Pickling tips

Pickling can be done in many ways make sure you are using the correct ingredients.

At this point in the summer, cucumbers are ripening on a daily basis, which means it is time to start pickling. Pickling is one of the oldest methods of food preservation. There are a variety of ways to safely pickle. It is important to make sure you have up-to-date research tested recipes, proper ingredients and a clean environment to prepare delicious pickled products. There are four general classes of pickled products: brined or fermented, fresh-packed or quick-process, fruit and relishes. They are classified by the ingredients used and how they are prepared.

Key rules in pickling to remember:

  • Never alter vinegar, food or water proportions in a recipe or use a vinegar with unknown acidity.
  • Use only research tested recipes.
  • To prevent the growth of botulinum bacteria, you must have a minimum, even level of acid throughout the prepared product.

Ingredients and the role they play:


The National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends using fresh, firm fruits or vegetables that are free of spoilage. Poor quality produce will not improve while it is pickled. It is important to pickle fruits or vegetables within 24 hours after picking for best quality.


Canning or pickling salt must be used to avoid cloudy brine. These products do not contain iodine. When fermenting, avoid reduced salt products, as they may not allow proper fermentation. It is very important to use correct proportions of salt when making a fermented product. Salt is critical for proper bacteria growth. The use of reduced-sodium salt in a fermented pickle recipe is not recommended by the USDA.

Some fresh-pack products can be prepared safely with reduced or no salt. Use research-tested recipes to ensure proper acidity. You may notice texture or flavor differences if you make adjustments with salt in a fresh-packed product. Salt substitutes are not recommended.


Most pickling recipes call for a white distilled or cider vinegar of 5 percent acidity. White is usually the vinegar of choice because of the light color. Never dilute vinegar unless the recipe tells you to do so. Avoid homemade vinegars and other products with lower acidity. This is very important to ensure a safe end product.


Most recipes will call for white or brown sugar. Brown sugar will produce a darker brine and different flavor.


Water plays a key role in the firmness of a finished pickled product. A soft water is recommended for pickle making. Very hard water may result in dark or discolored pickles, to name a few issues.


Spices are important for flavoring the vinegar, resulting in the flavor your cucumber will absorb. Try to use fresh, whole spices for the best flavor. Powdered spices may cause darkening or cloudy brine. Some recipes may indicate adding spices to each jar and others may tell you to bundle them in a cheesecloth while cooking the brine.

Firming Agents

Alum can be used, but only for fermented pickles. It won’t improve the firmness of quick-packed pickles. Another product, calcium in lime helps improve pickle firmness. It must be food-grade and you must follow the directions carefully. Pickles have to be soaked in this product and rinsed several times before continuing on.

Remember pickling like any other form of food preservation is a science. It is important to follow research tested recipes. Michigan State University Extension suggests you select produce freshly harvested to ensure a quality product. Keep your work area clean as well as your equipment and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

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