their distinctly dill flavor, as well as create a nice presentation in your canned pickles. Typically blooming at the height of summer, fresh dill is available at many grocery stores and farm markets. A tall plant topping 3 feet long with fragrant yellow-flowered blossoms on top, dill is typically pulled out by its roots, which are still attached to the plant when sold. Preserve dill in vinegar or freeze it for off-season pickling projects to enable you to use dill when it is out of season.
When fresh dill is not available, choose dried dill seeds for the closest comparison that creates a solid dill flavor in your pickles. These small, brown seeds infuse the same strong dill flavor as the heads of dill and, because they are dried, are available year round in the spice aisle of grocery stores or specialty food cooperatives. The size and strength of dill seeds and dill heads vary considerably, but substituting 1 teaspoon of dried dill seeds for each dill head called for in a recipe provides the best dill flavor.
Pass on Dill Weed
Dill weed is made from the dried fronds of the dill plant and is often more widely available than both fresh dill and dried dill seeds. While dill weed is suitable for flavoring dressings, salads, meats and fish, it is not effective in infusing a strong dill flavor into pickles. Dill fronds can be included in a jar when making pickles for aesthetic purposes, but they should not be solely relied on to provide dill flavor.
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