LIVING WELL: Don’t get in a pickle with pickles
by Cecelia Hostilo, Columnist
Aug 20, 2014 | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
If you love pickles as much as I do, then maybe home canning your own pickled foods is the thing for you. I am not going to say it will save you money, but it might if you grow your own products. But I will say that making your own pickles allows you to make the best, freshest product possible while controlling what’s in your food.

Pickles are considered a high-acid food. The acid may be added, most often as vinegar, or in the case of fermented products the acid forms naturally during the fermentation process. The acid is as important for food safety as it is for taste and texture. Acid prevents the growth of Clostridium botulinum and allows these products to be safely processed in a boiling water canner.

Pickled and fermented foods fall into several categories:

• Quick-process or pickled vegetables- usually covered with boiling pickling liquid, usually made of vinegar, spices, and seasonings. Sometimes the vegetables are brined for several hours before packing in jars to remove some of the excess liquid.

• Fermented pickles and sauerkraut- cured in a salt water solution for three to six weeks, allowing time for color, flavors, and textures to change and acidity to increase.

• Relishes- made from chopped vegetables and fruits that are cooked with vinegar and seasonings.

• Fruit pickles- made from whole or sliced fruits that are simmered in a sweet-and-sour syrup made with sugar, seasonings, and vinegar or lemon juice.

• Chutneys- relish-type condiments usually made with fruits, vegetables, sugar, vinegar, and spices and simmered until thick.

As with any other food preservation, it is best to start with fresh, firm fruits and vegetables with no sign of spoilage. Wash them well, especially around the stem. A pickling variety of cucumbers will make for better quality pickles than table or slicing varieties. Remove and discard a 1/16th-inch slice from the blossom end of vegetables. The blossoms contain enzymes that can cause product softening.

Use only commercial vinegar that is at least 5% acidity in home canning. White distilled vinegar or cider vinegar may be used, depending upon the flavor desired. Do not use homemade vinegar because you do not know the acidity level. Do not dilute the vinegar unless a recipe specifies it.

Use canning or pickling salt. Table salt contains non-caking agents that may make the brine cloudy. Do not change the salt concentrations in fermented pickles or sauerkraut. Proper fermentation depends on correct proportions. In these products salt Is necessary for safety. In quick-process pickles made with vinegar, the salt can be safely reduced, but expect the flavor and texture to be different. Salt substitutes contain potassium chloride and may develop a bitter tasting product.

Use white sugar unless the recipe calls for brown. Sugar substitutes are not usually recommended for pickling because heat and storage may cause bitterness and loss of flavor. If you plan on using a sugar substitute, follow recipes that were developed for specific sugar substitutes.

Use fresh whole spices for best quality and flavor. Ground spices may cause the pickles to darken and become cloudy. Pickles will darken less if the whole spices are tied in a spice bag and removed from the brine before packing the jars.

If good quality ingredients are up-to-date recipes are used, firming agents are not needed for crisp pickles. Soaking cucumbers in ice water for four to five hours is a safer method. The use of alum is no longer recommended. Food grade pickling lime improves pickle firmness and can be used to soak cucumbers before pickling. However, the excess lime must be removed by repeated soaking and rinsing with fresh water. Failure to reduce the lime may increase the risk for botulism because of the change in acidity. For quick-process pickles, calcium chloride products such as Pickle Crisp® may be added to the filled jars before applying the lids, following the manufacturer’s instructions.

Equipment should include stainless steel, non-reactive metal bowls and saucepans. This prevents the acidic ingredients from causing leaching of metals into the food and pitting of the pans, which might occur with aluminum or cast iron. When fermenting fresh vegetables, a one-gallon contain is needed for each pounds of fresh cabbage or cucumbers. A five gallon stone crock is ideal, but glass or food-grade plastic can be substituted for the stone crock. Be sure that foods contact only food grade plastics. Do not use garbage bags or trash liners.

When home canning pickles and fermented foods, use only research-based, tested recipes. Do not change the proportions of vinegar, water, vegetables, or fruit in a given recipe. All pickles and fermented foods must be processed to destroy yeasts, molds, and spoilage bacteria. Processing also inactivates enzymes that could affect the color, flavor, and texture of the final product.

I hope these tips help you master home pickling. It’s easy if you follow a few simples rules.

Kosher-Style Dills

30-36 pickling cucumbers, 3 to 4 inches long, blossom ends removed, 1⁄4” of stem left attached

3 cups vinegar

3 cups water

6 tablespoons canning or pickling salt

6 heads fresh or dried dill

4-7 garlic cloves, sliced

3 1⁄2 teaspoons mustard seed

Combine vinegar, water, and salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Place half a head of dill, 1⁄2-1 clove sliced garlic, and 1⁄2 teaspoon mustard seed in the bottom of each hot pint jar. Pack the cucumbers into hot jars. When the jars are half-filled with cucumbers, add remaining half head of dill to each jar. Finish packing cucumbers into the jar, leaving 1⁄2-inch headspace.

Ladle boiling brine over cucumbers, leaving 1⁄2-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust the headspace if needed. Wipe jar rims with a dampened clean paper towel; apply two-piece metal caps. Process pint jars 10 minutes in a boiling water canner. Pickles will shrivel after processing. They will later plump in sealed jar.

Yield: 6-7 pint jars

Bread and Butter Pickles

6 pounds 4- to 5-inch pickling cucumbers, blossom ends removed, cut into 3/16-inch slices

8 cups thinly sliced onions (about 3 pounds)

1⁄2 cup canning or pickling salt

4 cups vinegar

4 1⁄2 cups sugar

2 tablespoons mustard seed

1 1⁄2 tablespoons celery seed

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

Combine cucumbers and onion slices in a large bowl. Add salt. Cover with 2-inches crushed or cubed ice. Refrigerate 3 to 4 hours, adding more ice as needed. Drain. Combine remaining ingredients in a large saucepan. Boil 10 minutes. Add drained cucumbers and onions and slowly reheat to boiling. Pack hot pickles and liquid into hot pints or quart jars, leaving 1⁄2-inch headspace.

Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe jar rims with a dampened clean paper towel; apply two-piece metal caps. Process pint or quart jars 10 minutes in a boiling water canner. After processing and cooling, jars should be stored 4 to 5 weeks to develop ideal flavor.

Yield: about 8 pint jars or 4 quart jars

Okra Dill Pickles

7 pounds small okra pods, trimmed

8 or 9 garlic cloves

2/3 cup canning or pickling salt

4 teaspoons dill seed

6 small hot peppers, whole

6 cups water

6 cups vinegar

Fill hot pint jars firmly with whole okra, leaving 1⁄2-inch headspace. Place 1 garlic clove in each jar. Combine salt, dill seed, hot peppers, water, and vinegar in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour hot liquid over okra, leaving 1⁄2-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe jar rims with a dampened clean paper towel; apply two-piece caps. Process pint jars 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.

Yield: 8 or 9 pint jars

For more information about this or any other subject, contact Cecelia Hostilo at the Trigg County Extension Office by calling 522-3269. Information and recipes for this article was obtained from the Cooperative Extension Services of the University of Kentucky’s publication “Home Canning Pickled and Fermented Foods” reviewed and updated by Sandra Bastin, Ph.D, R.D., Extension Specialist in Food and Nutrition.

Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.
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