Troubleshooting tips for pickling

Even if you've been pickling for years, you might have a few questions about proper methodology. This troubleshooting guide can help keep your pickling experience pleasant.

It is summer time and that means lots of canning classes and questions at the Michigan State University Extension offices. One of the fun parts of an Extension Educator’s job is answering consumer questions related to food preservation. Since pickling is in full swing, perhaps you might have wondered about some of these issues.

  • My pickles are soft or slippery. It is possible the brine used was too weak, there was not enough vinegar, the cucumbers were stored at a temperature too high during curing/brining, not enough brine was used or the pickles were not processed properly (to destroy microorganisms). Ways to fix this: vinegar must be at least 5 percent acidity, when fermenting temperature should be 70 – 75 degrees Fahrenheit for best growth of organisms necessary for fermentation, keep cucumbers immersed in the brine.
  • Hollow Pickles. Can be caused by improper curing, waiting too long between harvesting and processing or a poor quality product. Solutions: use smaller cucumbers, ensure brine is correct mix, and keep cucumbers well covered; cure until fermentation process is complete (usually about 6 weeks – bubbles will disappear). All pickling processing should begin within 24 hours of harvesting, usually when washing you will notice hollow pickles float (save these for relishes).
  • Grape leaves. Older recipes called for grape leaves as a firming agent. If you remove the blossom end of the cucumber (the source of the undesirable enzyme) this will eliminate the need to use grape leaves.
  • Artificial sweetener. Substituting artificial sweeteners for sugar in sweet pickle recipes is not recommended. The National Center for Home Food Preservation suggests taking dill pickle slices, rinsing to remove the salty flavor, and sprinkling artificial sweetener on the slices. Allow them to sit in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before using.
  • Varieties of cucumbers. The variety “Burpless cucumbers” are not recommended for use in fermented pickles, as they produce a softening enzyme, that results in a soft end product. They are suitable for a quick-pack variety. Avoid store bought cucumbers with the protective edible wax coating on them, they will not make a good product, as they cannot absorb the pickling brine.
  • Substituting dried dill for fresh. Three heads of fresh dill equals 1 to 2 tablespoons of dill seed (dill weed equals 2 tablespoons).

To learn more about other trouble shooting issues, consult the National Center for Home Food Preservation or other research tested resources. Michigan State University Extension has a Food Safety Work Team who provides food preservation demonstrations and will field questions, so check out the Food Preservation events page when you visit our website to see where a class is being held near you. Do not take a chance on your home canned foods - follow recipes to the letter and make sure the recipes are current (science and methods have changed, so grandma’s method may need adjusting). Be safe and enjoy the delicious produce from your garden or your community farmers market.

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