Pickles and Relishes

Pickling is one of the oldest known methods of preserving food, dating back to Biblical times; the Chinese are credited with inventing the process. Pickling does not just refer to processing cucumbers. A pickle or pickled product is any food (fruit, vegetable, or meat) that is fermented in brine (salt) or packed in vinegar to aid preservation.

There are four distinct kinds of pickled products. The varieties can be classified by ingredients and method of preparation.

Pickling Equipment
The basic equipment used for pickling is similar to other types of canning. However, there are some differences:

Many older recipes call for pickles to be packed into jars and sealed without processing. This method is no longer recommended because microorganisms may enter the food when it is being transferred from the pickling container to the jar; processing destroys them.

Pickles should be canned in a boiling water bath since they are a high-acid food. Processing times and procedures vary according to food acidity and the size of the food pieces. One processing procedure for fermented cucumbers and fresh-pack dills is slightly different from the usual boiling water bath method: start counting the processing time as soon as the filled jars are placed in boiling water. This reduces the development of a cooked flavor and loss of crispness. Consult the USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning for detailed information on canning brine pickles and as a source of recipes.

Words of Caution
The level of acidity in a pickled product is as important to its safety as it is to taste and texture.

Pickles with Reduced Salt Content
Fresh-pack pickles may be prepared safely with reduced or no salt; they are acidified quickly with vinegar. However, their quality may be noticeably lower; texture and flavor may be slightly, but noticeably, different.

The salt used in making brine pickles and fermented sauerkraut not only provides characteristic flavor but also is vital to safety and texture. The function of salt in fermented foods is to encourage the growth of desirable bacteria while at the same time inhibit the growth of others. Do not attempt to make fermented pickles or sauerkraut by cutting back on the salt required.


Key ingredients in pickling
Ingredient Why used
  • Acts as a preservative by encouraging the growth of desirable bacteria (and inhibiting undesirable bacteria) which in turn produce lactic acid, a preservative.
  • Helps draw juices and sugar from the produce to make a brine.
  • Adds flavor and crispness.
  • Gives pickles a tart taste.
  • Acts as a preservative due to the acidity of vinegar.

Sweetens taste; counteracts vinegar.

Spices/Herbs Adds flavor
Water Makes liquid portion of brine.
Alum* Improves pickle firmness for fermented pickles; does not improvde firmness of quick-process pickles.
Lime** Improves pickle firmness.
* According to the USDA, alum may be safely used to firm fermented pickles, but it is regarded as unnecessary.
** The calcium in lime improves pickle firmness. Food grade lime may be used as a lime-water solution for soaking fresh cucumbers 12 to 24 hours before pickling them. Excess lime absorbed by the cucumbers must be removed to make safe pickles. To remove excess lime, drain the lime-water solution, rinse, and resoak the cucumbers in fresh water for one hour. Repeat the rinsing and soaking steps two more times.

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Trouble-shooting pickles
Note: These pickles are safe to eat even though they may not look too good.
This happened:: Because of this:
Shriveled pickles
  • Vinegar or salt solution too strong.
  • Overcooking or overprocessing.
Hollow pickles
  • Poory developed cucumbers.
  • Cucumbers too ripe.
  • Cucumbers held too long before pickling.
  • Fermentation too rapid.
  • Brine too strong or too weak during fermentation.
Dark pickles
  • Too much spice, including iodized salt.
  • Overcooking.
  • Water too hard.
  • Iron utensils used.
  • Cicer vinegar used.

Note: Do not eat soft or slippery pickles. This condition indicates that microbial activity did not stop. One of the following oculd have ahppened to affect the processing:

  • Used too little salt or acid.
  • Failed to cover cucumbers with brine during fermentation.
  • Allowed scum to scatter through the brine during fermentation.n
  • Processed pickles for too short or too long a time.
  • Did not seal the jar airtight.
  • Used moldy garlic or spices.
  • Failed to remove blossoms form cucumbers before fermentation.

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Tips for Successful Pickling

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