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Pickles, why refrigerate them?

I was grabbing the pickles out of the fridge to make a sandwich and suddenly thought "Why would pickles need to be refrigerated?" I remember once as an almost teen being at an old grocery store somewhere near Gilroy, and there was a big wooden barrel on the porch that was full of pickles. Not refrigerated. Not hermetically sealed. Not even inside. It was just a barrel, with a loose fitting lid, sitting there on the front porch of this old general store. I also remember they were GOOD pickles.

So what gives? Are pickles the one thing that they don't put enough salt into any more? Isn't the whole point of pickling things to preserve them?

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  1. I don't think you have to refrigerate pickles, but I prefer to because they seem a little more firm when they're cold.

    1. Good question. I'm a fan of the pickle barrel. We have a couple of sources for our favorite and I try to regularly get a quart. I also don't think they would need refrigeration, and will likely try that next time I get them. They're not when I buy them, nor are they sealed.

      I just checked the Vlasic jar I keep in the refrigerator for emergencies, says Refrigerate After Opening on the lid. That I'll keep doing.

      Bet someone has the definitive word here...

      1. I don't think they need to be refrigerated, but I think they do taste better cold.

        1. I thought the same thing and the last time I bought one of those huge jars of dills I left it on a cool corner of my counter. They weren't crunchy, sort of soft like from the fair and people must have been sticking their unclean hands in there because after a couple of weeks fluffy mold started growing and I had to chuck it. I've never had that problem with the same kind of pickle in the fridge, the acid content must be lower than ye old corner stores.

          On another note this week I had purchased Vlassic sweet gherkins and was planning on serving them with lunch. But as I made up the sandwiches I tasted a pickle and they were soft so I stuck them in the freezer for 20 min, they came out with that classic crunch. I guess I'll be keeping mine in the fridge from now on.

          1. I don't store homemade preserves in the fridge but I find some shop bought ones don't have sufficient salt and/or vinegar for long storage in the cupboard

            1. Something I mentioned on another board I think only yesterday: our food industry has so mutated that foods made by a process meant to preserve them now require refrigeration! Sauerkraut, pickles, salt fish, smoked/cured meats, all now need to be kept cold. You can buy shelf-stable varieties, but they aren't rendered that way by proper curing, but by the addition of chemical preservatives. Another mutation: the only thing that used to attack these foods was mold, but the mold grew on the surface and could simply be wiped or lifted off. Now it penetrates.

              I think what happened is that as our refrigerators grew to the size of small cars, we got so in the habit of refrigerating EVERYTHING whether it needed it (like milk) or not (like eggs) that manufacturers in their turn first started recommending refrigeration, then jiggered the processing so as to make it necessary. The kraut was merely salted, not fermented, and the ham was soaked in a smoke-flavored brine instead of being salt-cured and smoked. And so our handbasket continues its inexorable descent...

              1. so here is what i got back from Vlassic...

                "Thank you for taking the time to contact us regarding Vlasic Pickles. We genuinely appreciate your time and loyalty to our brand. we recommend Refrigerate & use within 8-12 weeks after opening for best taste and texture. There is no safety concern, this is for quality taste and performance only."

                I'm not sure what kind of performance to expect in a pickle... 0-60 in 12 minutes?

                1. I don't know about all pickles but some that aren't very salty or sour can develope "scum" on the top of the brine if not refrigerated.

                  1. Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but it strikes me that there are at least three main ways to make pickles that would result in widely varying shelf-stability.

                    1. Quick-pickle, cold brine method. This wouldn't be terribly shelf stable because of the dilution of the brine. Do Vlasic pickles (which say "never heated" on the label) use this method?
                    2. Hot brine, hot-process method. Seems like most supermarket pickles fall into this category. A stronger brine (plus the heating) makes this one more shelf-stable (but still not indefinitely -- someone else mentioned the "scum" that can form) than method #1 but the texture of the pickles is better when they're cold.
                    3. True fermentation, the most old-fashioned method. Completely shelf-stable, AFAIK. This would be the big wooden barrel type, half sour or full sour or true Kosher pickle, fermented (and thus preserved) using the same principle as sauerkraut and kimchi. Food scientists correct me here -- IIRC, it's the lactic acid that makes these guys shelf-stable.

                    1. We store them in the refrigerator for the crunch. I do recall the old fashioned ones in the barrel at the general store in my grandparent's town. The barrel was inside the store and sat in front of the counter by the cash register. They were very good.