August 2018
Homeplace & Community

Pickles, Pickles, Pickles!

The pungent aroma of vinegar mixed with spices, such as dill, cinnamon, cloves and mustard seed indicates that something is being pickled in the kitchen. This aroma brings to mind the wonderful sweet lime pickles my grandmother made, which have always been one of my favorite pickles. 

Some of you may think making pickles is too difficult or takes too long, but there are several different ways to make pickled foods including a process called "quick-pack" that anyone who does home food preservation can do in a few hours. 

In fact, there are four basic types of pickles: brined or fermented, fresh pack or quick process, fruit pickles and relishes. Almost any food can be pickled if that’s your preferred method of preservation!

The brined or fermented pickles are ones that take a longer time because the product is brined or cured over a three- to six-week period in a high-salt solution.

This process will change the cucumbers’ colors – from green to an olive or yellow-green and the inside from white to translucent. 

Fresh-pack or quick process pickles are not fermented. There are two methods to make this type of pickle.

One requires soaking the vegetables in a low-salt solution for several hours or overnight to draw some of the salt from the cells; the vegetables are then drained and processed with vinegar, spices and seasonings. 

The second type calls for cooking the vegetables with vinegar and spices, then packaging and processing immediately. Beet pickles, bread-and-butter pickles and pickled asparagus or green beans use the fresh-pack method.

Fruit pickles are just what the name implies – fruits simmered in spicy syrup then packed and processed. Watermelon rind pickles fall into this category.

Finally, relishes are mixtures of fruits and/or vegetables chopped, seasoned and cooked in a vinegar and spice solution then packed and processed. 

All types of pickles are better when allowed to stand for several weeks after processing. This allows the flavors to develop to their fullest.

 

SECRETS FOR CRUNCHY PICKLES

1. Use small, firm cucumbers. This is, hands down, the most important! If you start with a big soft cucumber, you’ll end up with big soft pickles. Always, always select the smallest, firmest cucumbers and leave the big soft ones out of the pickle jar. It’s a natural law of sorts – if you are using ginormous, overgrown cucumbers, nothing is going turn them crunchy … no matter how creative you get.

2. Jar them immediately after picking, or as soon as possible. Going straight from the vine to the jar is the best. I always try to plan room in my schedule to can up a batch right away on pickle-picking day.

However, I’ve still had good results using farmers market cucumbers – providing they are firm and I don’t leave them on the counter for days and days.

3. Soak cucumbers in an ice water bath for a couple of hours. If I can’t get to work canning my cucumbers immediately after picking (or when I get home from the farmers market), submerging them in an icy bowl of water in the fridge will help them firm up and stay firm.

4. Cut off the blossom end of the cucumber. The blossom end of a cucumber is said to contain enzymes that can cause mushy pickles. Removing it is your best bet.

5. Low-temperature pasteurization treatment results in a better product texture, but must be carefully managed to avoid possible spoilage.

Place jars in a canner filled halfway with warm (120-140 degrees) water. Then, add hot water to a level 1 inch above jars. Heat the water enough to maintain 180-185 water temperature for 30 minutes.

Check with a candy or jelly thermometer to be certain the water temperature is at least 180 during the entire 30 minutes. Temperatures over 185 may cause unnecessary softening of the pickles. Caution: Use only when recipe indicates.

What about alum? Back in the day, it was recommended to add alum or food-grade lime to pickle recipes to help with crispness. Due to safety considerations, it’s not recommended anymore.

What if I STILL get mushy pickles? Well, then you might as well just quit this whole canning thing and go back to buying everything from the store … not really. Sometimes mushiness still happens, even if you do everything in your power to prevent it. Mushy pickles are still quite edible. If I get super-duper mushiness going on, I use them for chopping up to add to potato salad, etc.

Just keep experimenting – you’ll get into your crispy-pickle groove eventually.

 

QUICK FRESH-PACK DILL PICKLES

Yield: 7-9 pints
8 pounds 3- to 5-inch pickling cucumbers
2 gallons ice water
1¼ cups canning or pickling salt, divided
1½ quarts 5 percent vinegar
¼ cup sugar
2 quarts water
2 Tablespoons whole mixed pickling spice
About 3 Tablespoons whole mustard seed
About 14 heads of fresh dill or 4½ Tablespoons dill seed

Wash cucumbers. Cut 1/16-inch slice from blossom end and discard; leave ¼-inch of stem attached. In a larger container, place cucumbers.

In a large container, dissolve ¾ cup salt in ice water. Pour over cucumbers and let stand 12 hours. Drain.

In a large pot, combine vinegar, ½ cup salt, sugar and water. In a clean white cloth, tie up pickling spice. Add to pot. Heat to boiling.

Fill jars with cucumbers. Add 1 teaspoon mustard seed and 1½ heads fresh dill or 1½ teaspoon dill seed per pint jar. Cover with boiling pickling solution, leaving ½-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process, or use low-temperature pasteurization treatment. If you want to process without low-temp pasteurization, you can process in a water bath canner – pints, 10 minutes, and quarts, 15 minutes.

A great place to get more recipes is the National Center for Home Food Preservation operated by the University of Georgia Extension Service or any state cooperative Extension website. All of their information is researched and the safest recipes you can get.

If you have questions on food preservation or this article, please contact Angela Treadaway, Regional Extension Agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, at 205-410-3696.

 

Angela Treadaway is a Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety. For any questions on food safety or preparation of vegetables, contact her at 205-410-3696 or your local county Extension office.