The pungent aroma of vinegar mixed with spices such as dill, cinnamon, cloves, mustard seed indicate that something is being pickled in the kitchen. This aroma brings to mind the wonderful sweet lime pickles that my grandmother made, which have always been one of my favorite pickles.
Some of you may think that 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 get done 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 those that take a longer time because the product is brined or cured over a 3 to 6 week period of time in a high salt solution (brine). These pickles are those where the cucumber has color changes – the green goes to an olive or yellow-green and the inside changes from white to translucent.
Fresh-pack or quick process pickles are not fermented. There are two ways to make this type of pickle: one method 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 of fresh-pack pickle calls for cooking the vegetable with vinegar and spices, then packaging and processing the product 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 that are 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
- 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, most firm 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 for your pickles, nothing is going turn them crunchy… No matter how creative you get.
- Jar them immediately after picking, or as soon as possible. Going straight from the vine to the jar is the best, and 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 farmer’s market cucumbers– providing they are firm when I buy them, and I don’t leave them on the counter for days and days.
- Soak cucumbers in an ice water bath for a couple hours. If I can’t get to work canning my cucumbers immediately after picking them (or when I get home from the farmer’s market), submerging them in an icy bowl of water in the fridge will help them firm up/stay firm.
- Cut off the blossom end of cucumber. The blossom-end of a cucumber is said to contain enzymes which can cause mushy pickles. Cutting it off is your best bet.
- Low-Temperature Pasteurization Treatment The following treatment results in a better product texture but must be carefully managed to avoid possible spoilage. Place jars in a canner filled half way with warm (120º to 140º F) water. Then, add hot water to a level 1 inch above jars. Heat the water enough to maintain 180º to 185º F water temperature for 30 minutes. Check with a candy or jelly thermometer to be certain that the water temperature is at least 180ºF during the entire 30 minutes. Temperatures higher than 185ºF may cause unnecessary softening of 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. It’s not recommended anymore, due to safety considerations.
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, and if I get super-duper mushiness going on, you can use those 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
- 8 lbs of 3- to 5-inch pickling cucumbers
- 2 gals water
- 1¼ cups canning or pickling salt
- 1½ qts vinegar (5 percent)
- ¼ cup sugar
- 2 quarts water
- 2 tbsp whole mixed pickling spice
- about 3 tbsp whole mustard seed (2 tsp to 1 tsp per pint jar)
- about 14 heads of fresh dill (1½ heads per pint jar)
or 4 ½ tbsp dill seed (1½ tsp per pint jar)
Yield: 7 to 9 pints
Procedure: Wash cucumbers. Cut 1/16-inch slice off blossom end and discard, but leave ¼-inch of stem attached. Dissolve ¾ cup salt in 2 gals ice water. Pour over cucumbers and let stand 12 hours. Drain. Combine vinegar, ½ cup salt, sugar and 2 quarts water. Add mixed pickling spices tied in a clean white cloth. Heat to boiling. Fill jars with cucumbers. Add 1 tsp mustard seed and 1½ heads fresh dill per pint. Cover with boiling pickling solution, leaving ½-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process or use the low- temperature pasteurization treatment. If you want to process without low-temp pasteurization you will process in a waterbath canner pints 10 minutes and quarts 15 minutes.
A great place to get more recipes is the National Center for Home Food Preservation which is operated by the University Georgia Extension Service or any state Cooperative Extension Website all of their information is researched and the safest recipes you can get.
Angela Treadaway (REA-Food Safety & Quality)
The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities), is an equal opportunity employer and educator. Everyone is welcome!