Doc McConnell, the Cold, Hard Football Facts' resident expert in old-fashioned food, always has a big crock full of homemade pickles in his cellar during football season. He breaks them out in any situation that calls for a beer. Which means he breaks them out just about every day.
Docs pickles are salty, sour and a perfect tailgate- and beer-worthy snack. It's also pretty cool when you tell people at the neighboring tailgate that you're snacking on your own homemade pickles. They suddenly realize that they're in the presence of a much more accomplished tailgate aficionado.
The jar of flavorless "sweet" pickles they have for their hamburgers suddenly makes them feel like a John Holmes understudy - woefully inadequate. If they only knew how easy it was.
- About 25 to 30 small pickling cukes (simply increase the recipe proportionally for larger batches)
- 1½ quarts cider vinegar
- 3 quarts water
- 1½ cups non-iodozed salt (kosher or rock salt)
- A large bunch of dill (yellow flowering dill is ideal, but regular dill weed will work fine)
- A stack of fresh grape leaves (we get our grape leaves each September from the Polish woman across the street who has grape vines in her garden, but you can often find them at supermarkets or specialty produce stores)
Wash the cucumbers well under fresh, cold water. Place fresh grape leaves on the bottom of a medium-sized ceramic crock (it's important that you use a non-reactive container such as a ceramic crock). Stack cucumbers on top of the leaves, placing the largest cukes on the bottom and the smallest ones on the top. Mix liquids and salt and in a food-grade plastic pail until salt dissolves. Add the dill then pour the brine over the pickles. Cover the pickles with another layer of grape leaves and weigh them down with clean, wood boards or clean boards with a little weight on top - a clean stone will work fine, so will your old high school football helmet.
Store the crock in a cool, dark place. Check back in about two weeks and test the consistency of a pickle. If it's to your liking, you can store the pickles in mason jars, using the same brine as your liquid, according to canning directions (mason jars will come with directions). You can also keep the pickles in your crock throughout the football season. Simply grab a batch and stick them in a Ziploc bag or airtight container to bring with you on gameday.
If the pickles are too salty for your tastes, you have two options: you can soak them in clean water for several hours before eating them, or you can adjust the salt in the original recipe until it's to your liking. This will take a little trial and error. In any case, these pickles will be more flavorful than anything you get in the store.