Cucumbers and other vegetables are coming on strong at the present time and AnswerLine has been fielding lots of questions from clients who find themselves “in a pickle” with their pickling project. While we are grateful for the calls, we would like everyone’s adventures with pickles to be a success. So here’s some of the tips we share as we try to help clients avoid getting into “a pickle.”
Use high quality vegetables and fruits and varieties intended for pickling. Immature salad or slicing cucumber do not make good quality pickles nor do Burpless cucumbers because they have a tough skin that my inhibit brine absorption and also contain enzymes that could cause pickles to soften.
Pickle within 24 hrs of picking. Fresh and firm is always best.
Wash cucumbers well and remove stem end. Soil can harbor bacteria that can cause spoilage or softening. Of special consideration is the area around the blossom stem. Blossoms contain enzymes that can cause softening so always remove a 1/16-in slice from the blossom end.
Use a tested recipe and follow the directions exactly. A tested recipe from a reliable source is a MUST. Great sources include: National Center for Home Food Preservation, USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, Extension publications, Ball Canning Book (recent editions), Ball website , Mrs. Wages, and So Easy to Preserve by University of Gerogia.
Use commercially prepared 5 percent acetic acid vinegar. The level of acidity is important to both the flavor and safety of the product.
Use a canning or pickling salt. Always used the amount and type of salt specified. Salt draws moisture and natural sugars from the vegetables, creating lactic acid which prevents spoiling.
Use soft water. Hard water interferes with curing and causes discoloration of pickles. Soft water is recommended. Soft water can be made by boiling water for 15 minutes, allowing to set for 24 hours, and carefully pouring off the clear water without disturbing any sediment.
Use white sugar. Only use brown sugar or a non-nutritive sweetener if the recipe specifies.
Use clean, fresh, insect-free spices and herbs. Fresh dill is preferred for better flavor; 1 to 3 teaspoons dill seed can be substituted for one head fresh dill.
Avoid firming agents. Firming agents (alum, food-grade lime, calcium chloride) for
crisp pickles are not needed if high quality ingredients and the most current preservation methods are used. The safest way for making crisper pickles is soaking cucumbers in ice water for 4 to 5 hours prior to pickling.
Use stainless steel, glass, or enamel-ware for pickling liquids. Copper, brass, iron, pewter, aluminum, and galvanized pans and utensils may react with the acids and salts to produce undesirable changes in color, flavor, or even form toxic compounds.
Use sterilized standard canning jars and two-pieces lids. Sterile jars must be used for all pickled products processed in a boiling water canner for less than 10 minutes. Oven sterilization is not recommended.
Process in a boiling water canner per recipe times with adjustment for altitude if necessary. All pickle products must be heat processed in a boiling water (water maintained at 212F) canner to destroy yeast, mold, and bacteria that cause spoilage, inactivate enzymes that might effect the product’s color, flavor, or texture, and insure a good airtight seal. Exceptions are recipes intended for refrigerated “enjoy now” pickles or recipes acceptable for low-temperature pasteurization.
Spoilage or poor quality pickles can result from improper processing, unsanitary techniques, or when poor quality or incorrect ingredients are used. For more information about specific pickle problems, recipes, and detailed information, download the ISU Extension and Outreach publication Preserve the Taste of Summer – Canning: Pickles .