The best reason for pickling at this time of year is the abundance of fresh vegetables and fruit. The fresher the produce, the better the final product.
Pickling is one of the oldest means of food preservation. Many pickled foods go through fermentation. Refrigerator dills are fermented for about one week. Regular dill pickles and sauerkraut are fermented and cured for about three weeks. During curing, colors and flavors change and acidity increases.
Fresh-pack or quick-process pickles are not fermented; some are brined several hours or overnight, then drained and covered with vinegar and seasonings. Fruit pickles usually are prepared by heating fruit in seasoned syrup acidified with either lemon juice or vinegar. Relishes are made from chopped fruits and vegetables that are cooked with seasonings and vinegar.
Select fresh, firm fruits or vegetables that are free of spoilage. Use a pickling variety of cucumber because the table or slicing varieties may result in a poor-quality pickle. Plan to pickle fruits or vegetables within 24 hours after the harvest for highest quality. If produce cannot be pickled immediately, refrigerate it and use it as soon as possible.
Use canning or pickling salt. Flake salt varies in density and is not recommended for use.
Non-caking material added to other salts may make the brine cloudy. Iodized salt can also turn the pickles dark. Salt acts as a preservative and adds flavor and crispness. It is not advisable to use less salt or reduced-sodium salts.
White distilled and cider vinegars of 5 percent acidity are recommended. Vinegar gives a tart taste and acts as a preservative. Do not dilute vinegar unless the recipe so specifies. CAUTION: The level of acidity in a pickled product is as important to its safety as it is to taste and texture. If a less sour pickle is preferred, add sugar rather than decrease vinegar.
Use white granulated sugar unless another sweetener is listed in the recipe. Brown sugar gives a darker color and distinct flavor. Corn syrup and honey may alter the flavor.
Use fresh, whole spices for the best flavor in pickles. Powdered spices may cause the product to darken or become cloudy.
Alum and/or food-grade lime may be safely used to add crispness or firmness to pickles; however, it is unnecessary. A safer method to make crisp pickles is soaking the cucumbers in ice water for 4 to 5 hours before pickling.
Soft water is recommended for making pickles. Hard water may have an undesirable effect on the color and flavor of pickled products.
Pickle products are subject to spoilage from microorganisms, particularly yeasts and molds, as well as enzymes that may affect flavor, color, and texture. Processing the pickles in a boiling-water canner will prevent these problems. Many older recipes call for pickles to be packed into jars and sealed without processing. This method is no longer recommended.
When heating pickling liquids, use unchipped enamelware, stainless steel, aluminum or glass pots. Do not use copper, brass, iron or galvanized utensils because they may react with acids or salts and cause undesirable color and flavors, or even form toxic compounds in the pickle mixture.
For brining or fermenting, use glass, crocks, or food-grade plastic. These containers may be lined inside with a clean food-grade plastic bag. Do not use garbage bags or trash liners.
- Use clean, unchipped canning jars.
- Use only pickling variety of cucumbers.
- Remove and discard a 1/16-inch slice from the blossom end of fresh cucumbers. Blossoms may contain an enzyme which causes excessive softening of pickles.
- Use only recipes with tested proportions of ingredients.
- Do not alter vinegar, food, or water proportions in a recipe or use vinegar with unknown acidity.
- There must be a minimum, uniform level of acid throughout the mixed product to prevent the growth of botulinum bacteria.
Add some zip to your meals with pickled foods! Besides being tasty, pickles offer health benefits like antioxidants and high fiber. Your family will appreciate these treats, and they make thoughtful gifts for friends.
(Source: “Complete Guide to Home Canning,” Agriculture Information Bulletin No. 539, USDA, 2009.)
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