Crispy Pickles

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Posted: July 19, 2012

The ideal texture of a good pickle is its crispness.

According to Brian Nummer, Extension Food Safety Specialist at Utah State University, that crispness comes from the vegetable’s natural pectin. Pectin can be described as the cement that holds the cells together.

How does freshness affect the quality of the pickle?

As vegetables age they lose their crispness. To get crisp pickles start with fresh, just-picked vegetables. If the produce cannot be used immediately upon picking, refrigerate it. 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.

What cucumbers are appropriate for canning?

Use cucumbers intended for pickling that are no more than 2 inches in diameter. If you buy cucumbers for pickling, avoid waxed ones for pickling whole because the brine or pickling solution can’t penetrate the wax. Burpless cucumbers are not suitable for making fermented pickles because 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. The skins on burpless cucumbers may be tough.

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.

Why do recipes say to cut off the blossom end of the cucumber?

The blossom end contains enzymes that can cause softening. Remove at least 1/16th inch from the blossom end.

Why do some old recipes add a grape leaf to each jar of pickles?

Grape leaves contain tannins that inhibit the pectinase enzyme that makes pickles soft. However, if you remove the blossom ends, you don’t need to add grape leaves.

One of the simplest methods of firming pickles is to use ice. Soak cucumbers or other vegetables in ice water or layer with crushed ice for 4 to 5 hours before pickling. Sometimes this step is combined with a salt solution.

Here are some tips for pickle success.

  • Use fresh cucumbers.
  • Do not alter vinegar, food, or water proportions in a recipe.
  • 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.
  • Don’t pack the pickles so tightly that there isn’t room for the pickling solution.
  • Use only scientifically research based recipes.
  • Process all pickles in a boiling water bath to destroy spoilage organisms and to obtain a strong vacuum seal on the jar.

Let’s Preserve Quick Process Pickles is available on this website. This fact sheet includes many recipes for making crisp tasty pickles.