How to Make Hazel’s Dill Pickle Spears plus a Refrigerator Version

My husband loves “Mustard Seed Pickles” which his mother canned and preserved when he was growing up. The pickles were loaded with mustard seeds. As a boy, he would reach into the refrigerator for a pickle and lick the mustard seeds off with his tongue. Now his mother is 96-years-old. She still managed to locate the handwritten recipe. Unfortunately, I couldn’t decipher her instructions. Although I’ve tried countless times, I just can’t seem to make his mother’s mustard pickle recipe likes he remembers. Instead, I’m using a similar recipe from my own mother for “Dill Pickle Spears.” And this recipe is great; I have made it countless times!  Today my daughter and I had a “pickling party” preparing the traditional dill pickles which are heat processed so they can be preserved and stored at room temperature for months. We also made a refrigerator version for folks who are a little sceptical of home canning. Both recipes make small batches of pickles — it is easier for a home cook to handle.

Vintage Cook Book

My mother-in-law’s 1940s “Settlement Cook Book” is the one she used all her life. She wrote little comments for the recipes and instructions in the margins. The cookbook was written by a Milwaukee high school home economics teacher. It certainly is outdated in it’s focus, “The way to a man’s heart.” But then, who doesn’t like good cooking? The vintage cookbook is a treasure and, although I couldn’t figure out her pickle recipe, I enjoyed reading the recipes.

Dill Pickle Recipe — Refrigerated or Canned, What is the difference?

I have had great success using my own mother’s dill pickle recipe and we are using this recipe today. Her recipe is for traditional canned dill pickles. What is the difference between refrigerated and canned pickles? The cucumbers, the brine and the spices are the same. How the pickles are processed and stored differs.

Traditionally, and according my mother’s simple process, cucumber spears are packed into sterile jars, spices are added and then a brine is poured into the jar. The jars are lowered into a home canner full of boiling water. The boiling water both seals the jars and cooks the pickles so that they are shelf stable and can be stored for months at room temperature. These pickles are softer and they turn a muted mustard green color during processing. I like how the flavors meld together.

With refrigerated pickles, I skipped the boiling water processing step. The cucumbers are first soaked in salt and ice, then they are rinsed and packed into sterile jars. The spices and brine are added. These pickles are stored in the refrigerator and should be used within a month. These pickles are crisp and the color retains its bright green hue. They are very sour!

What type of cucumbers should be used for dill pickle spears?

Cucumbers which are grown for pickling have bumps (called stipples) all over their skin. They are short, firm and straight. These cucumbers are not the long, smooth varieties which are used for slicing in salads. This year, I specifically grew cucumbers for making dill pickles in my small garden. Just a few ripen every day, so I make small batches of pickles. Three cucumbers (about 4″ length each) weight a total of 8 ounces. This is just the amount to scantly fill a one-pint jar.

The best pickles are made from cucumbers which have been picked the same day. Freshly havested cucumbers are crisp, heavy for their size, with good color and flavor. If you don’t have your own garden, then purchasing from a farmer’s market is probably the next best option. Select cucumbers which have been grown for pickling. They should be firm, without blemishes and about 4 to 6 inches in length. Make sure they have not been coated with wax which may be added for transporting across the country.

The Pickling Spices

Spices for dill pickles are fairly simple. I add the spices directly into each jar — this makes sure things are evenly distributed. Since I’m making “mustard dill pickles,” I added lots of whole mustard seed to the jars.

I use the same spices and brine for both refrigerated and heat processed pickles. I add two peeled garlic cloves to each jar along with three whole black peppercorns and 1 Tbsp dill seed. Plus, I add 1/2 tsp mustard seeds to each jar. The brine consists of 1/2 cup white vinegar mixed with 1/2 cup water with 1/2 tsp course salt added. (This is enough for only 1 pint jar. Increase the volume as needed for larger batches.) These ingredients are boiled and added to the cucumber spears in the jar.

Just a note: a little black peppercorn goes a long way — I only use three whole peppercorns per jar.

The dried dill seeds are from my garden. I try to put a nice seed head into each jar. Commerical dried dill seed can be substituted.

Making the Pickles

To make the pickles, wash and rinse the cucumbers. Do NOT peel them. Cut a little piece off both the stem end and the blossom end. (There are enzymes in the blossom end which can cause the pickles to spoil if it is left on.) Then slice the cucumbers lengthwise into spears.

For the refrigerator pickles, let the cucumber spears soak in salt and ice for an hour to overnight. (Skip this step for heat processed pickles.) Then drain and rinse off the salt and liquid.

Sterilize the Jars

I use pint jars which are specifically made for canning. I suggest just going the extra step and purchasing canning jars. (Pint sized Ball brand and Mason brand jars are easily located in grocery and hardware stores. They should come with the seals and rings.) These jars are strong and durable and they have standard-sized screw-type lids. Although the jars and rings can be reused year after year, new seals should be purchased in following years.

It is easy to sterlize the jars. Simply place the jars, seals and rings in a large pot, completely cover with water, and boil for 5 minutes. Let set until ready to fill with cucumber spears. Then carefully remove the jars (using tongs) and set on a cloth towel. It is best to keep everything hot, so timing is important when home canning. Alternatively, wash jars, seals and rings in dishwasher (without soap) and keep them as warm as possible.

Fill the Jars with Cucumber Spears and Spices

Carefully place the pickle spears upright into the pint jars fitting in as many spears as possible. Next place the spices on top of the pickle spears — black peppercorns, garlic cloves, dill seeds and mustard seeds.

Fill jars with Brine

Make the pickling brine by boiling white vinegar, water and salt. (No sugar is used in dill pickles recipes.) I use a funnel made for canning and fill bine to cover the top of the cucumber slices and to within 1/2 inch of the top of the jars. (This funnel keeps splashes of the brine off the top rim of the jars.)

Finish the Pickles — Refrigerate or Heat Process

For both types of pickles, add the sterilized lids (seals and rings). For refrigerator pickles, date, label and place in a refrigerator. It is so easy to forget when you did things, I use a magic marker and write a date on the lid. Simple to do, easy to forget!

For heat stable pickles, process in a home canner in a boiling water bath. I have a medium-sized (16 quart) Presto brand canner. It has a flat metal insert with holes (see photo on the left) to place in the bottom of the canner. This holds the jars off the botttom of the canner — the jars will heat more evenly if boiling water circulates on all sides of the jars.

Bring water to boil — enough to cover the jars by two inches. It can take half an hour to heat up the water. (I try to get the canner heating ahead of time.) Add the jars and bring back to a boil. When the water is boiling — you can see bubbles coming to the top of the pot — process for 10 minutes. Then remove the jars (with tongs) and let them cool to room temperature on a kitchen towel. Date, label and check to see that the seals are patent. Store at room temperature if properly sealed. (Otherwise, store in refrigerator.)

No Home Canner?

If you don’t have a home Presto canner, a tall, heavy stock pot with a colander-type insert can be substituted. Just make sure that there is an insert so that the jars stay off the bottom of the stock pot and that the pot is tall enough to completely cover the jars.

Both types of pickles benefit from letting them set for a period of time to “cure” so the brine and flavors meld. Let refrigerator pickles set for at least 48 hours and use them within a month. If possible, let heat processed pickles set for two weeks prior to using.

Favorite Recipe

Both these dill pickles — refrigerator and traditional heat processed — are easy to make. It’s not an all day process like other canning projects. And, I like making just several jars at a time. Quick and simple. The refrigeratored version give a “taste” of what home canning is about. However, if possible, go the extra step of the boiling water processing and make the “real pickles.”

My daughter enjoyed the “canning party.” So, perhaps we will have a next generation of home canners on the horizon. Let’s hope this art of home food preservastion doesn’t become lost. This recipe has been a family favorite in my own family for years. Although the pickles are not like the ones he remembers, my husband likes these, too.

We all agreed, these dill pickles spears are tasty! We hope you will try making dill pickles spears and home canning, too.

Hazel's Dill Pickle Spears

  • Servings: 7 (1 pint) jars
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print


  • 4 lb pickling cucumbers (about 35-40 cucumbers which are 4″ to 6″ length)
  • 6 Tbsp course or pickling salt
  • 2 cups white wine vinegar
  • 6 cups water
  • 14 heads fresh dill seed or approx 1/2 cup dill seeds
  • 21 peppercorns (or pieces of hot pepper, optional)
  • 14 peeled garlic cloves
  • 3-1/2 tsp mustard seeds

Method and Steps:

  1. Wash cucumbers; do not peel. Cut off stem and blossom end. Cut into lengthwise halves, then into spears.
  2. Combine salt, vinegar and water. Heat to boiling.
  3. Pack cucumbers into clean hot (pint) jars.*
  4. Add 2 heads dill or 1 Tbsp dill seeds, 3 peppercorns (or hot pepper pieces), 2 garlic cloves and 1/2 tsp mustard seeds to each jar.
  5. Fill with pickling syrup to with 1/2″of jar top.
  6. Immediately adjust lids (seals and rings).
  7. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.**
  8. Remove from canner to a tray lined with a dry kitchen towel.
  9. When jars cool to room temperature, dry top of lids, label and date each jar. Check seals. If any jars are not properly sealed, store in refrigerator and use within a month. For properly sealed jars, store at room temperature.
  10. For best flavor, let stand several weeks before using.

*NOTE: Sterile jars prior to using. Eiither wash in dishwasher (without soap) or place jars, seals and rings in a large pot. Cover with water, bring to boil and boil 5 minutes. Keep steriized jars hot until ready to fill with cucumber spears and brine.

**NOTE: For canning, use either home canner such as 16-qt Presto canner with insert or a large, tall stock pot with colander or insert. Fill with enough water to cover jars by 1/2 inch. Bring to boil. When boiling, add pickles jars. Return to boil and count 10 minutes time for processing from start of boiling (when bubbles begin to rise to top of water.)

CAUTION: Use caution when handling jars in hot water. Kitchen gloves as well as tongs made for home canning are recommended.

A Small Batch of Refrigerator Dill Pickle Spears

  • Servings: 2 (1 pint) jars
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 1-1/4 lb pickling cucumbers (about 6 to 8 cucumbers which are 4″ to 6″ length)
  • 2-1/2 Tbsp course or pickling salt, divided
  • ice cubes
  • 1 cup white wine vinegar
  • 3 cup water
  • 4 heads fresh dill seed or 2 Tbsp dill seeds
  • 6 peppercorns (or pieces of hot pepper, optional)
  • 4 peeled garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds

Method and Steps:

  1. Wash cucumbers; do not peel. Cut off stem and blossom end. Cut into lengthwise halves, then into spears.
  2. Add cucumber spears to large non-metallic bowl. Sprinkle 1/2 Tbsp course or pickling salt over spears. Toss to combine. Cover with ice cubes. Let set at room temperature to one hour to overnight.
  3. When ready to complete processing, drain cucumbers and rinse well to remove salt. Set aside.
  4. Combine remaining 2 Tbsp salt, vinegar and water. Heat to boiling.
  5. Pack cucumbers into clean hot (pint) jars.*
  6. Add 2 heads dill or 1 Tbsp dill seeds, 3 peppercorns (or hot pepper pieces), 2 garlic cloves and 1/2 tsp mustard seeds to each jar.
  7. Fill with pickling syrup to with 1/2″ of jar top.
  8. Immediately adjust lids (seals and rings).
  9. Cool jars cool to room temperature; date and label each jar.
  10. Transfer to refrigerator for storage. Let jars set at least 24 hours prior to using. Use within one month.

*NOTE: Sterile jars prior to using. Eiither wash in dishwasher (without soap) or place jars, seals and rings in a large pot. Cover with water, bring to boil and boil 5 minutes. Keep steriized jars hot until ready to fill with cucumber spears and brine.

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