AUBURN, Ala.—Many people enjoy pickles as an addition to a meal or as a refreshing snack. Making homemade pickles may sound difficult or time consuming, but there are quick options available to use at home. Angela Treadaway, an Alabama Extension food safety and quality regional agent, said one process, called quick-pack “is one that anyone who does home food preservation can get done in a few hours.”
Ways to Pickle Food
There are several different ways to make pickled foods. Nearly any type of food can be pickled.
Treadaway said there are four basic types of pickles: brined or fermented, fresh pack or quick process, fruit pickles and relishes. All types of are better when allowed to stand for several weeks after processing. This allows the flavors to develop to the fullest extent.
Brined or Fermented Pickles
Brined or fermented pickles take longer because the product is brined or cured over a three to six week period of time in a high salt solution (brine). With these pickles the cucumber has color changes – the green goes to an olive or yellow-green and the inside changes from white to translucent.
Fresh-Pack or Quick Process
Quick process pickles are not fermented. There are two ways to make this type. One method requires soaking them in a low-salt solution for several hours or overnight to draw some of the salt from the cells; then drain and process them with vinegar, spices and seasonings.
A second type of fresh-pack pickle calls for cooking the vegetable with vinegar and spices, then packaging and processing the product immediately. Beet pickles, bread-and-butter pickles, pickled asparagus or green beans use the fresh-pack method.
These are just what the name implies, fruits simmered in spicy syrup then packed and processed. Watermelon rind pickles fall into this category.
Relishes are mixtures of fruits and/or vegetables that are chopped, seasoned and cooked in a vinegar and spice solution then packed and processed.
Secrets For Crunchy Pickles
- Use small, firm cucumbers. This is the most important step. If you start with a big soft cucumber, you’ll end up with big soft pickles. If you are using overgrown cucumbers for your pickles, nothing is going to turn them crunchy.
- Jar them immediately after picking, or as soon as possible. Going straight from the vine to the jar is the best. Treadaway said she had good results using farmers market cucumbers, providing they are firm when she buys them, and she doesn’t leave them on the counter for many days.
- Soak cucumbers in an ice water bath for a couple of hours. If you can’t get to work canning the cucumbers immediately after picking them, submerging them in an icy bowl of water in the fridge will help them firm up or remain firm.
- Cut off the blossom end of cucumber. The blossom-end of a cucumber is said to contain enzymes which can cause mushy pickles. Cutting it off is your best bet.
- Use low-temperature pasteurization treatment. The treatment results in a better product texture but must be carefully managed to avoid possible spoilage. Place jars in a canner filled half way with warm (120º to 140º F) water. Then, add hot water to a level 1 inch above jars. Heat the water enough to maintain 180º to 185º F water temperature for 30 minutes. Check with a candy or jelly thermometer to be certain the water temperature is at least 180ºF during the entire 30 minutes. Temperatures higher than 185ºF may cause unnecessary softening of pickles. Caution: Use only when recipe indicates.
Quick Fresh-Pack Dill Pickles
- 8 pounds of 3- to 5-inch pickling cucumbers
- 2 gallons water
- 1¼ cups canning or pickling salt
- 1½ quarts vinegar (5 percent)
- ¼ cup sugar
- 2 quarts water
- 2 tbsp whole mixed pickling spice
- about 3 tbsp whole mustard seed (2 tsp to 1 tsp per pint jar)
- about 14 heads of fresh dill (1½ heads per pint jar)
or 4 ½ tbsp dill seed (1½ tsp per pint jar)
Yield: 7 to 9 pints
Procedure: Wash cucumbers. Cut 1/16-inch slice off blossom end and discard, but leave ¼-inch of stem attached. Dissolve ¾ cup of salt in 2 gallons of ice water. Pour over cucumbers and let stand for 12 hours. Drain. Combine vinegar, ½ cup salt, sugar and 2 quarts of water. Add mixed pickling spices tied in a clean white cloth. Heat to boiling. Fill jars with cucumbers. Add 1 tsp mustard seed and 1½ heads fresh dill per pint. Cover with boiling pickling solution, leaving ½-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process or use the low-temperature pasteurization treatment. To process without low-temperature pasteurization, process in a waterbath canner. Process pints for 10 minutes and quarts for 15 minutes.
For more information, Alabama Extension has the publication “Pickles and Relishes.” It goes over some of the basic information about pickles and preservation. For further information, visit Alabama Extension online or contact your county Extension office.