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Pickling Pickles Tips (Now say that fast!)

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Many ask about pickles so here are some bits and bobs about making pickles…

Tips and tricks of perfect pickles:

  1. Firm fresh cucumbers are best about 2 inches for gherkins and 5 inches for dills.
  2. They should be no more than 2 inches in diameter
  3. Vegetables become soft as their pectin structure changes due to microbial activity, excess heat or improper handling. If a vegetable becomes soft it cannot be made firm again.  So use fresh firm cucumbers.
  4. Select unwaxed cucumbers for pickling whole because the brine or pickling solution can’t penetrate the wax
  5.  Select unwaxed cucumbers for pickling whole.
  6.  Odd shaped and more mature cucumbers can be chosen for relishes and bread and butter style pickles
  7.  Wash cucumbers and cut 1⁄16 inch off the blossom end. (For recipes that say add grape leaves- you dont have to do that if you cut off the blossom end – the grape leaf contains tannins that inhibit the pectinase enzyme that makes pickles soft so not necessary if you just cut that blossom end off)
  8.  Lime and alum are not needed for crisp pickles if the ingredients are good quality and safe procedures are used.
  9.  Soaking cucumbers in ice water for 4 to 5 hours prior to pickling is a safer method for making crisp pickles.
  10. Don’t use Burpless cucumbers for making fermented pickles as they produce an enzyme that causes the pickles to soften during fermentation. Smaller burpless cucumbers with small seeds may be suitable for making fresh pack pickles but the skins may be tough.
  11. Dont deviate from how much the recipe says regarding the amount of  vinegar, food, or water proportions. Use vinegar of 5% acidity. There must be a minimum, uniform level of acid throughout the pickled product to prevent the growth of botulinum bacteria.
  12. Don’t pack the pickles so tightly that there isn’t room for the pickling solution.
  13. Pickles should always be processed in a boiling water bath to destroy spoilage organisms and to get a strong vacuum seal on the jar

Why do some recipes call for alum?

The use of alum is no longer recommended. At one time it was added for crispness. If good quality ingredients are used and up-to-date methods are followed, firming agents are not needed. Alum has little crispness affect on quick-process pickles. It will increase firmness of fermented pickles when used at levels up to ¼ teaspoon per pint, but greater amounts will decrease firmness.

What about using lime?

Lime is a source of calcium. Calcium improves pickle firmness. Food-grade lime may be used as a lime-water solution for soaking fresh cucumbers 12 to 24 hours before pickling them. However, excess lime absorbed by the cucumbers must be removed to make safe pickles. To remove excess lime, drain the lime-water solution, rinse and then re-soak the cucumbers in fresh water for 1 hour. Repeat the rinsing and soaking steps two more times.

Is there a safer method than the addition of lime to cucumbers?

There is a calcium chloride product on the market called Pickle Crisp®. This product provides the calcium to help firm pectin but does not have the hydroxide component that lime has that can lower the acidity of pickled foods. Directions call for adding a small amount to each jar of pickles before sealing. Follow the manufacturer’s directions on the jar. Calcium chloride is an ingredient in some commercial pickle mixes.

For more info and a couple of good recipes:

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