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Calling all pickle freaks

Pickles.

Right now the little pickling cukes are very plentiful at the market, so these are what I'm focusing on at the moment.

I'm very curious to find out from experienced pickle-makers (not quick pickles, but jarred and processed ones with a shelf life):

- How do you maintain crunch? I just read about and tried the "slow pasteurization" method, where instead of processing the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, you process at a simmer (exactly 180 degrees) for 30 minutes, which supposedly keeps things crunchy. (I haven't opened these jars yet... fingers crossed). Anyone try both these methods and seen a difference?

- What is your usual water-vinegar ratio in the brine? The first recipe I ever used (from the Bernardin - Canada's answer to Ball - home canning book) for sliced, spicy pickles was 100 per cent vinegar and they obviously turned out crazy sour - horrible. But maybe they will mellow in a few months?? Then I read online that you should have a 1:1 ration for food safety reasons. But then I've seen tons of recipes in my preserving books and online that use all kinds of ratios, some with very little vinegar. I'd be very interested to hear any thoughts on this and what ratios have worked best for people in the past.

- And finally: I've made a few batches now and seem to always need to frantically cook up more brine than the recipe calls for as I run out before I've filled all my jars. Am I not adding enough cucumbers to the jars - how tightly should they be packed? Or is something else going on?

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  1. Sadly, I can answer only your last question: Pack them as tightly as you physically can. Since pickles have to sit and cure for a few weeks before they get cracked open, there's no harm in having some sides touching -- the brine has plenty of time to get well into the cukes. I seem to recall always making extra brine when my mom and I did pickles (which was AGES ago, probably 20 years, which is why I can't remember the answers for the other questions).

    I'll see if I can dig out my 1970s pickling book and find answers for the others.

    1 Reply
    1. re: LauraGrace

      Hi Laura,

      Ah, so you would make extra brine too? yeah, it never seems to be enough... I'm going to just go ahead and start doubling the brine at the start so I don't have to make it at the last moment.

      Oh, yeah, I'd be curious what your book from the 70s says. I'm going to pack them more tightly too. I wonder how many people are getting into pickling now too? Maybe it's not as popular as jam making?

    2. Haven't heard of "slow pasteurization" - please report back. I have heard some use alum in a pre-brine to preserve crunch. There is also a product called something like "Pickle Crunch" or "Pickle Crisp." Not sure what's in that

      One year I added a fresh grape leaf to each jar (which is also supposed to keep them crisp) and I do think it had a small effect.

      I just made a batch of "Traditional Garlic Dills" from The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving by Topp and Howard and they say this about softening pickles:

      "Remember to cut away the blossom ends from the cucumbers as they contain an enzyme that can cause pickles to become soft." They also have you brine the cukes overnight (in salted ice water) before packing into jars.

      Water-vinegar ratio - I use about 1 to 1 now after years of being disappointed with my 100% vinegar pickles. I haven't been able to find anything definitive about how low you can go with the vinegar and still have safely low acidity. I suppose it also is influenced by the ratio of brine to vegetable.

      I agree with you and LauraGrace about needing more brine. I tend to 1.5 every recipe.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Junie D

        This is great, thanks for the info.

        I'm going to look into that book. I actually just made their recipe for dill spears that is at epicurious.com, except I processed them the 'slow-pasteurization' way and I also soaked the cucumbers in ice water for about three-four hours.

        I've heard about cutting the "blossom end" off. So far I haven't been able to tell which end that is, so I've just been trimming both ends... is that a no-no?

        But these are super tips. For now I'm also going with a 1:1 ratio, and will post my experiments (and results after a few weeks in the jars) soon.

        It's crazy how much pickling brines can vary in different books/sites. Here are just a few examples I've come across lately:

        For dill pickles (Time Life Preserving): 1 quart water, 1/2 cup vinegar
        Dill pickles (Bernardin home canning book) 2 cups vinegar, no water
        Crunchy dill pickles (Blue Ribbon Preserves): 3 cups vinegar (and sugar, with cukes having been soaked for 24 hours in salt water)
        For dill pickles (All Recipes: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Dill-Pic...): 4 cups vinegar, 12 cups water

        And that's not to mention how much salt and sugar is used....

        http://www.considerthepantry.com/

        1. re: Pantry Party

          "trimming both ends... is that a no-no?"

          I should have included the end of the quote from Topp and Howard "There is no need to cut the stem end, but since it is often hard to tell the difference between the two, we like to remove both."

          The stem end looks like stem has been cut or torn, blossom end more smooth.

          Yes, the vinegar/water ratio is a bit of a mystery to me too!

          By the way, I know you were looking for canned, not refrigerated, pickles, but I highly recommend Zuni's zucchini pickles. Delicious and, according to Judy Rogers "keep indefinitely refrigerated." I will say that they are 100% vinegar (I've been rinsing before eating which cuts the acidity), and I plan to reduce the vinegar in my next batch. That may mean they don't keep indefinitely.....

          1. re: Junie D

            Oh, great, thanks for the OK on trimming both ends!!

            And I have been meaning to get the Zuni cookbook for ages, have not done zucchini yet. Sounds intriguing.

            Let me know how your next batch goes!

      2. It may be of interest to some to note that this month Costco has the Ball Complete Book of Home preserving for around $19.
        A worthy addition to any cook book collection.
        The book has a trouble shooting section. Under "picles lack crispness" they site the following causes;
        Poor quality cucumbers.
        A cucumber variety that is not recommended for pickling and canning was used.
        A crisping agent like "pickle crisp" was not used.
        Pickle Crisp is a Calcium Chloride. If you live in an area that you have to "salt" the ice dams on your roof in the winter you may find that amusing.
        Another book I enjoy on this topic is "The Food Lovers guide to canning".

        1 Reply
        1. re: Fritter

          The secret to crisp pickles is alum. 1/4 tsp to a quart jar.

        2. I'm going to let you in on a great secret recipe. Since, I don't know you or anyone else on this board, I think I can share this without offending my family.

          In each quart jar:
          1/4 tsp alum
          1 Tbsp pickling salt
          1 clove of garlic
          1 dried chili pepper
          1 stalk of dill

          Stuff as many cucumbers. beans, watermelon, or asparagus as you can get into the jars.

          Mix 1 quart of vinegar and 3 quarts of water in a large saucepan and bring to a rolling boil.

          Have a pan of lightly boiling water on to put the lid and ring into.

          Ladle the boiling mixture into the jar and put a hot lid and ring on it. Tighten the lid and place on a towel covered table.

          These dills will seal in a few minutes. After about three months you can enjoy. They will be crispy and a slightly hot flavored.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Mikeander

            Mikeander is suggesting a canning method called "open kettle" canning and it isn't recommended. Here's more info about that:

            http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/questions/FA...

            If you'd like to learn more about the pasteurization process, the check out the book The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich. Its the best book out there on pickling!

            Check out my blog post on making brined dill pickles - these are naturally fermented and wonderful!

            http://motherskitchen.blogspot.com/20...