Adventures in Pickling

uhand Over the weekend GadgetMan and I had the opportunity to participate in a Preparedness Workshop.  We were asked to teach a class on pickling.  Okay…I can not say why this happened because neither one of us are what I’d consider experts in this in any way shape or form.  We knew some of the basics and had pickled in the past.  But I’d never felt confident in my abilities to do so…GadgetMan probably had no fears or reservations in his abilities though.  I did feel fairly confident in my Great Grandmother’s Beet Pickle recipe though…so that’s what I taught.

In preparation for the class, we did quite a bit of research.  The following is what we put together for the class.  Please don’t flame me if you see something wrong…let me know and I’ll update the best I can.  Great Grandma’s Beet Pickle recipe is at the end.

Pickling Basics

3 Methods

  1. Fermenting – Typically means soaking in a salt solution for an extended period of time to allow natural fermenting processes to take place. Often takes 3 or more weeks and requires constant care.
  2. Brining – Typically means soaking in a salt solution for 12 to 48 hours to retain crispness, rinsing and then covering in a acid solution.
  3. Quick Method – Typically means no soaking time.

Cleanliness and Quality

  1. Be sure to think of safety and cleanliness FIRST.
  2. All jars/containers and preparation surfaces should be thoroughly cleaned.
  3. Use fresh ingredients, the fresher the better, and free of bruises and blemishes.

Basic Ingredients

  1. Vinegar – Must be at least 5% acidity.  White vinegar is often used to prevent discoloration, but other vinegars such as cider and rice vinegars can be used but will change the overall flavor of the pickle.  Never use homemade vinegar because acidity levels can’t be guaranteed.
  2. Water/other liquids – If using water/other liquids, do not use more than 50% of the vinegar if planning to can the pickles for extended storage. The vinegar MUST be at least 50% of the solution unless you are making refrigerated pickles, and some vegetables such as garlic, onions, mushrooms, and artichokes should use a 100% vinegar solution.
  3. Salt – Use pickling salt.  Table salt has anti-caking powders included which will make your pickling cloudy.  Also typically table salt includes iodine which will discolor the pickles.  In a pinch you can use other salts as they will not introduce anything harmful, however Pickling salt is preferred for appearance.  Kosher salt is basically the same, though pickling salt is finer grain so it dissolves a bit easier.
  4. Spices – Everything else is spice
  • Sugar – for sweet or to reduce tartness
  • Garlic – score garlic cloves for a little garlic, cut them up for more, mince them for even more, and crush them for a lot.
  • Peppercorns
  • Mustard seed
  • Dill
  • Tabasco
  • Red chili peppers
  • Etc. – Make it fit YOUR taste.

Recipe Tips

  1. Always use a recipe from a trusted source, like a good pickling book published recently or canning website.  These you can guarantee were tested for safety.  Outdated sources, like old books and Great Grandma’s Blue Ribbon recipe, may not be safe because the vinegars in their day were stronger than the 5% standard today.  A good guideline, especially for long term storage, is to make sure the recipe has at least a 50% vinegar solution.
  2. If you plan on making refrigerator pickles that will be eaten within 2-4 weeks, then the vinegar solution can be lower than 50%.  Just be aware that some microbes, like Lysteria, can thrive in the cold environment of the fridge and therefore it’s recommended that refrigerator pickles be eaten within 4 weeks.
  3. For crisper cucumber pickles:  (a.) Soak overnight in a salt brine and ice water;  (b.) Add a grape leaf to each quart jar (the leaves inhibit the enzyme that promotes mushiness);  (c.) Cut about ¼ inch off the blossom end of the cucumber (this is where the enzyme that promotes mushiness is produced).
  4. Never omit or reduce the salt.
  5. The same can be said about the vinegar.  If a recipe is too tart increase the sugar or other spices.
  6. Don’t cram the veggies in the jars.  This can result in under saturation of the acid solution which can encourage bad microbes to grow.
  7. Usually spices do not greatly affect the acid environment of a 50% or better solution, but I have heard that garlic cloves can in numbers greater than 5 per quart jar.  To be safe, increase the vinegar in solution if you choose to increase the garlic beyond that.  Straight pickled garlic should be pickled in a 100% vinegar solution.
  8. For long term storage, the only safe method is by processing in a water bath.  The hot liquid sealing method does not create an adequate vacuum or seal to insure safety.  Water bath for no less then 10minutes to insure a strong seal.
  9. If in doubt about a pickle’s safety (looks funny, smells funny or the seal breaks after the first 24 hours), throw it out.  Some nasty microbes are obvious, but others may not be.  Better to be safe than sorry.
  10. If you have questions about a particular recipe, or pickling in general, (omitted for privacy) is great about answering all sorts of questions.  (Contact your area Cooperative Extension…they’re usually really good about helping and answering question.)

Other Websites

  1.  – a list of references and resources.
  2.  – The  transcript to Alton Brown’s show on pickling.
  3. – University of Minnesota
  4. – All about home canning with great pictures and step by step instructions.

Recipes Demonstrated in the Workshop

Basic Dill Pickles

  • 5 lb of pickling cucumbers
  • 4 qt water
  • 1-1/2 cup pickling salt
  • 6 cups vinegar
  • 6 more cups water
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Peppercorn
  • Dill
  • 4 Tbs sugar
  1. Dissolve salt in 4 qt water, slice cucumbers in spears, soak in salt water 5-6 hours (overnight).  If you choose to skip this soak step for a quicker recipe, add 8 TBS pickling salt to the vinegar solution in step 4 below.
  2. Clean and sanitize 4 Qt jars or 8 Pint jars.
  3. Rinse cucumbers.
  4. Combine vinegar, sugar and 6 cups water, bring to boil.
  5. Place spices in bottom of jars and loosely pack cucumbers in jars.
  6. Pour hot solution to cover cucumbers leaving appropriate head space.
  7. Water bath process for 10 minutes.

Beet Pickles

  • 1 Peck (10-14lbs) of Beets (similar diameter for even precooking… cut tops off leaving a good inch of stem)
  • 7 C Vinegar
  • 7 C Beet Water (see directions below)
  • 5 C Sugar
  • scant tsp Salt per quart

Protect surfaces and clothing from beet juices because it’ll stain everything! Clean and sanitize 8 Qt jars or 16 Pint jars.

  1. Wash beets really well to get all the soil off.
  2. Cook in water until tender but not soft…about 30minutes depending on the diameter of the beets.  Reserve the water to make the “beet water”, but don’t dredge the pot (no matter how well the beets are cleaned there is always dirt hiding in the stems.)
  3. Plunge the hot beets in cold water to help remove the skins.
  4. Cut beets and put into quart jars.  Add salt.  Cover with towel and set aside for a few minutes while making the pickling solution.
  5. Heat vinegar, beet water (don’t stir or dredge the pan!) and sugar in a separate pan.
  6. Pour to cover pickles leaving head space.
  7. Process in a water bath for 20 minutes.

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