Time and time again I get asked about how to get that delicious crunchy pickle – just like you would get from the store. Luckily, there are many options (7 of which are outlined below) to avoid the dreaded soft and soggy pickle!
First off – what causes you to end up with a soft and soggy pickle?
There are a number of factors in canning a soft and soggy pickle. First, the natural pectin in the produce will breakdown over time if not first prepared properly. Also, if you aren’t using fresh, crisp, produce to begin with, it will not miraculously turn crisp.
We have gone through and identified the most common solutions for fixing a soft and soggy home canned pickle as well as mentioning solutions for those fails as well…
[In no particular order….]
Pickle Crisp, also known as Calcium Chloride [FOOD GRADE], is a firming agent. It is a granule similar in appearance to a pretzel salt. It works to maintain the crispness of your produce but it will not make something crisp that has already begun to wilt.
Pickle Crisp is not a salt nor is it a seasoning. Its only purpose is to aid in maintaining the crispness of your produce.
There are a number of brands that are very common to find in your local Walmart, Farm Store, or online realtors such as Amazon. The pickle crisp will be sold under various names but they all achieve the same end result.
With pickle crisp, it goes a long way. In general, you will use 1/8 teaspoon per pint jar or 1/4 teaspoon per quart jar. It is added directly into each jar as you are filling with your pickles prior to being processed.
Don’t be fooled by the pickle name! This can be used on any of your produce – add some when you’re fermenting sauerkraut, or to your home canned apple slices to keep a little bit of the crunch.
This is an example of Ball’s Pickle Crisp. Bernardin (Ball’s Canadian equivalent) has one under the same name but slightly different packaging. Commonly found at Walmart, farm stores, and online.
Mrs. Wages has their own version of a pickle crisp under the name of Xtra Crunch. It comes in the same size canister as the Ball and Bernardin crisps and is used the same. Commonly found at Walmart, farm stores, and online.
If you are wanting to make A TON of pickles (and I really to want to emphasize A TON), then Hoosier Hill Farms carries both a 1.5lb and a 5lb variety. Hoosier Hill Farms is found on Amazon and carries many great canning supplies.
Alum may be safely used to firm fermented pickles. However, it is unnecessary and is not included in the recipes in this publication. [https://nchfp.uga.edu/] Alum does not improve the firmness of quick-process pickles.
Very similar to Pickle Crisp, Alum is added directly to each jar (1/8 teaspoon for pints, and 1/4 teaspoon for quarts) prior to processing, however, as mentioned above, it is only effective in fermented pickles.
It is very important to note that while older canning books approved the use of Alum in ALL pickle recipes it is no longer true. Too much use, or improper use, can actually have the opposite effect on your pickles and can result in digest upset.
This does not mean that you shouldn’t use Alum, it just means that you should be well aware and use proper techniques.
Alum is most often found in the spices section in stores, in the canning area, or online. Once again, there are a number of brands that can be used but make sure you are selecting a food grade option.
Pickling Lime, also known as Calcium Lime [FOOD GRADE], is another great option for creating crisp pickles.
National Center for Home Food Preservation: The calcium in lime definitely 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 then resoak the cucumbers in fresh water for 1 hour. Repeat the rinsing and soaking steps two more times.
As with Alum, above, pickling lime is not something to use freely. There are many things that must be taken into consideration. One is making sure that when utilizing pickling lime, it is not done in an aluminum pot/pan. This is why (or at least one of the reasons why) it is always pointed out in our recipes that a large stainless steel or dutch oven pot shall be used. If used incorrectly, it can:
[Ball, Canning Terms Glossary]“… increase the risk of botulism. Lime can also cause gastrointestinal problems if too much is ingested.”
Due to this, it is best to use pickling lime in recipes that specifically call it out such as in the following (below):
Similar to most everything else listed, it can be found in your local grocery store [typically in the canning section] or online.
Though I have not personally tried it, many swear by using grape leaves in their pickles.
National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP), among others, points out that as long as you cut off the blossom end of your cucumbers (see Proper Prepping below), the grape leaf serves as useless except to add to the visual effect.
National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP): Grape leaves contain a substance that inhibits the enzymes that make pickles soft. However, removing the blossom ends (the source of undesirable enzymes) will make the addition of grape leaves unnecessary.
Question is – where in the world does one even find grape leaves? This can prove to be difficult unless you are lucky enough to have your own grape vine in your backyard.
Another solution is to locate your local European store or make friends with someone growing grapes.
This may be one of the easiest fixes in your journey to Crisp Pickles.
Fresh is Best
Sometimes this is unavoidable – it happens – but you can employ the other techniques listed to aid you along your way.
As a general rule of thumb, try to harvest your produce and use within a few hours – i.e. THE SAME DAY. This makes a world of a difference.
For store bought produce – select the crispest food you can find. And make sure you only wash it in cold water – see more below in Proper Prepping and Ice Bath.
Proper prepping of your produce (say that 5 times fast…) can make HUGE difference when canning pickles.
First – prepare your produce by washing in COLD water. The colder the better! This helps maintain the natural pectin in the produce and helps decrease the chance of it breaking down resulting in the wilt.
Know the proper way to cut the produce.
No, this doesn’t mean to go Culinary School to become a knife master because we all know, I’m no skilled knivesman. What I mean is –
When it comes to produce, cut off the blossom end – this is VERY important in Zucchinis, Squash, and Cucumbers. This means, the end with the flower grew on – opposite the stem – must be cut off by at least 1/16.” This is not because “it doesn’t taste good.” This is because the enzymes that breakdown the fruit are located in the blossom end.
As mentioned above in Proper Prepping, a cold bath helps maintain the natural pectin in the produce. Another trick when making pickles is an ice bath.
– There are two options –
1 – Prepare your produce, cover, and set overnight in a fridge. This allows the produce plenty of time to rest. Make sure you rinse the pickles with fresh cold water prior to packing in the jars.
2 – Ice bath. It is as simple as it sounds – prepare your pickles, and let sit in an ice bath for at least 3 hours.
I typically prepare my pickles by washing in cold water, cut my pickles as desired [making sure to first cut off the blossom end], place in a large bowl, crock, or cooler, and cover with ice (adding more as needed).
Once ready, I will drain off the melted ice, and any remaining ice bits, rinse my pickles once more in cold water, and proceed with my recipe as planned.
If All Else Fails...
If all else fails, there is always relish. If you work through all of the previous tricks and you still get soft and soggy pickles – you can safely use them to make a pickle relish. Go ahead and chop up the pickles and use them in place of fresh cucumbers in your relish recipe.
If you end up with those sneaky cucumbers that I always warn about, don’t let them go to waste just cause they aren’t the best for pickling. They are still great in making relishes or Christmas Holiday Pickles.
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