Are cucumber plants weighing you down? If salads and sandwiches have you all cucumbered out, try making some delicious pickles to can and save for later. To pickle vegetables, it is important to know canning basics. Here are some tips and tricks, tried and true, from the Alabama Extension Home Food Preservation Cookbook.
Cucumbers aren’t the only vegetables used to make pickles. Many different types of fruits and vegetables can be pickled, using a mixture of sugar, vinegar and spices.
Fresh-Pack pickles are made using a quick process. Cucumbers are brined for several hours or over night, then soaked in water and stored in vinegar with sugar and spices added.
Tender cucumbers: Always use a tender pickling variety of cucumber. Use uniform sized cucumbers, 1 ½ inches for gherkins and 4 inches for dills. Use oddly shaped cucumbers for sliced or cut pickle recipes. Remove the blossom end of cucumbers to avoid soft pickles. Do not use produce with any evidence of mold. Wash fruits and vegetables carefully to remove trapped soil. For highest quality, pickle cucumbers within 24 hours of picking.
Salt: Salt is important in the fermentation process. Canning or pickling salt (pure granulated salt) is recommended for pickling. Texture and flavor of the pickles will vary with use of any other salt when making the brine. Use of the proper amount of salt is essential to proper fermentation and desired pickle taste.
Vinegar: Cider vinegar, the red vinegar, has good flavor and aroma and is used in most pickle recipes. However, it will darken light colored fruits and vegetables. Distilled vinegar is white or clear. Use white vinegar only when the recipe calls for for it. Pickling vinegar should have 5 percent acidity or 50-grain strength; this information can be found on the label. Never use vinegar with less than 5 percent acid; this could cause spoiling and bad taste. Do not use homemade vinegar, and do not dilute vinegar. To make a recipe less sour, add more sugar.
Sugar: Sugar helps to pump pickles and keep them firm. Use white granulated sugar unless the recipe calls for brown sugar. Brown sugar adds good flavor, but will darken light-colored fruits and vegetables. Using syrup or honey may produce an undesirable taste, unless it is called for. Sugar substitutes are affected by heat and extended storage, therefore do not produce the desired taste. Use substitutes only if indicated in the recipe.
Spices: Always use fresh spices for best flavor. Tie whole spices in a thin cloth bag before adding them to other ingredients. Then, remove them before pickles and relishes are packed in the jars. Spices packed in the jars can cause discoloration and off-flavor.
Water: Use soft water in the saltwater (brine) solution when making pickles. Hard water can prevent pickles from curing properly and interfere with the formation of acid. If your water is hard water, boil the water for 15 minutes and let it sit covered for 24 hours.
These Pickling Basics and other vegetable storage options can be found in the Alabama Extension Home Food Preservation Cookbook. For more information, contact your local extension agent, or log on to www.aces.edu.
Both the article image and header image are courtesy of shutterstock.com/Zigzag Mountain Art.