Prevent pickling problems

Prevent pickling problems with good preparing, preserving and storing methods.

There is an old tongue twister that you may remember.

“Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.

A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.

If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,

Where's the peck of pickled peppers that Peter Piper picked?”

This rhyme was first published in London in 1813 by John Harris in Peter Piper's Practical Principles of Plain and Perfect Pronunciation. If you didn’t know, a peck is one-fourth of a bushel.

This tongue twister can be hard to say and sometimes, pickles of all kinds give home canners difficulty, too. Cucumbers are a favorite food item to pickle. For a list of produce items that can be pickled visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Michigan State University Extension has some tips to help prevent pickling problems.

Preparing your pickles:

  • Use only fresh, blemish-free produce. For highest quality, pickle produce within 24 hours of picking it.
  • Rinse produce thoroughly under running lukewarm water. Do not use soap – use a vegetable brush if the produce can stand the brushing.
  • A pickling variety of cucumber produces the best quality pickles. Do not use waxed cucumbers. The wax prevents the cucumber from absorbing the brine.
  • Always remove 1/16 inch slice from the blossom end of vegetables, even though the blossom isn’t there the blossom ends have enzymes that can cause softening.

Preserving your pickles:

  • Hard water can interfere with the brining process, so use soft water. Hard water can be softened by boiling it for 15 minutes and letting it sit for 24 hours, covered. Remove the scum that appears and slowly pour the water from the container so the sediment that settles in the bottom will not be disturbed. The water is now ready to use. Distilled water can also be used.
  • Soak produce in ice water for four to five hours before pickling to make crisp pickles.
  • Use cider or white vinegar of five percent acidity. White distilled vinegar is often used for produce where clearness is desired, like onions, cauliflower and pears.
  • Use white sugar unless the recipe calls for brown. Sugar substitutes may cause bitterness or a loss of flavor. Sugar substitutes also do not plump the pickles and keep them firm like sugar.
  • Use pickling or canning salt. Other salts have an anti-caking material that can make the brine cloudy.
  • Never alter the amount of salt used in fermented pickles or sauerkraut. Fermentation depends on correct proportions of salt and other ingredients.
  • Fresh, whole spices are best to use for pickles. Powdered spices may cause the product to darken and the brine to become cloudy.
  • Firming agents, like alum or food grade lime, are not needed if fresh, high quality produce and ingredients are used, 1/16 is cut off the blossom end, the produce is soaked in ice water before pickling and up-to-date methods are followed for preparing and processing.

Storing your pickles:

  • Store processed pickles in a dark, cool, dry place.
  • For best quality and nutritive value, preserve no more than your family can eat in 12 months.

Taking the effort to prevent pickling problems is well worth your time and money. MSU Extension’s Michigan Fresh website offers free fact sheets available for download about using, storing and preserving all kinds of foods, including cucumber pickles.

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