It was a process of trial and error, and trial and error, and trial and error. But finally I've gotten to the point where I have a recipe I like. The dream is to one day be able to make pickles purely from the output of the garden. I'm not there yet, but getting a little closer. Apple cider vinegar is a long ways off.
Anyway, here's the process in simple steps.
Step 1: Ingredients
Cucumbers - the amount of cucumbers you have will determine the amount of the other ingredients you need.
For each pound of cukes, you'll need approximately:
1 quart canning jar or 2 pint jars
1.5 c water
0.5 c apple cider vinegar
1/8 c Kosher salt
1/8 c sugar - yes, sugar, really
1 tsp dried dill weed or preferably 2 sprigs fresh dill
1/4 tsp dill seed
1/4 tsp mustard seed
2 cloves garlic
a pearl onion or two (very optional)
half a jalapeno pepper (optional if you don't like heat)
Step 2: The Cucumbers
Pickling cucumbers are best as they stay crisper. But you can use any cucumbers you can get your hands on, or even a mix of different types.
Wash the cucumbers in cold water, you don't want any pickled dirt. There are different ways to cut the cukes - spears, halves, whole, thick or thin slices. Whole cukes will require larger jars to get many in. With spears I usually cut all but the largest cukes into six spears. I recent bought a knife that does crinkle cuts, so I'm going with those. We have had some problems with cucumbers that are unpleasantly bitter, so I like to taste test each one. The end pieces seem to be most affected. Bitter cucumbers seem to make for bitter pickles (yes, I tested that, too).
Step 3: Sterilizing Your Jars
Step 4: Packing the Jars
Remove one of your sterile jars from the boiling water - dump the jar out into the same pot so you don't lower the water level and so the rest of the jars are still covered with boiling water. Tongs or special canning jar grabbers are useful here. Stuff the jars with cucumber slices/spears/whatever. Also add in the garlic, jalapeno and dill at this point. Next fill the jars with boiling vinegar mixture. A funnel is helpful - you don't want to get the vinegar mixture on the top of the jar. You don't want the jars to cool down too much or they may break on contact with the hot vinegar mixture. Fill to almost the top, maybe a half inch of air space at the top. Cover and seal immediately. A dry towel is helpful to avoid burning yourself. Replace the filled jar in the boiling water. You may need to remove some water from your pot to avoid overflow. Once you have all the jars filled and in the boiling water bath, boil for 10 minutes (15 minutes if you're above 1000' elevation). If it's not boiling well put a lid on the pot.
Once the jars are done boiling remove them from the pot (carefully, OUCH hot!) and set them aside where they won't be disturbed.
Step 5: The Most Difficult Part
Then the hardest part - waiting two weeks (I always fail this one). I like to put the jars in a cool dark dry place once they've cooled off - I usually leave them overnight before moving them. Before you put them in storage, check that they've sealed properly. There's a little bump on the top of the lid that should be depressed. If it's not and the lid makes a clicky sound if pressed, then the jar is not properly sealed. You can put that jar in the fridge and eat it first.
After you've waited the two weeks pop open that first jar. If there's anything even remotely off, such a bad smell or mold, discard it. Don't take any chances. Read these guidelines for canning - http://www.canningbasics.com/guidelines-for-food-safety.html